The Pardoner’s Tale in Middle English

This is part of an online version of the eBook edition that I recently produced of Chaucer’s The Pardoner’s Tale. This page provides The Pardoner’s Tale in Middle English.

For other versions see the below links:

The Pardoner’s Tale in Modern and Middle English

The Pardoner’s Tale in Modern English


Description of the Pardoner from the General Prologue


With him ther rood a gentil Pardoner

Of Rouncival, his freend and his compeer,      670

That streight was comen fro the court of Rome.

Ful loude he song, ‘Com hider, love, to me.’

This somnour bar to him a stif burdoun,

Was never trompe of half so greet a soun.

This pardoner hadde heer as yelow as wex,      675

But smothe it heng, as dooth a strike of flex;

By ounces henge his lokkes that he hadde,

And ther-with he his shuldres overspradde;

But thinne it lay, by colpons oon and oon;

But hood, for Iolitee, ne wered he noon,      680

For it was trussed up in his walet.

Him thoughte, he rood al of the newe Iet;

Dischevele, save his cappe, he rood al bare.

Swiche glaringe eyen hadde he as an hare.

A vernicle hadde he sowed on his cappe.      685

His walet lay biforn him in his lappe,

Bret-ful of pardoun come from Rome al hoot.

A voys he hadde as smal as hath a goot.

No berd hadde he, ne never sholde have,

As smothe it was as it were late y-shave;     690

I trowe he were a gelding or a mare.

But of his craft, fro Berwik into Ware,

Ne was ther swich another pardoner.

For in his male he hadde a pilwe-beer,

Which that, he seyde, was our lady veyl:     695

He seyde, he hadde a gobet of the seyl

That sëynt Peter hadde, whan that he wente

Up-on the see, til Iesu Crist him hente.

He hadde a croys of latoun, ful of stones,

And in a glas he hadde pigges bones.     700

But with thise relikes, whan that he fond

A povre person dwelling up-on lond,

Up-on a day he gat him more moneye

Than that the person gat in monthes tweye.

And thus, with feyned flaterye and Iapes,          705

He made the person and the peple his apes.

But trewely to tellen, atte laste,

He was in chirche a noble ecclesiaste.

Wel coude he rede a lessoun or a storie,

But alderbest he song an offertorie;     710

For wel he wiste, whan that song was songe,

He moste preche, and wel affyle his tonge,

To winne silver, as he ful wel coude;

Therefore he song so meriely and loude.



Introduction to The Pardoner’s Tale


Our Hoste gan to swere as he were wood,

‘Harrow!’ quod he, ‘by nayles and by blood![i].

This was a fals cherl and a fals Iustyse!

As shamful deeth as herte may devyse     290

Come to thise Iuges and hir advocats!

Algate this sely mayde is slayn, allas!

Allas! to dere boghte she beautee!

Wherfore I seye al day, as men may see,

That yiftes of fortune or of nature     295

Ben cause of deeth to many a creature.

Hir beautee was hir deeth, I dar wel sayn;

Allas! so pitously as she was slayn!

Of bothe yiftes that I speke of now

Men han ful ofte more harm than prow.     300

But trewely, myn owene mayster dere,

This is a pitous tale for to here.

But natheles, passe over, is no fors;

I prey to god, so save thy gentil cors,

And eek thyne urinals and thy Iordanes,     305

Thyn Ypocras, and eek thy Galianes,[ii]

And every boist ful of thy letuarie;[iii]

God blesse hem, and our lady seinte Marie!

So mot I theen, thou art a propre man,

And lyk a prelat, by seint Ronyan!     310

Seyde I nat wel? I can nat speke in terme;

But wel I woot, thou doost my herte to erme,[iv]

That I almost have caught a cardiacle.[v]

By corpus bones! but I have triacle,

Or elles a draught of moyste and corny[vi] ale,     315

Or but I here anon a mery tale,

Myn herte is lost for pitee of this mayde.

Thou bel amy, thou Pardoner,’ he seyde,

‘Tel us som mirthe or Iapes right anon.’

‘It shall be doon,’ quod he, ‘by seint Ronyon!     320

But first,’ quod he, ‘heer at this ale-stake

I wol both drinke, and eten of a cake.’

But right anon thise gentils gonne to crye,

‘Nay! lat him telle us of no ribaudye;

Tel us som moral thing, that we may lere     325

Som wit, and thanne wol we gladly here.’

