Benign Incarnations: Chaucer's Pardoner and the Pardoner's Old Man

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Fox, Michael A
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The purpose of this thesis is to explore the figures of the Pardoner and the Old Man in The Pardoner's Tale. By first documenting the accepted role of a fourteenth century "quaestor" and the ramifications of his itinerant preaching, I will show that the Pardoner does not place souls in the great spiritual jeopardy most critics maintain. Turning to his exemplum, I will examine the figure of the Old Man and demonstrate how Chaucer's possible sources and analogues and the Old Man's appearance confirm the aged wanderer's benevolent nature. Further evidence, from other tales and works, will corroborate these findings: the Old Man's appearance at the threshold is clearly unlike other "liminal" appearances in the Chaucerian corpus. Finally, I will offer a possible explanation for the many conflicting interpretations which The Pardoner's Tale has generated. I believe Chaucer offers a complex exposition of his theories of language: using Augustine's theory of signs and interpretation, I explain how the Pardoner offers the Canterbury pilgrims a lesson on interpretation and how, simultaneously, Chaucer uses the Pardoner to illustrate a further lesson about the efficacy of language.
14th century, English literature, Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales