The General Prologue - The Pardoner

With him there rode a gentle pardoner
Straight from the court of Rome had journeyed he.
Loudly he sang “Come hither, love, to me,”
The summoner joining with a burden round;
Was never horn of half so great a sound.(5)
This pardoner had hair as yellow as wax,
But lank it hung as does a strike of flax;
In wisps hung down such locks as he’d on head,
And with them he his shoulders overspread;
But thin they dropped, and stringy, one by one.(10)
But as to hood, for sport of it, he’d none,
Though it was packed in wallet all the while.
It seemed to him he went in latest style,
Dishevelled, save for cap, his head all bare.
His wallet lay before him in his lap,(15)
Stuffed full of pardons brought from Rome all hot.
A voice he had that bleated like a goat.
No beard had he, nor ever should he have,
For smooth his face as he’d just had a shave;
I think he was a gelding or a mare.(20)
But in his craft, from Berwick unto Ware,
Was no such pardoner in any place.
For in his bag he had a pillowcase
The which, he said, was Our True Lady’s veil:
He said he had a piece of the very sail(25)
That good Saint Peter had, what time he went
Upon the sea, till Jesus changed his bent.
He had a latten cross set full of stones,
And in a bottle had he some pig’s bones.
But with these relics, when he came upon(30)
Some simple parson, then this paragon
In that one day more money stood to gain
Than the poor dupe in two months could attain.
And thus, with flattery and suchlike japes,
He made the parson and the rest his apes.(35)
But yet, to tell the whole truth at the last,
He was, in church, a fine ecclesiast.
Well could he read a lesson or a story,
But best of all he sang an offertory;
For well he knew that when that song was sung,(40)
Then might he preach, and all with polished tongue,
To win some silver, as he right well could;
Therefore he sang so merrily and so loud.
Now have I told you briefly, in a clause,
The state, the array, the number, and the cause(45)
Of the assembling of this company.

Footnotes

  1. In this final description of the Pardoner, the narrator seems to move away from his bitting criticism of the Pardoner's hypocrisy to praise his preaching methods. However, in the medieval church, pardoners were not authorized to preach because they were not clerics. The Pardoner only preaches because he is able to make money. Therefore, this description becomes a backhanded compliment that works to compliment the overall picture of the Pardoner as an impious man who exploits the faith of peasants in order to make money.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. "Our True Lady" refers to the Virgin Mary. Relics are the physical remains of a saint, holy person, or martyr, or a thing that was believed to be sanctified by contact with this holy person. In the Catholic Church, these items were venerated as shrines that could connect a worshiper directly to a saint. Here, the Pardoner claims to have relics. However, the narrator points out that the items the Pardoner claims are holy are actually mundane household items such as a pillowcase.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. A "gelding" is a castrated horse while a "mare" is a female horse. This comparison along with his lack of facial hair and high pitched goat voice work to emasculate the Pardoner. Some critics believe that this line suggests the Pardoner is sexually promiscuous, since sexual promiscuity was seen as making a man effeminate in the Middle Ages. Others believe that this characterization signals the Pardoner's homosexuality. In either interpretation, the Pardoner does not fit the model of a typical religious persona or adhere to church standards of moral conduct for the time.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. The medieval church frowned upon men wearing their hair long. This is a sign that the Pardoner is not a holy man that respects the rules of the Catholic Church.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. A pardoner was someone licensed to sell papal pardons or indulgences. In the Catholic conception of the afterlife, those who sin without repentance go to hell, the pious go to heaven, and those who have sinned but repented on Earth go to purgatory where they will labor until they have redeemed their sins and can go to heaven. An indulgence was a way in which someone could pay to reduce their time in purgatory or lessen their earthly penance for sins. The sale of these indulgences was a hotly contested issue in the Middle Ages.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor