Geoffrey Chaucer ‘The Canterbury Tales – The General Prologue’ ctd.

The last pilgrim described in the Prologue is the Pardoner, i.e. somebody who makes his living by selling pardons. People could do their penance by making donations to various church and charity institutions, and this Pardoner represents a hospital in Roncesvalles in Spain, which also had a London branch. He is great friends with the Summoner and they often sing together, the Pardoner in treble and the Summoner in bass voice. The Pardoner has a treble voice because, as the poet suspects, he is a eunuch. He has thin blond hair, which can be seen very well as he doesn’t wear a cap, which was apparently a fashionable affectation back then. He’s come straight from Rome and his bag is full of spurious relics, including the pillowcase which he claims to be Virgin Mary’s veil and pigs’ bones which he passes as saints’ bones. With these relics he can earn in one day as much as a poor country parson in a year. He can sing well the Latin Mass, but the part he sings best is the Offertory, because after that he had his moment during the mass to preach to the people and peddle his wares.

Chaucer ends the catalogue with a disclaimer – if my pilgrims speak sometimes rudely, remember gentle reader that it is my duty to represent the truth, so don’t blame me. It’s an interesting evasion strategy – of course his pilgrims are not “true” in the sense he did not literally meet all of them at the Tabard, although surely during his extensive travels he may have met people like them here and there. The truth, according to which Chaucer has to choose his words is not the truth of a court reporter, writing down everything verbatim, but an artistic truth – his pilgrims represent certain types and their speech has to match these types.

The pilgrims have a merry dinner together and after they pay their bill [with so many people at the table, it must have been a very long discussion “Can we just split a bill?” “I don’t think it’s fair, the Franklin had an appetizer and two courses and the Plowman just a sandwich”. “OK then, who had the calamari?”] their genial host says he is going to suggest an entertainment for them. And you can easily guess what it is going to be [hint – the title].


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