The Pardoner described in ChaucerÆs Prologue to The Canterbury Tales is quite unusual for a man of the church. For though the Pardoner is described as ôa fine ecclesiastö with ôpolished tongue, he is nothing more than a sinful con artist who uses his sermons to inflict guilt upon his listeners in order to rob them, (Chaucer, Prologue, 1). The Pardoner carries phony relics that he sells to pardon his listeners of their sins. When it comes time to tell his tale, the Pardoner tells the story of three thieves and murderers in order to sell his travelers on their own sinful need to purchase his phony relics that allegedly include pieces of the ôTrue LadyÆs veilö and pieces of ôSaint PeterÆsàvery sail,ö (Chaucer, Prologue, 1). In reality, the Pardoner is defined in the Prologue in a manner that makes him no less guilty of thievery or sin than the murderers he describes in The PardonerÆs Tale.
The PardonerÆs Tale informs us of three rioters who are thieves and murderers. They encounter an old man who is hopeless and informs them that he knows how to cheat the invisible thief, Death. The three drunkards are determined to kill Death, so they follow the directions of the old man to a tree filled with riches. They cannot go to town with their ill-gotten gains without giving themselves away, so they decided to send the youngest of the three for supplies to eat and drink. While he is away, they plan on murdering him so they can divide the gold in two instead of three parts. However, the youngest one buys poison in town and puts it in the wine. When he returns, he is stabbed to death by the other two, who then drink his poisoned wine and die also.
This tale provides the Pardoner with nothing more than a sales pitch for his phony relics. At times in his tale, the Pardoner launches into moral diatribes about the sinful behavior of the murderers, but we may be sure he does so only