“I Wol You Nat Deceive”: The Pardoner’s Layers of Deception (The Ultimate Salesman)

For this week’s blog post, I would like to examine the character of the Pardoner. I have a few ideas about his peculiar and ambiguous characterization, and I am really curious to know what you all think about him. The Pardoner commits offenses against the morality of Chaucer’s time; “he is not only a ‘geldyng or a mare’ (II. 669-91) but also both a ‘pardoner’ peddling false relics (II. 692-706)” (McAlpine 8). I see a common thread moving through each of the Pardoner’s roles, and the link seems to be the paradoxical idea of open deception. The reader encounters a character who calls attention to his differentness; he “flaunt[s] his friendship with the Summoner” (McAlpine 15), makes no effort to cover his ambiguous face as “dischevelee save his cappe he rood al bare” (685), and he acknowledges his use of false relics. I would like to suggest that despite the unsavory nature of his character, the Pardoner is weaving a complex veil. The more he exposes to us, the more we become aware that he may be one step ahead as he slowly reveals a more complicated intention, making curious allusions to Church debates, sodomitical practices, etc and forcing the reader think about his true motivation. I think that the Pardoner builds a strong defense to protect his precarious position in society by layering openness with deception, and that his ambiguous external appearance is merely an extension of the Pardoner’s manipulation. How can he be prosecuted if he complicates his crimes and confuses his companions?

There is something unique about a man with “A vois he hadde as smal as hath a goot” (690) choosing to sing loudly to his male companion: “Of Rouncival, his freend and his compeer/ That straight was conmen fro the Court of Rome/ ful loude he soong, ‘Com hider, love, to me’” (General Prologue 672-6). I would like to use this song as an example of the Pardoner’s peculiar body and behavior, and not as evidence of a homosexual relationship with the Summoner. Whether the blurring of the gender line is biological (if the Pardoner is a eunuch from birth or by some act of castration) or a choice on the Pardoner’s part (if he chooses to adopt potentially effeminate traits) we are left with a sexually ambiguous character who flaunts this sexual ambiguity in front of his companions. We have all seen through past texts that gender deception in the Middle Ages is extremely dangerous; “in such cases [of sodomy] the gender-conforming parties do not seem to have been punished as severely as their gender-bending associates” (Mills 74). Therefore, no matter the Pardoner’s backstory, he must assume a defensive position to both sell his pardons successfully and occupy his unusual position.

I suggest a reading of the Pardoner where he is neither a victim of circumstance nor a greasy charlatan, but rather an intelligent master of artifice. He subtly weaves manipulation into his story by telling a tale that incorporates most of the commonplace sins (avarice, gluttony, violence, etc) while including a personification of never-ending Purgatory with the character of the Old Man who cannot die. Intense feelings of guilt for the sins and fear of punishment would likely leave the Pardoner’s companions wishing for a temporal pardon despite their logical knowledge that the pardons are false. The Pardoner simultaneously does his business and protects himself by subtly “exploiting the potential self-deceit in those he imagines condemn him, [and he] attempts to convict his customers of being themselves ‘envoluped in synne’” (McAlpine 16). By calling attention to the sins of his customers, he downplays his own sins while urging them to buy his pardons.

In the Pardoner’s Prologue, Tale, and Epilogue, the narrative voice shifts to a tone of certainty, openness, and rhetorical persuasion. The Pardoner’s technique of disclosing to his companions that “for myn entente is not but for to winne/ And nothing for correction of sinne” (115-6) is brilliant; who better to sell to sinners than a sinner? The trick seems to be an angle of familiarity and self-deprecation; by confessing to engaging in the falsehood his companions may already suspect, he makes them feel special, and by appearing as a potential eunuch or queerly gendered being, he makes himself seem nonthreatening. Therefore, the Pardoner avoids trying to make purchasing a pardon seem logical and instead relies on guilt, fear, and a level of intimacy (however falsely constructed) to do the selling for him.

