The Pardoner's Tale - Context

Context of Chaucer's The Pardoner's Tale as a gothic text for A2 AQA English Literature


Biographical Context

  • Chaucer was born in 1343/4 in London
  • He was a 'commoner' in a highly hierarchical society until he married a woman of a high social class at the age of 22.
  • Chaucer's move from different levels of society is represented in his wide range of characters, from the pilgrims to the higher class Pardoner and Knight.
  • In 1387, Chaucer began writing The Canterbury Tales. The same year, his wife died. The Pardoner's Tale was written sometime between this date and his death in 1400.
  • The Canterbury Tales were never finished.
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Cultural and Literary Context

  • The language used in The Pardoner's Tale is Middle English, a combination of:
    - Old English (Anglo-Saxon) spoken by peasants - short, blunt words.
    - words of French derivation often spoken by the higher class members of society (very hierachical) - longer, more refined and sophisticasticated words.
  • Chaucer exploits the contrast between the two types of language; the rioters in The Pardoner's Tale, for example, speak Old English and are very aggressive in comparison with teh Old Man who is gentle.
  • In 1362 (five years before Chaucer started writing The Canterbury Tales) English became the language of Parliament.
  • Sermons were more popular than novels until the end of the 18th Century which suggests that the tale was popular, although there is no criticism from when it was written.
  • Chaucer was probably one of the most widely read men of his time.
  • One of the oldest texts available today.
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Historical Context

  • Political and social turbulence:
    - 1381 ---> Peasant's Revolt
    - The Plague ---> spread to England in 1348 and features in the text due to all the deaths which are thought to be caused by the 'character' Death. 
  • Religion was a central aspect of society. Religion in tale is shown in terms of:
    - The pilgrims ---> pilgrimages were a core part of practices of the Catholic church in Chaucer's time.
    - The Pardoner ---> a trusted character at this time due to the importance of religion. However, the Pardoner deceives and preaches for his own gain.
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Social Context

  • As established already, society was very hierarchical during Chaucer's time, with peasants possessing the least power. In The Pardoner's Tale, the pilgrims have the least power, followed by the Pardoner, followed by the Knight.
  • 'I assoile yow by myn heigh power' suggests that the Pardoner abuses his power as a trusted Pardoner to deceive people and gain for his own benefit.
  • Society was feudal.
  • Lack of female characters - their role in society was low and they were powerless. The only mention of females in the text is of 'tombesteres' (dancing girls) who are the 'develes officeres', and of mother nature, who is evil for not allowing the Old Man to die.
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