Is the Pardoner likeable?

A short stimulus essay for Year 13. This is , as usual, not comprehensive and deliberately short on close analysis – that s the students’ task! Hopefully this is interesting and useful, nonetheless.

The Pardoner is not a likeable character at first glance. His description in the General prologue focuses on his lank, greasy hair and his dubious sexuality before scorning his goat-like voice. It is acknowledged, however, that he is a good Pardoner (for a Pardoner). Student should also be aware in passing that he is one of the few pilgrims who appears in other stories – in his case, The Wife of Bath, where he makes comments designed to reflect well on his sexual prowess. If he was not in some way likeable, would Chaucer have made him one of the Pilgrims whose characters develop outside their stories?

The LITB 3 course asks you to consider elements of the Gothic in the writings you study. Whilst Chaucer is not and can never be described as a Gothic writer, this question asks you to consider the Gothic trope of the villain who is found attractive by readers and characters alike. One need not spend time here considering this in depth, but characters such as Heathcliff, Dracula, Satan, Mephistopheles, or The Monk are certainly found attractive at times within the story. This attraction is often sexual or physical and comes despite the clear awareness that the character is in no way “good”.

So, is the Pardoner attractive? Do we like him? I expect that in the 21st Century, the answer is a clear NO, but I wonder if this is fair. Let us consider the elements of the character that might be attractive:

His apparent sexual prowess
His ability to turn others from sin, even whilst sinning himself
His honesty in his tale
His Iago-like daring in stating the depth of his depravity so openly.

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