What Is Chaucer Satirizing in “The Pardoner’s Tale?”

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In “The Pardoner’s Tale,” Geoffrey Chaucer is satirizing the traveling member of the clergy who is selling “Get Out of Hell Free” cards, which is another way of defining the indulgences that they had for sale. In the story, the pardoner is in a group heading to the shrine at Canterbury, but he also admits readily to cheating beggars out of their money. This story satirizes the work that the clergy did at that time, selling forgiveness to the highest bidder instead of requiring repentance.

The pardoner is one of the more candid characters in “Canterbury Tales.” He admits that he preaches for the cash rather than for the opportunity, and he also says that a lot of sermons come from his very worst as far as intentions. Preaching allows the pardoner to get revenge at any person whom he considers to have harmed him. While he preaches a great deal about theft or covetousness, when one considers his own vice, covetousness must go to the top, and eating is never a bad idea. The pardoner is up front and honest, though, about his lack of spiritual power and inspiration. Chaucer is ridiculing the ministerial charlatan, just as much a problem then as in modern times.