Finally, I argue that the Pardoner is somewhat successful in his sales pitch. Although the Host does not respond well to the Pardoner’s suggestion to “unbokele anoon they purs” (657) and purchase a relic, the reader can see that the Pardoner has succeeded in making one sale: the Knight urges the Host to forgive and kiss the Pardoner. The Host is clearly unconvinced by the Pardoner’s sales pitch; in his outburst he calls attention to the Pardoner’s ambiguous sexuality and false salesmanship “thou woldest make me kisse thyn olde breech/ And swere it were a relik of a saint…I wolde I hadde thy coilons in myn hand…Lat cutte hem of” (663-666). However, because the Knight is of a higher social standing than the Host, I read the tidy close of the Epilogue as the Pardoner landing the sale that counts the most: The Pardoner sold no relics, but he sold the Knight on himself. The group going to Canterbury essentially represents a microcosm of the larger society (including a member of each main class and trade,) and therefore when the Knight allows the Pardoner to remain a safely established member of the group, I argue that the Pardoner’s sales technique is ultimately successful.

 

 McAlpine, Monica E. “The Pardoner’s Homosexuality and How it Matters.” PMLA 95.1 (1980): 8-22.

Chaucer’s General Prologue and the Pardoner’s Prologue, Tale, and Epilogue. 

Mills, Robert. “Homosexuality: Specters of Sodom.” 

7 thoughts on ““I Wol You Nat Deceive”: The Pardoner’s Layers of Deception (The Ultimate Salesman)

  1. This is an extension post on Bridget’s analysis of the character of the Pardoner. For the most part, I think Bridget was spot on and that her points on the salesmenship of the Pardoner is a very plausible explanation not only for why the Pardoner chooses to disclose all of his sins to the audience, but also why he tells the tale he does. First and foremost, certainly being without the piety necessary for such a position, the Pardoner is a salesman, and Bridget outlines how he may be just doing his job, and is successful when the knight intercedes.
    However, the point I disagree with Bridget on (or at least think needs to be drawn attention to) is the Pardoner’s sexuality and how this may alter everything he says, from his own description of his office, to his tale, to his odd silence at the end of his own story. Though it is not explicitly stated, Chaucer seems to heavily suggest throughout the Canterbury Tales that the Pardoner is in a different sexual category than the other pilgrims. His physical features suggest he is a homosexual (Pearsall, 259); Chaucer himself describes him in the general prologue as a “gelding or a mare” (Chaucer, 260), categorizing the Pardoner as either a eunuch or, in line with his looks, a largely effeminate male. Though, as Bridget pointed out, it is certainly possible to hold a reading that these physical features (and implied sexual preferances) hold no bearing, they also may have a significant impact on whom the Pardoner is and what role he serves.
    As Derek Pearsall points out in his essay, not only through the General Prologue but also in the Pardoner’s tale itself, the Pardoner’s profession and character are largely disdained and marked with a negative connotation. We are not meant to like the Pardoner—not for what he does, not for how he acts, and not for what he believes in. Interweaved in all these abhorrent activities is the physical description of an effeminized, gelded man who is woefully apart from all of the other pilgrims. By associating the Pardoner, a homosexual character, with all of these detestable acts, Chaucer creates a “powerful association between homosexuality, inveterate wickedness, and heresy” (Pearsall, 359). Greed, deception, drunkenness…all of these sins are admitted to by the Pardoner, and are characterized with him. As I mentioned in class, by having this sexually isolated character (the eunuch or homosexual) celebrating all of these things, Chaucer seems to be lumping his sexuality in with these sinful acts.
    This comes into play because I believe that, when confessing all of his sins in his prologue and opening up about what a truly horrible person he is, the Pardoner is not using a sale’s technique as Bridget suggests but rather is making an attempt to liken himself to the others, to paint the picture of a common sinner rather than a sodomite, who’s sin would override any “avarice” a person would have. By boasting of his normal depravity, depravity they all suffer from (and thus need pardons for), the Pardoner is actually preaching a “hidden plea of acceptance,” to be seen by the group as one whose greatest flaw is avarice, not the fact that he is a gelding or a mare (360). The Pardoner’s boasting that he has a “joly wenche in every toun” (Chaucer, 453) is another example of the Pardoner trying to liken himself to the others; according to Pearsall it can be viewed as a “pathetic and ludicrous attempt to cover up his sexual deviancy” (359). Rather than a sales pitch, instead why not look at the Pardoner’s admissions as a drunken attempt to belong, to be grouped with the rest of the pilgrims instead of being rejected as he has been? This reading makes sense with the ending—after the Host’s berating, the Pardoner, who couldn’t talk enough before, is now totally silent (Chaucer, 325). His attempt has been in vein; the Host saw right through him and verbalizes exactly why the Pardoner is so disdained, not only pointing out the sins to which he admitted but also using explicitly sexual language to suggest that this is yet another reason that he will refuse to kiss the Pardoner’s “purse.” We now see a character all alone, his words powerless against how the others see him. Only with the aid of the knight, the highest of the social hierarchy, is the Pardoner accepted. Just food for thought, I could be totally off but it’s just another reading of why he would openly admit to all he does.

