There are many connections between the Pardoner’s tale and his own character. He too is guilty of many of the sins committed in the story. One wonders whether the Pardoner might actually behave in the same way as the men in the tale. These connections are what make the tale appropriate for the Pardoner to tell it to the Pilgrims.
The first obvious connection between the Pardoner and his tale, that makes it appropriate for him to tell, is “avarice” or the greed of money. The Pardoner preaches against “avarice”, whilst openly admitting to the rest of the Pilgrims that he himself is guilty of this sin, “That I wol live in poverte wilfully. Nay, nay, I thoughte it nevere trewely!” In fact, his whole life is based around avarice, as being a Pardoner is more than a job to him, it is a way of life.
It seems that he has spent a long time perfecting his preaching techniques of rhetoric to enable him to take as much money from people as possible. He demonstrates his greed for money (and possessions) several times, “I wol have moneie, wolle, chese, and whete,/…of the povereste widwe in a village/ Al sholde hir children sterve for famine.” This is extremely cruel, but we have to wonder how many of the Pardoner’s comments are bravado rather than actual truth. We also wonder if these comments might be used to impress his ‘good friend’ the Summoner!
The tale itself is based around “avarice” and the moral of the story is that greed for money, along with blasphemy and other sins, leads to death. Each man individually shows “avarice”. The young man in the town first shows his greed when he says, “if so were that I mighte/ Have al this tresor to myself allone”. He then goes on to buy poison and contaminates the two bottles of wine meant for the other rioters. This is “avarice” working in its strongest form; driving a man to murder. The other rioters show the same form of “avarice” when they plot to kill the youngest rioter. This also leads one to wonder if the rioter who suggested killing the youngest man would then move on to kill the other man so that he would end up with all of the gold to himself. The listener thinks that it is probable that his “avarice” would drive him to this, just as the Pardoner would go to lengths to quench his thirst for money.
The theme of death is another link between the Pardoner and his tale. This theme can be seen in the forms of both physical and spiritual death. The tale begins with death and ends with it. Death, along with “avarice”, is the central theme of the story. Death is also referred to literally, as a person, and then reverts to being metaphorical. It could be said that the Pardoner is death personified, as death is linked with “avarice” in the tale and his whole life is based on this. The Pardoner’s whole life leads toward death because he is spiritually dead. He has no beliefs obvious to the listener and seems like an empty shell of human being only wanting one thing from life; money. His lack of religious faith is demonstrated as soon as we meet the Pardoner in the General Prologue when he sings a worldly song, “Com hider, love, to me”, rather than a hymn or a Christian song. Like the Pardoner himself, death is personified in the tale, “a privee theef men clepeth Deeth”.
At the end of the tale, the listener realises that death is metaphorical and not physical when the rioters die because they hold death within themselves through their “avarice”. Death is also used to create irony both in the tale and in connection with the Pardoner. It is ironic that the Pardoner is spiritually dead because his work is religious. He is the opposite of who he is supposed to be. The irony in the tale originates in the oath the three rioters swear to, “To live and dien of hem for oother.” This is ironic because they all swear to live and die for each other and they do all end up dying for one another. This irony is continued with a statement saying that they were real blood brothers, “As though he were his owene ybore brother.” The shedding of blood is symbolic of death and so after they become ‘blood brothers’ it means that they all die if one dies; their destinies are connected. Death is also featured in a more concentrated form of the old man. He wishes he could die but death escapes his. This ironically contrasts with the rioters for whom death is lying in wait.
The moral aspect of the tale also is appropriate to the Pardoner’s fate at the end of his storytelling. The moral of the tale be interpreted not just as the aforementioned sins lead to death, but also as every person gets what they deserve from life. The rioters in the tale plotted to kill one another so perhaps it was just that they all ended up with the same fate, “anon they stroven bothe two…Thus ended been thise homicides two,/ And eek the false empoisonere also.” This moral is also true for the Pardoner, but to a lesser extent. It must be remembered that the Pardoner has told the Pilgrims an awful lot about how greedy he is and how he tricks money out of people, he has even told them one of his sermons.
