“THE PARDONER’S TALE” STUDY GUIDE QUESTIONS I. Prologue 1. Why does the Pardoner admit that he preaches to make a personal profit? He is so immoral he’s proud of his vice; he may be carried away with his own cleverness in using this tale. 2. In medieval times, people were keenly aware of the seven deadly sins: pride, avarice, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth. These would bring spiritual death and eternal damnation unless the sinner confessed and obtained pardon. Which of these does the Pardoner acknowledge as his own vices? Avarice, lust, sloth, and perhaps gluttony. II. The Tale 1. In ll. 43-55, what have you learned about the rioters so far? They are wrongdoers. They are guilty of gluttony, lust, and sloth. They drink, gamble, carouse, and swear. 2. In ll. 67-71, during the mid-fourteenth century, bubonic plague (called the Black Death) spread across Europe. Why would this be an appropriate setting for a story intended to make people repent? The threat of death might spur listeners to seek forgiveness of sin. 3. Why do the rioters want to kill Death? They want to defend themselves against Death. They are so drunk that they set themselves an impossible and ironic task. It is the ultimate act of defiance. 4. What does line 101 mean? Their cursing involves parts of Christ’s body. 5. In ll. 105-09, who is this old man? What might he represent, or what purpose might he serve in the story? He may be Death. He may be an angel or just an old man looking for Death. (NOTE: critics do not agree on the interpretation of this character). 6. In ll. 110-120, what is ironic about the attitudes of the rioters and the old man toward Death? Most people fear Death and try to avoid it, but the old man seeks the ease of Death. The drunk rioters, on the other hand, seek Death out to challenge it. Also, the old man tells the rioters where to find Death, but he cannot die. 7. In ll. 121-132, what personification of Death does the old man offer? What does this image suggest? He personifies Death as a mother; her house surrounded by a gate (the earth). This image suggests that Death is a comforter or nurturer; 8. In l. 141, why does the old man add “if you should live till then”? He knows for sure what will happen to the rioters, or he can guess, based on his observation of their recklessness; or he may simply be observing that in this time of plague, people cannot count on living to an old age. 9. What is ironic about line 166? The young men no longer seek Death to kill him, but they have probably found the instrument of their own Death in the gold coins. 10. In ll. 173-74, .what does the capital F on Fortune tell you? What have the young men forgotten? Fortune is personified here. The young men have forgotten that they were told Death waited under the tree (Death is their fortune), or they have forgotten that Fortune can be good or bad. 11. In ll. 181-94, in this example of indirect characterization, what do the speaker’s words reveal about him? He thinks quickly. He is a schemer. He is greedily protecting his interests. 12. After reading lines 201-209, predict what you think will happen next. The youngest rioter will leak the secret of the treasure in town. The remaining rioters will make off with the gold, leaving the youngest with nothing. 13. In ll. 236-37, all three rioters make frequent references to religion. This is ironic, since they are such evildoers. How do these references to religion connect the rioters thematically to the Pardoner who tells their tale? Both the Pardoner and the rioters live in a religious society, and they are versed in the religion of their culture, yet none of them allow religion to influence their behavior. 14. In ll. 229-254, what is ironic about the reason the young man gives for buying poison? He wants it for “vermin that destroy a man by night.” Ironically the “vermin” he plans to kill are planning to “destroy a man” ---him. In addition, he fits his definition of vermin. 15. What does the author mean by the words “this devil’s clay” in l. 272? The rioter’s character was molded, like clay, by the devil. He is, like clay, changeable, easily manipulated, and without inherent form or integrity. 16. In line 275, what is ironic about the narrator’s questions? The story is, in fact, part of a sermon on avarice. 17. In ll. 290-91, what does an ellipsis mean? The ellipsis here indicate that a portion of the story is omitted. 18. Explain why you think the Pardoner’s relics are either authentic or fake. Most probable assumption is that the relics are fake ones that the Pardoner is selling to make money. 19. In ll. 312-31, what insights into the characters of the Pardoner, the Host, and the Knight are revealed in these lines? The insulting way the Pardoner deals with the Host suggests extreme rudeness. The Host despises the Pardoner; (some of the omitted lines have the Host expressing in strong language how he feels about the Pardoner). The Knight seems to function as a superior sho intervenes among his inferiors to smooth things over and assuage hard feelings.