    Works Cited
    Chaucer, Geoffrey. “The Pardoner’s Prologue and Tale.” Norton Anthology of English Literature. 9th ed. Vol. 1. New York: W.W. Norton &, 2012. 310-25. Print.
    Pearsall, Derek. “Chaucer’s Pardoner: The Death of a Salesman.” The Chaucer Review 17.4 (1983): 358-65. JSTOR. Web. 9 Oct. 2013.

  2. I’d like to extend from Bridget and Adam’s arguments about the Pardoner. Both make bold statements and use their evidence excellently to draw conclusions about the Pardoner. Bridget considers him a master of deception, who uses all of his societal disadvantages to his rhetorical advantage. His ambiguous sexuality is another part of his game. While Adam argues that the Pardoner is a homosexual and his self-deprecating deception is solely an attempt to liken himself to the rest of the group. The Pardoner’s sexuality plays a different role in each argument. According to Bridget, he flaunts his ambiguous sexuality and uses it. According Adam, his sexaulity is something he is trying to hide.
    Although I find these are both legitimate arguments, I think they each miss a crucial detail. What we know of the Pardoner’s sexuality, or what we take as evidence, primarily comes from Chaucer’s General Prologue description of him, not from the Pardoner telling us himself. In these few lines, the narrarator gives a description of his voice and appearance concluding “I trowe he were a gelding or a mare” (Chaucer 260). According to the OED, the word ‘trowe’ translates “to trust, have confidence in, believe (a person or thing).” The narrarator believes that the Pardoner is a gelding or a mare; in other words, he does not know. What is known is the terrible reputation that the profession of Pardoner had in Chaucer’s time. We also know (or are curently concluding) that to have an ambiguous sexuality and/or gender was practically unacceptable at the time. I would argue that the Pardoner’s seemingly ambiguous or homosexual sexuality is merely a by-product of the fact that he has a dislikable profession, and that, for the Pardoner himself, it really does not play a role in his plan of deception.
    Adam made an excellent point when he said, “we are not meant to like the Pardoner – not for what he does, not for how he acts, and not for what he believes,” and I think he is absolutely right. The Pardoner is not a likeable guy, nor is he supposed to be. Is it not probable to think that perhaps a reading of his sexuality could be tainted by that fact? I think Chaucer also knew that pardoners, in general, are dislikable so he described him as a dislikable, ambiguous sexuality to match. However, there is no indication from the Pardoner that Chaucer necessarily included him on this memo. There is never an indication from the Pardoner himself that he is a homosexual. In fact, his boast of having a “joly wenche in every toun” speaks more to heterosexual desire than anything else, whether we read the detail as deception or not (Chaucer 453). The only moment that may lend itself to a homosexual indicator is at the end of the epilogue when he tells the Host to “unbokele anoon thy purs,” which can be read as a double entendre (325). However, even this moment seems more like a dirty joke (or the climax of his entire deceptive scheme) rather than a closeted hint because of the Pardoner’s shocked silence after the Host rebukes him. The Host threatens to cut off the Pardoner’s testicles and put them in pig poop (325); of course he is going to be shocked speechless! Also, the Pardoner is not given much time to respond before the Knight chimes in and calls for peacemaking. How do we know he would not have responded given a chance? I think his silence was more a result of genuine shock from being bested in such a verbally aggressive manner, especially when he is so used to pulling the wool over his audience’s eyes.
    The Host has debunked his false relic scheme, yes; but, I think this has little to do with his sexuality. How do we know that any of the pilgrims think that the Pardoner is a gelding/mare? Although the narrator concludes this after his description, there really isn’t any other evidence (to my memory) that the Pardoner portrays such a curious sexuality, or that this sexuality plays such a prevalent role in his deception. If we had only the picture of the Pardoner and not his written description, we might have just as easily assumed he was a “beautiful young man” as opposed to this ambiguous sexual mystery. And if that was the case, would his sexuality play into this discussion of his open deception at all?

