The Moral Lessons in “The Pardoner’s Tale” from The Canterbury Tales

Summarize “The Pardoner’s Tale” from The Canterbury Tales. Then list 5 prominent moral lessons from the story. Restate or reflect the exercise wording in each of your answers, and to support your responses with specific quotes and references from the literature material. Which 2 moral lessons of your 5 are most dominant in the story? Explain why you have chosen these 2 lessons.

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Title: The Moral Lessons in “The Pardoner’s Tale” from The Canterbury Tales


“The Pardoner’s Tale,” written by Geoffrey Chaucer in the late 14th century, is a part of the famous collection of stories known as The Canterbury Tales. This tale revolves around a group of three young men who embark on a quest to find and kill Death. However, their journey takes an unexpected turn, leading them to face their own moral failings and eventual downfall. Through this intriguing narrative, Chaucer presents several prominent moral lessons that continue to resonate with readers today.

Summary of “The Pardoner’s Tale”

“The Pardoner’s Tale” begins with the Pardoner, a corrupt church official, preaching a sermon about the dangers of greed and avarice. He tells a story to illustrate his point: In a tavern, three riotous young men hear about a recent death caused by a mysterious figure named Death. Determined to avenge this death, they set out to find Death and kill him. On their journey, they encounter an old man who tells them that they can find Death under a nearby oak tree. However, upon reaching the tree, they discover not Death but a large pile of gold coins.

The three men immediately forget their original quest and are consumed by greed. They devise a plan to wait until nighttime to secretly transport the treasure back to their homes. However, one of them is sent to town to fetch food and drinks, and the remaining two plot to murder him upon his return in order to increase their share. Meanwhile, the treacherous two secretly conspire to poison the drinks they will offer to their companion.

However, the treachery backfires when all three men end up drinking from the poisoned bottle, resulting in their simultaneous deaths. The story ends with the Pardoner revealing that he carries relics and promises forgiveness for a price—a clear indictment of his own hypocrisy.

Prominent Moral Lessons in “The Pardoner’s Tale”

The Destructive Power of Greed: A key moral lesson in “The Pardoner’s Tale” revolves around the destructive nature of greed. The tale highlights how the pursuit of wealth and material possessions can lead individuals astray from their principles and cause their downfall. This lesson is evident when Chaucer writes, “Radix malorum est cupiditas” (The root of all evil is greed). The three men’s initial noble quest for justice transforms into a desire for personal gain, ultimately leading to their demise.

The Folly of Pride: Another significant moral lesson in the tale is the folly of pride. The young men’s arrogance and overconfidence blind them to the consequences of their actions. They dismiss the warnings of the old man and succumb to their own hubris. Chaucer illustrates this lesson when he writes, “This rioter goeth forth on his way / And so bifel, as ye shul after heere” (This rioter goes forth on his way / And so it happened, as you shall hear). Their pride leads them to underestimate the dangers surrounding them and ultimately seals their fate.

The Transience of Life: The tale also explores the theme of the transience of life. Through the presence of Death as a central motif, Chaucer reminds readers of the inevitability of mortality. He states, “Whan that he is outrely out of this toun / Thanne shal we werken al that in oure mighte” (When he is completely out of this town / Then we shall accomplish all that we can). The characters’ obsession with finding and conquering Death reflects humanity’s struggle to come to terms with its own mortality.

The Consequences of Betrayal: Chaucer emphasizes the repercussions of betrayal in “The Pardoner’s Tale.” The treacherous actions of the two men who plot to murder their companion serve as a cautionary tale about the consequences of disloyalty and deceit. Chaucer writes, “Thus been thise robbours two yslawe / And hanged by the nekke” (Thus these robbers have been slain / And hanged by the neck). Their betrayal leads to their ultimate demise, highlighting the moral lesson that duplicity often leads to self-destruction.

The Hypocrisy of Religious Corruption: Lastly, “The Pardoner’s Tale” exposes the hypocrisy within religious institutions. The character of the Pardoner himself serves as a symbol of corruption and moral decay within the church. As he peddles fake relics and preaches against sins while indulging in them himself, Chaucer critiques the immoral practices that often occur within religious establishments.

The Dominant Moral Lessons

Among these five moral lessons, two stand out as particularly dominant in “The Pardoner’s Tale.” Firstly, the destructive power of greed holds significant prominence throughout the narrative. It acts as the driving force behind the characters’ actions and serves as a warning against allowing greed to corrupt one’s values and lead to ruin.

Secondly, the tale’s exploration of the transience of life resonates profoundly with readers. Chaucer’s use of Death as a central motif emphasizes the fleeting nature of human existence and urges individuals to reflect on their own mortality.


“The Pardoner’s Tale” from The Canterbury Tales provides readers with a captivating story that holds timeless moral lessons. Through its exploration of greed, pride, mortality, betrayal, and religious corruption, Chaucer warns readers about the dangers of succumbing to these vices. By emphasizing the destructive power of greed and reminding us of life’s transience, this tale encourages introspection and reflection on our own moral choices.


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