It is this that leads to his downfall with the host when he asks the Pilgrims to give him money so their sins will be absolved. The listener believes that he gets what he deserves when the host replies, “Thou woldest make me kisse thyne olde breech,/ and swere it were a relick of a Seint”. The Pardoner is left speechless, for once, and has to suffer the embarrassment of being made to ‘kiss and make up’ with the host by the knight.
Betrayal is a characteristic present in both the Pardoner and his tale. The Pardoner makes it his life’s work to betray people. He tells them that he wants to help them and free them from sin, when really he wants to take their money from them for himself, “By this gaude have I wonne, yeer by yeer,/ An hundred mark sith I was a Pardoner.” He also betrays the people who he preaches to in church when tricking them into giving money in a different manner, “If any…That hath doon sinne horrible, that he/ Dar nat for shame of it yshriven be,…Swich folk shal have no power ne no grace/ To offren to my relicks”.
By telling the congregation that anyone who has committed the worst sins cannot touch his relics, he is forcing them to pay because they do not want everyone else to think they have performed an awful sin. The Pardoner uses a number of other similar techniques to betray people and trick them into giving money to him. He also tells the congregation that he has a “bulle” or document from the “pope”. This makes him appear to be credible and trustworthy, but the listener realises the extreme unlikelihood of this statement being true. There is also much betrayal shown in the Pardoner’s tale. The most obvious treachery is each rioter plotting against another.
This is summed up most clearly by the two men who stay with the gold, “thou strogelest with him as in a game,/ And with thy daggere looke thou do the same;/ And thane shal al this gold be departed be,/ …betwixt me and thee”. This betrayal is very important, as it is representative of each of the group. Each in the group would be willing to betray the other for their own means and so they each face an ill end. Another form of disloyalty in the tale is from the old man. The old man directs the three rioters towards the gold, knowing what they will do to each other; he tells them Death is waiting there for them and he is right, except for the fact that it is not a person it is literally their deaths, “‘if that yow be so leef/ To find Deeth, turne up this croked way”. It has been suggested that this old man is death, but in my opinion he is not as he wants to die himself and also because the death of each of the rioters comes from inside themselves.
Lastly, there is a link between the brazen nature of the tale that makes it appropriate for the Pardoner to tell it. The Pardoner is audacious in the way that he tells the Pilgrims about his trickery, “I wol have moneie, wolle, chese, and whete,/…of the povereste widwe in a village/ Al sholde hir children sterve for famine.” This is very over the top and pitiless. The Pardoner is also very brazen after he finishes telling the Pilgrims his tale and he offers them the chance to buy Pardons from him, “Looke which a seuretee is it to yow alle/ That I am in your felaweshipe yfalle”. It is very cocky of the Pardoner to tell the Pilgrims that they are lucky to have him with them to Pardon their sins after he has already explained, at length, how he is a fraud.
He then continues in this brazen manner when he picks on the host specifically and says that he can pay first as he has probably committed the most sins, “I rede that oure Hoost heere shal biginne,/ For he is moot envoluped in sinne”. It is when he is refused and made fun of when he realises that he has given away more of himself than he thought he had. The tale is also very brazen, largely through the blasphemy throughout. The revellers constantly perpetrate oral attacks on Christ’s body, “That it is grisly for to here he swere./ Oure blissed Lordes body they totere”. The shocking way the rioters plan to kill each other is also brazen. They do not feel guilt or remorse about what they want to do; their minds are clear when they make their plots to stab him with a “daggere”.
In conclusion, I would say that the Pardoner’s tale is very appropriate for him. There are many aspects of it that mirror his personality. This makes the tale very interesting as it almost could have happened to the Pardoner himself if he had been in that situation. The tale also gives more away about himself the Pardoner intended. It seems that he did not make the same connections between himself and the story as the listener does.