Free Study Guide for The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer|
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CHARACTER ANALYSIS (continued)
If the Summoner received Chaucerís unmitigated disapproval, the Pardoner is
a personification of absolute evil. A Pardoner sells papal indulgences
and relics. He preached that Papal indulgences pardoned the sins committed
in oneís life and ensured a place in purgatory instead of hell. Pardoners
made a commercial business out of sale of indulgences as they made them
easily available through payment of money. Chaucerís Pardoner has come
straight from Rome with a bag overstuffed with indulgences. He also carries
false relics to cheat naïve people. These include a pillow case which
had served as the Virginís veil, the piece of sail with which St. Paul
went to sea until Christ caught him, and a glass jar filled with pigís
bones. He has duped many innocent parsons and his parishioners by selling
them false indulgences and relics. He confesses in the Prologue to his
Tale, that, he knows the exact method of extorting money from people by
preaching against the avarice of money. The hypocritical Pardoner has
repulsive physical features. His sparse waxy yellow hair hangs limply
by the sides like strands of flax. His glaring hare like eyes, small goat
like voice and absence of facial hair indicates that he is a eunuch. He
rides Ďdischeveleeí and his hood is in his bag. He wears a vernicle on
his cap to indicate his official authority. His special skill lies in
singing at the offertory to extract maximum money from the people. The
Pardoner does not invite Chaucerís gentle irony but harsh sarcasm. There
is an outright condemnation of the Pardonerís mal-practices and moral
Chaucer is the author of "The Canterbury Tales" and also appears
as one of the pilgrims throughout the entire book. He functions as the
naïve narrator and the readerís guide on the way to Canterbury and
his ironic comments as the poet reveals the true color of this assorted
group. Chaucerís cheeky presence as one of the pilgrims lends an air of
realism and immediacy to the book and the reader feels that he is reading
an eyewitness account. He tells the tales of Sir Topas and Melibee during
the course of the journey. He finally identifies himself as the poet at
the end in "Retracciouns". The reader first meets him in the
"General Prologue" where he describes the pilgrims that he encounters
at the Tabard inn. He poses as a naïve first person narrator and
claims to be objective in his appraisal of the pilgrimsí appearance but
it is seen that he seems to possess the knowledge of an omniscient narrator.
The reader thus learns not only about the pilgrimsí physical appearance
but also details about their personal lives and careers. Chaucer, the
observer and recorder of events as one of the pilgrims, frequently pronounces
his judgement as the poet. He openly condemns the corrupt Summoner and
the evil Pardoner. This intrusion of the poetís voice does not effect
the narrative. Rather it helps the story to achieve immediacy.
The Host, named Harry Bailey, is not included among the twenty-nine pilgrims
who gathered at the Tabard Inn. He is introduced at the end of the "General
Prologue". The character of the Host is not fully developed. He appears
to be a friendly, agreeable and sensible man. His genial warmth is his
most outstanding characteristic. Chaucer comments that the Host is the
fairest burgess in the whole of Cheapside and is fit to serve as a marshal
in a lordís house. He is frank and forthright in his speech. The Host
proposes the story telling competition for the long journey to Canterbury
and says that each pilgrim is to tell two tales on the way to Canterbury
and two tales on the way back. The others will reward the pilgrim who
tells the best tale by a supper at the Tabard Inn. The Host then proposes
to join the group of pilgrims himself. The pilgrims immediately accept
him as the guide, judge, manager and reporter. Thus thirty people set
off towards the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket in Canterbury the next evening.
The Host frequently provides the link between the various stories and
decides the order in which the pilgrims narrate their tales. After each
tale the Host provides his opinions and comments which reveal his intelligence.
The Host for instance stops Chaucerís Tale of Sir Topas in the middle
because he senses that it is mindless rhyming. Critics believe that the
Host was modeled on a certain Harry Bailly who actually lived in Southwark
in Chaucerís time.
The guildsmen are sketchily portrayed in the "General Prologue".
The reader learns very little about them apart from the fact that they
are wearing fine clothes and are financially well off. Chaucer ironically
says that they are able men and worthy to serve as aldermen. They are
members of a guild, and wear the distinctive dresses of their occupations.
The Guildsmen include a haberdasher, a dyer, a carpenter, a weaver, and
a tapestry-maker. Their trade appears to have been randomly chosen by
Chaucer and do not have any significance. The guildsmen are treated as
a group and no individual importance is given to them. Chaucerís intention
seems to be to satirize the self-importance of the guildsmen and their
wives who are addressed as Ďmadamí and have their trails carried behind
them just as the royalty.
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