    Chaucer, Geoffrey. “The General Prologue.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt and M. H. Abrams. 9th ed. New York: W. W. Norton, 2012. 243-63. Print.

    Chaucer, Geoffrey. “The Pardoners Prologue and Tale.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. By M. H. Abrams and Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. New York: Norton, 2012. 312-25. Print.

    The Oxford English Dictionary. trow v.: Oxford English Dictionary. http://www.oed.com.ezp.slu.edu/view/Entry/206818?rskey=36AGpP&result=4&isAdvanced=false#eid. Web. 11 Oct. 2013.

  3. As Bridget says, the complex and confusing nature of the Pardoner prompts further inquiry regarding his intentions. How can readers reconcile his role as a salesman with his voluntary revelation of his own ingenuity? If he is indeed a salesman, what is he trying to sell? I agree with Bridget that the Pardoner is trying to sell something, and as Adam argues, not his relics, but his image. I also agree with Adam that he ultimately fails in this goal; however, I argue that the Pardoner does not seek to be accepted by his traveling companions as a fellow sinner, but on the contrary, to be perceived as superior, as a moral authority, and the Host’s vitriolic response at the end of this tale is directed at this attempt.

    Adam, in his post, refers to the strange silence that marks the end of the Pardoner’s Tale, which I think is important to the understanding of the motives of both the Host and the Pardoner. This silence is a reaction to the host’s threat of castration, “I wolde I hadde thy coilons in myn hand …Lat cutte hem of … This Pardoner answerde nat a word:/ So wroth he was no word ne wolde he saye.” (Chaucer II. 664-669). Castration, taken literally, has two main effects: 1) it preserves the high pitch of the voice of the prepubescent male and 2) lowers his social status, both because of his loss of masculinity and because of his relegation to a serving role as a eunuch. Were the Host motivated to make this threat by the fulfillment of either of these two possibilities, then what actually resulted had the opposite effect: the Pardoner speaks no further, effectively losing his voice, and his social status seems to be preserved when the Knight, the member of the party with the highest social class, prompts the two to make up. What can be interpreted as the Host’s desires seem to be at odds with the results of his actions, in the same way that what can be interpreted as the Pardoner’s desires (to sell relics) seem to be at odds with the results of his actions (refusal, due to his open deceit).

