Research Publication Title

Mystics, Eunuchs, and Contraband: The Pardoner’s Role in Chaucer’s Criticism of the Catholic Church

Major

English Literature

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Craig Callender

Keywords

Chaucer, Pardoner, Church, Wycliffe, laypeople, clerics, exploitation

Abstract

This paper analyzes Geoffrey Chaucer’s Pardoner in The Canterbury Tales as a vehicle used by Chaucer to critique the laity’s Scriptural illiteracy that was enforced by the papacy in fourteenth century England. There existed an unequal distribution of power between the Church clerics and the laity due, in part, to the laity’s lack of access to Scripture. Those who supported the laypeople having access to Scripture and comprehending it were persecuted for their anti-Catholic sentiment. In The Canterbury Tales, the Pardoner feeds off this ignorance of the laypeople and is able to exploit them because of it, an act he appears to do with pride. This paper applies close-readings of the Pardoner’s dialogue to identify the Pardoner’s role within this power dynamic. By the definition of his title, he is a member of the clergy. Such a negative portrayal of the clergy might have resulted in Chaucer being persecuted. However, by creating the Pardoner to exist outside of the established norm on three different spheres as a mystic, a bearer of contraband, and as a eunuch, Chaucer protects himself from being accused of anti-Catholic sentiment.

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Mystics, Eunuchs, and Contraband: The Pardoner’s Role in Chaucer’s Criticism of the Catholic Church

This paper analyzes Geoffrey Chaucer’s Pardoner in The Canterbury Tales as a vehicle used by Chaucer to critique the laity’s Scriptural illiteracy that was enforced by the papacy in fourteenth century England. There existed an unequal distribution of power between the Church clerics and the laity due, in part, to the laity’s lack of access to Scripture. Those who supported the laypeople having access to Scripture and comprehending it were persecuted for their anti-Catholic sentiment. In The Canterbury Tales, the Pardoner feeds off this ignorance of the laypeople and is able to exploit them because of it, an act he appears to do with pride. This paper applies close-readings of the Pardoner’s dialogue to identify the Pardoner’s role within this power dynamic. By the definition of his title, he is a member of the clergy. Such a negative portrayal of the clergy might have resulted in Chaucer being persecuted. However, by creating the Pardoner to exist outside of the established norm on three different spheres as a mystic, a bearer of contraband, and as a eunuch, Chaucer protects himself from being accused of anti-Catholic sentiment.