English 201: English Literature to 1700
Prof. Boyer

Reading Questions for Geoffrey Chaucer's Pardoner's Prologue and Tale (pp. 281-296)

The best beginning procedure is always to read the assignment all the way through, keeping track of characters, so that you know what's happening. If possible, read the whole work first. Try to get the big picture of the book (or section, or chapter) before getting bogged down in details. Read through, then go back and clear up details. Then you're ready to read the work closely with these questions in mind. (In the discussion below, page and line numbers in parentheses refer to The Norton Anthology of English Literature, 7th ed., vol. 1 [2000] unless otherwise indicated.)

Important Characters

the Pardoner
the Host

In the Tale:

three "riotoures"
an old man

1. First, read the description of the Pardoner in The General Prologue, lines 671-716, pp. 231-232. What sort of person is he portrayed as in this description? He has lots of relics to show; how authentic are they?

2. What does the Pardoner want to do before he tells his tale? (See lines 32-40.) Does he do it? (See lines 168-74.)

3. What does the Pardoner tell us about himself in his Prologue (lines 41-174)? What text does the Pardoner always preach on? How good is he as a preacher? How serious is he about what he does? How good a Christian is he? What is his major vice? (See lines 139-40.)

4. What sort of people are the three "riotoures" he tells about in his tale? Which of their sins does he preach against (lines 195-372)?

5. Why do the three young men leave the tavern? What time of the day is it? What do they intend to do to Death (line 422)?

6. Whom do they meet? What does that person say about death? Why is this ironic for the rest of the tale? Where does he say the three young men will find Death?

7. What do the three young men find instead? What happens to their search for Death?

8. Why does one of the three have to leave? What do the other two plan to do when he returns? Where does the one who left go, and why? What does he plan to do to the other two?

9. Ultimately, who does what to whom? Who is left?

10. What is the moral of the tale (lines 607-17)? What solution can the Pardoner offer (line 618)? What is needed in return (lines 619-27).

11. The closing lines of the tale (lines 627-30) remind us that the Pardoner was telling this tale (or preaching this sermon) as an example of how he works? What does he do in the Epilogue to change his relationship with the other pilgrims?

12. Who is the first person he offers to sell a pardon to? What is that person's response? How, in turn, does the Pardoner respond? How is peace finally achieved?

13. We have met gold and treasure before, in Beowulf. How is this subject handled differently in Beowulf and in the Pardoner's Tale? Are there any similarities?

14. We see in the Pardoner's Tale what gold does to certain Europeans, but the gold itself appears magically. The Europeans still don't know where to find it. With the coming of the Renaissance and the voyages of exploration, where will the Europeans find the gold they long for?

15. For another portrait of pardoners (as well as of other characters similar to those in The Canterbury Tales), see the selection from the Prologue to William Langland's Piers Plowman on pp. 319-322.

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