    Cases of a seemingly contradictory nature similar to that of the Pardoner can be extracted from various other texts and historical records. Robert Mills points out in “Homosexuality: Specters of Sodom” that modern conceptions of homosexuality insufficiently explain why clergymen such as Anselm of Canterbury motivated the creation of anti-sodomy laws yet also wrote passionate love poems to and about young boys (58). He argues that the language used in this poems, while erotic by modern standards, would have in the medieval period fallen into an area between the modern conceptions of friendship and eroticism (Mills 67). In interpreting this case, a contradiction only arises if Anselm’s motives in writing these poems are confused, and he is classified as a homosexual; if they are reevaluated as non-erotic, then the contradiction is resolved. I argue that similarly, the contradictory natures of the Pardoner and the Host are also resolved if their motives are reevaluated: perhaps the Pardoner does not necessarily want to sell his relics, and perhaps the Host’s threat is not actually a threat at all.

    As Bridget mentions in her post, the Pardoner does not attempt to hide the ambiguity of his body; in fact, the possibility that he may be a eunuch is first put forth by him through his singing. He is not just making no effort to conceal his eunuchry, but is also actively boasting about it. I argue that he has no reason to brag about the diminished social status associated with the eunuch; rather, the Pardoner is trying to pass as a “spiritual eunuch … those who, by an act of will, lead the life of chastity for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” (Miller 183). The Pardoner, in his tale, preaches against sin in order to further solidify his position as a spiritual example, and when he challenges the Host to buy a pardon, he does so not with the expectation that the Host will actually buy one. A successful sale would indeed establish the Pardoner as a moral authority, but he does not need one in order to gain what he desires. The Pardoner, by calling out the Host as “envoluped in sinne” (Chaucer II. 654), seeks to establish himself as morally superior by claiming the power to declare who is a sinner and who is not.

    The host rejects this; when he threatens to castrate the Pardoner, he is not making an actual threat, but merely suggesting that the Pardoner actually does have balls—he is not, as he tries to convince the party, a eunuch, let alone a spiritual one. Furthermore, the Host says “I wol thee helpe hem carye” (Chaucer II. 666), robbing the Pardoner of his agency in his own castration. Thus, if the Pardoner were to ever become a eunuch, it would not be an act of his own volition and therefore not indicative of any moral superiority. This response renders the Pardoner silent, and although the Knight reconciles the two, the Pardoner’s intended sale has ultimately failed: at best, he is morally equal, if not inferior, to the rest of the group.

    Works Cited
    Chaucer, Geoffrey. “The Pardoner’s Prologue and Tale.” Norton Anthology of English Literature. 9th ed. Vol. 1. New York: W.W. Norton &, 2012. 310-25. Print.
    Miller, Robert. “Chaucer’s Pardoner, the Scriptural Eunuch, and the Pardoner’s Tale.” Speculum 30.2 (1955): 180-199.

