Is the Pardoner likeable?

A short stimulus essay for Year 13. This is , as usual, not comprehensive and deliberately short on close analysis – that s the students’ task! Hopefully this is interesting and useful, nonetheless.

The Pardoner is not a likeable character at first glance. His description in the General prologue focuses on his lank, greasy hair and his dubious sexuality before scorning his goat-like voice. It is acknowledged, however, that he is a good Pardoner (for a Pardoner). Student should also be aware in passing that he is one of the few pilgrims who appears in other stories – in his case, The Wife of Bath, where he makes comments designed to reflect well on his sexual prowess. If he was not in some way likeable, would Chaucer have made him one of the Pilgrims whose characters develop outside their stories?

The LITB 3 course asks you to consider elements of the Gothic in the writings you study. Whilst Chaucer is not and can never be described as a Gothic writer, this question asks you to consider the Gothic trope of the villain who is found attractive by readers and characters alike. One need not spend time here considering this in depth, but characters such as Heathcliff, Dracula, Satan, Mephistopheles, or The Monk are certainly found attractive at times within the story. This attraction is often sexual or physical and comes despite the clear awareness that the character is in no way “good”.

So, is the Pardoner attractive? Do we like him? I expect that in the 21st Century, the answer is a clear NO, but I wonder if this is fair. Let us consider the elements of the character that might be attractive:

His apparent sexual prowess
His ability to turn others from sin, even whilst sinning himself
His honesty in his tale
His Iago-like daring in stating the depth of his depravity so openly.

The rest of this article can be found on my boook of support materials available on KINDLE here:

Please feel free to buy it and enjoy a wide range of articles on a wide range of texts which feature regularly in examinations. Happy reading



Filed under AQA LitB

3 responses to “Is the Pardoner likeable?

  1. Traycie Wrycraft

    My turn…
    One must also consider that his apparent effeminate appearance is coupled with an excellent singing voice and some sartorial choices that shock and entertain the other pilgrims (he goes bear-headed for ‘laughs’ after all).
    As we must consider that Chaucer places himself as one of the pilgrims it is also apposite to ask if, despite his bias, he cannot help but like the rogue he creates. After all in the Pardoner’s tale those who really deserve it get their just deserts – just like in the tragedies of AS everyone ends up dead – and maybe there is something to be said for the justice of the whole thing that shows a bit more strength of character than might be expected from a weedy greasy haired liar… The Pardoner, Like Iago is indeed true to himself and unapologetic about it too!
    I wonder if he is a bit of a guilty pleasure. Obviously my suggestions are less erudite than Mr P’s but think about it chaps- is he the love-to-hate villain that we later find becoming so attractive as a gothic archetype? How does he compare to Victor in the wimp stakes?

    (Mrs W – tuppenceworth on a Tuesday!)

    • Never play down erudition… Apart from the unintentional laugh induced by AS tragedies, I totally agree with this, though his rather sad attempts to adopt the fashion of the day do remind me of a cringeworthy uncle trying to be cool.
      I also wonder about the voice- which is right, goat or bell? Reminds me of a home from my singing days: ” x has a voice like expensive perfume…..
      ….. Small and bottled!”

  2. Traycie Wrycraft

    BARE headed…

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