What Is "The Pardoner's Tale" About?

"The Pardoner's Tale" from Geoffrey Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales" tells a moral tale against the sins of gluttony, blaspheming, drinking and gambling in which three young men die because of their greed. The Pardoner's overriding theme is that greed is the root of all evil.

"The Pardoner's Tale" opens with three gluttonous, crass men hearing a bell that signifies the death of one of their friends, who they learn has been killed by a fiend named Death. The three men set out to avenge the friend by killing Death. On their mission to find Death, the men encounter an old man who tells them that they can find Death at the foot of a nearby oak tree. Instead of finding Death, though, they find piles of gold coins. The men quickly forget about their mission, and they rejoice at their good fortune.

The trio decide to return home with the gold under the cover of night. One of the men leaves to fetch some wine and food. While their friend is away, the other two men plot to kill the wine-fetching friend in order to have a larger share of the gold. The man who went to get the wine and food has a similar thought in mind. He poisons the wine, intending to kill his friends and take all of the gold for himself. When he returns to the tree, his comrades stab and kill him. They proceed to consume the poisoned wine, and they die slow, painful deaths.