  4. I would also like to extend our discussion of the Pardoner, but instead of looking only at what he does, I would like to discuss how the Pardoner is being used.
    If Chaucer wanted to approach the topic of gender he might have found it hard to do so openly, especially if he was interested in exploring gender ambiguity. He would have to find something relatable; something familiar that would allow his audience to inadvertently grasp the nuances of his intended subject without talking directly about it.
    Sinfulness seems to be the most obvious answer. From what I’ve read on medieval life, the concept of sinfulness seems as immediately relatable to them as talking about the weather would be for us. A culture drenched in sin would inevitably be used to thinking about sin, at least in some capacity. The Pardoner, then, would present an interesting character to the medieval reader. His job alone would present some misgivings, but when he admits that “by this gaude have I wonne, yeer by yeer,/ an hundred mark sith I was pardoner”, a reader will certainly doubt the character’s moral integrity (The Pardoner’s Tale and Prologue, 101-02). And yet, isn’t he being honest? There is a certain confusion here that the reader must confront; the Pardoner is admitting dishonesty, but in doing so is engaged in an honest act.
    Turning to gender, the Pardoner’s appearance is a similarly confusing contradiction. He is described as if “he were a gelding or a mare”, a strangely effeminate or sexless description which distorts his identity as a man (The General Prologue, 693). He occupies a unique space, one that Reiss argues is “above the world” and so far “apart from the normal, that it is impossible for him to be of the world” (265). I would argue instead that his “queerness” is only so because of the clear, easily discernible lines already drawn in the world for gender at the time. He is not normal, but only from a certain perspective, which is exactly what Chaucer hopes to reveal to his readers. They are again confronted here with two very different descriptions “occupying” the same subject. Chaucer is attempting to nudge the reader into making the same conclusion about the Pardoner’s morality and his gender; that despite how one feels about either, they reveal that it is possible to possess two seemingly contradictory aspects, thus breaking the rigid gender walls. To this end, the Pardoner acts as a vehicle with which to discuss gender by creating a familiar, analogous wrapping. The same fundamental logic can be applied to both scenarios; each one forces the reader to consider the degrees to which their subject is or is not male/female/honest/dishonest.
    Does Chaucer, then, succeed? If the Pardoner can be considered an extent of Chaucer’s will insofar as the Pardoner is a character who—as Bridget points out—masterfully constructs his own linguistic vehicle (this one intended to make a sale), then perhaps the way that the characters react to his tale will tell us if Chaucer believed his own ploy would work. The Host, a party member most like the common reader, is not amused. He reacts violently and seeks to return the Pardoner to one clearly defined category; a place where things only deserve to be “shrined in an hogges tord” (The Pardoner’s Tale and Prologue, 667). However, Chaucer seems to have some fun at the Host’s expense. His gut reaction to the Pardoner—castration—foretells his own inability to grasp the concepts at play, just as he would surely fail to grasp the non-existent genitals of the eunuch Pardoner. The Pardoner’s own silence also seems a fitting expression of Chaucer’s inevitable disappointment.
    Interestingly enough, the Knight does not reject the Pardoner. It does seem, however, that the Knight also occupies a special space. Enclosed in his “haubergeoun”, it seems likely that the Knight could also create his own sort of ambiguity; certainly not as openly as the Pardoner’s, but still with its own deception (The General Prologue, 76). A knight, clad in bulky armor, becomes a similarly unsexed figure. Perhaps the Knight only agrees to let the Pardoner stay along because he, too, knows what the Pardoner knows and takes pity on his frustrating attempts at enlightening the Host.
    Chaucer, Geoffrey. “The Pardoner’s Prologue and Tale.” Norton Anthology of English Literature. 9th ed. Vol. 1. New York: W.W. Norton &, 2012. 310-25. Print.
    Reiss, Edmund. “The Final Irony of the Pardoner’s Tale.” College English 25.4 (1964). Web. 10 Oct. 2013. .

  5. I’d like to do a mixture of types of posts. I’ll begin with a sort of query to Bridget’s post, then touch on Eleanor’s, and last I’ll throw in some Foucault to top it all off. I’ll try to keep everything clear despite the mixture.

    I’d like to begin by calling into question the idea of the Pardoner as a deceitful figure. (Or at least the idea that his deceitfulness is central to his transgressiveness.) Bridget, our launchposter, suggests that the Pardoner is characterized by open deception; she identifies him as a “master of artifice” (Bridget). She gives several examples of this open deception. One is the Pardoner, who has “‘A vois he hadde as smal as hath a goot’ (690) choosing to sing loudly to his male companion” (Bridget). Here, she explains, the Pardoner is “flaunt[ing] his sexual ambiguity in front of his companions” (Bridget). Another example is the Pardoner’s lack of effort to disguise his “ambiguous face as ‘dischevelee save his cappe he rood al bare’ (685)” (Bridget). A third example is the Pardoner’s willing acknowledgment of “his use of false relics” (Bridget).

    Relatedly, in her essay “The Pardoner’s Homosexuality and How It Matters,” Monica E. McAlpine catalogues various markers of the Pardoner’s otherness/queerness (or, as she would put it, his homosexuality). She refers to allusions about the Pardoner’s hair, his grooming, his concern with fashion, his high voice, his glaring eyes, and his beardlessness, among other things (13).

