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'Death is the central theme explored by the Pardoner'. How helpful do you find this observation?

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English Literature Essay 'Death is the central theme explored by the Pardoner'. How helpful do you find this observation? Whilst death is one of the central themes explored by the Pardoner in the General Prologue and Pardoner's prologue and tale, it is clearly one amongst many others, such as gambling, swearing and sin. The sins are all alluded to in avarice, gluttony, sloth, wrath, pride, sloth, and perhaps more indirectly, envy. However, death is perhaps the most immediate effect of these other themes, and is central to the plot, the characters and the audience. Chaucer creates these themes using the irony between what appears and what is, religiously charged imagery and the position of he who should practise what he preaches but does not, in the Pardoner. Some critics suggest that the Pardoner does not fear the death he frightens other with in his sermons, because he is already spiritually dead. The first point that the Pardoner makes is that his theme is always one - that the love of money is the root of all evil. It is ironic that while he preaches that, he seeks monetary returns for his homily; his efforts should be driven by the desire to do good, but instead are more immediate and material. ...read more.


Food and drink is also ironically has connotations of the Communion with wine and bread. It is the eating of what was forbidden that caused sin and therefore death in the first place, and it is the death of Christ that brought the redemption of others. The mention of death raises the tale of the three rioters, which is about death. "In essence it is that type of tale, favorite in folk-lore, which depends on a trick, in this case a double meaning for death which we understand but the rioters do not."1 The rioters seek death, ironically to kill 'him'. They succeed in the first part of their task and find death, yet it is 'he' who kills them. Based on the premise that they are guilty of killing each other, it is sequitur to conclude that death resides in all three of the rioters. This is of course spiritually true. The three rioters are already spiritually dead, drinking before the first belle "clinks" and showing disrespect to the elderly. The only life within them is that of the material world around them in food and drink. It would also seem, therefore, that the Pardoner is suggesting here that one dies when they are spiritually devoid. "No lenger thanne after Deeth they sougbte" (486) ...read more.


The rioters indulge the senses and rhetoric (through apostrophe and exclamatio) depicting cycles of eating and drinking in terms of excrement, urine and therefore physical alongside spiritual degradation. Again, as was so in Medieval England, a quest is sought to conquer the ultimate corruption of death (the cadaver tombs and exempla of death bed scenes), but the purpose of the rioters is to slay death in order to allow them to pursue a life of self-indulgence. "And we wol sleen this false traitour Deeth. He shal be slain, he that so many sleeth" (413-414) Thus, the plot of the tale; characters in their relation (the old man, the young boy and the innkeeper); the characterisation of death through the spiritual death of the Pardoner himself, the spiritual and actual death of the three rioters and their friend; are all synonymous with death - the moral of the story being the triumph of death over sin. Throughout, the use of diction and imagery with either implicitly or explicitly restates spiritual and incorruptible values and the truth above any other emphasise the only real way to destroy death, as Christ did. It would therefore seem that whilst Chaucer within the Pardoner explores a number of different themes, each of them returns to death and thus death is the central theme which the Pardoner explores. 1 Derek Pearsall - Death of a Salesman 2 York Notes - The Canterbury Tales Aymen Mahmoud JA4 English Literature/MP ...read more.

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