    What is curious about all of these examples is that the Pardoner does not seem to be deceitful or artificial in any of them, except perhaps Bridget’s third example, i.e. the Pardoner’s use of false relics. Interestingly, this is the only example that is not a direct marker of the Pardoner’s gender/sexuality (the way that his hair, voice, etc. are). It seems that the Pardoner could have rather easily disguised most of these physical markers, or at least sought to minimize their prevalence. But instead he wears his fashionable clothes in such a way that his beardless face is bare, and he sings loudly in his high voice, etc. The Pardoner, then, does not seem to be deceitful about his ambiguous/unusual/illicit gender/sexuality; rather, he is open (even flaunting) about his otherness.

    Similarly, Eleanor argues that the Pardoner’s “seemingly ambiguous or homosexual sexuality…really does not play a role in his plan of deception” (Eleanor). So perhaps the Pardoner is deceitful in some ways—I can see how one might read his ‘sales pitch’ as deceitful—but again he does not seem to be deceitful about his sexuality or gender.

    I’d like to (tentatively) argue that what makes the Pardoner so transgressive not that he is deceitful, and not even that he occupies ambiguous/queer spaces, but that he occupies these ambiguous/queer/(Bob might say “contradictory”) spaces openly, without disguising himself, thereby breaking the rules for the medieval discourses on sexuality and sin.

    Regarding these discourses, Foucault explains that “We must not forget that by making sex into that which, above all else, had to be confessed, the Christian pastoral always presented it as the disquieting enigma: not a thing which stubbornly shows itself, but one which always hides, the insidious presence that speaks in a voice so muted and often disguised that one risks remaining deaf to it” (35). The Pardoner seems to be the antithesis of this Christian pastoral vision of (illicit) sex/sexuality as a necessarily hidden, muted, disguised thing—after all, as McAlpine points out, the Pardoner literally sings out loudly in his high, effeminate voice, “flaunting…his relationship with the Summoner” (15). McAlpine also discusses the Pardoner’s “inability to approach the confessional,” perhaps because of “his perception of the gulf between what the church was prepared to forgive and what he had to confess” (15). So not only does the Pardoner express his sexuality in illicit venues (e.g. flaunting publicly), he also fails to confess that sexuality in the appropriate venue (i.e. the confessional).

    Foucault also argues that “The Christian pastoral also sought to produce specific effects on desire, by the mere fact of transforming it—fully and deliberately—into discourse: effects of mastery and detachment, to be sure, but also an effect of spiritual reconversion, of turning back to God…. [T]his carefully analytical discourse was meant to yield multiple effects of displacement, intensification, reorientation, and modification of desire itself” (23). By not participating in the confessional, then, the Pardoner fails to reorient and modify his desire. He also fails to turn over ownership of the discourse on sexuality to the Church hierarchy.

    (Indeed, Chaucer includes a discourse on sexuality that is almost completely removed from its proper Church hierarchy placement: the Host’s attack on the Pardoner, followed by the knight’s reconciliation. Indeed, I wonder if there is a message here about the power of the nobility v. the power of the church over discourses, including discourses on sexuality. That is, if the Pardoner seems to find reconciliation and social inclusion through the actions of the knight but not through those of the Church, then what does that say about the roles of those institutions at the time?)

    The Pardoner, then, is transgressive not so much because he might be homosexual, but rather because in displaying himself openly (and not displaying himself in the confessional) he breaks the rules of the medieval discourse on sex.

    • Chaucer, Geoffrey. “The Pardoner’s Prologue and Tale.” Norton Anthology of English Literature. 9th ed. Vol. 1. New York: W.W. Norton &, 2012. 310-25. Print.

      Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality: An Introduction. New York: Vintage Books, 1978. Print.

      McAlpine, Monica E. “The Pardoner’s Homosexuality and How it Matters.” PMLA 95.1 (1980): 8-22.

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