‘I graunte, y-wis,’ quod he, ‘but I mot thinke

Up-on som honest thing, whyl that I drinke.



Prologue to The Pardoner’s Tale

‘Lordings,’ quod he, ‘in chirches whan I preche,

I peyne me to han an hauteyn speche,[viii]     330

And ringe it out as round as gooth a belle,

For I can al by rote that I telle.

My theme is alwey oon, and ever was—

Radix malorum est Cupiditas.”[ix]

First I pronounce whennes that I come,     335

And than my bulles shewe I, alle and somme.

Our lige lordes seel on my patente,

That shewe I first, my body to warente,

That no man be so bold, ne preest ne clerk,

Me to destourbe of Cristes holy werk;     340

And after that than telle I forth my tales,

Bulles of popes and of cardinales,

Of patriarkes, and bishoppes I shewe;

And in Latyn I speke a wordes fewe,

To saffron with my predicacioun,     345

And for to stire men to devocioun.

Than shewe I forth my longe cristal stones,

Y-crammed ful of cloutes and of bones;

Reliks been they, as wenen they echoon.

Than have I in latoun a sholder-boon     350

Which that was of an holy Iewes shepe.

“Good men,” seye I, “tak of my wordes kepe;

If that this boon be wasshe in any welle,

If cow, or calf, or sheep, or oxe swelle

That any worm hath ete, or worm y-stonge,     355

Tak water of that welle, and wash his tonge,

And it is hool anon; and forthermore,

Of pokkes and of scabbe, and every sore

Shal every sheep be hool, that of this welle

Drinketh a draughte; tak kepe eek what I telle.     360

If that the good-man, that the bestes oweth,

Wol every wike, er that the cok him croweth,

Fastinge, drinken of this welle a draughte,

As thilke holy Iewe our eldres taughte,

His bestes and his stoor shal multiplye.     365

And, sirs, also it heleth Ialousye;

For, though a man be falle in Ialous rage,

Let maken with this water his potage,

And never shal he more his wyf mistriste,

Though he the sooth of hir defaute wiste;     370

Al had she taken preestes two or three.[x]

Heer is a miteyn eek, that ye may see.

He that his hond wol putte in this miteyn,

He shal have multiplying of his greyn,

Whan he hath sowen, be it whete or otes,     375

So that he offre pens, or elles grotes.

Good men and wommen, o thing warne I yow,

If any wight be in this chirche now,

That hath doon sinne horrible, that he

Dar nat, for shame, of it y-shriven be,     380

Or any womman, be she yong or old,

That hath y-maad hir housbond cokewold,

Swich folk shul have no power ne no grace

To offren to my reliks in this place.

And who-so findeth him out of swich blame,     385

He wol com up and offre in goddes name,

And I assoille him by the auctoritee

Which that by bulle y-graunted was to me.”

By this gaude have I wonne, yeer by yeer,

An hundred mark sith I was Pardoner.     390

I stonde lyk a clerk in my pulpet,

And whan the lewed peple is doun y-set,

I preche, so as ye han herd bifore,

And telle an hundred false Iapes more.

Than peyne I me to strecche forth the nekke,     395

And est and west upon the peple I bekke,

As doth a dowve sitting on a berne.

Myn hondes and my tonge goon so yerne,

That it is Ioye to see my bisinesse.

Of avaryce and of swich cursednesse     400

Is al my preching, for to make hem free

To yeve her pens, and namely un-to me.

For my entente is nat but for to winne,

And no-thing for correccioun of sinne.

I rekke never, whan that they ben beried,     405

Though that her soules goon a-blakeberied![xi]

For certes, many a predicacioun

Comth ofte tyme of yvel entencioun;

Som for plesaunce of folk and flaterye,

To been avaunced by ipocrisye,     410

And som for veyne glorie, and som for hate.

For, whan I dar non other weyes debate,

Than wol I stinge him with my tonge smerte

In preching, so that he shal nat asterte

To been defamed falsly, if that he     415

Hath trespased to my brethren or to me.

For, though I telle noght his propre name,

Men shal wel knowe that it is the same

By signes and by othere circumstances.

Thus quyte I folk that doon us displesances;     420

Thus spitte I out my venim under hewe

Of holynesse, to seme holy and trewe.

But shortly myn entente I wol devyse;

I preche of no-thing but for coveityse.

Therfor my theme is yet, and ever was—     425

Radix malorum est cupiditas.”

Thus can I preche agayn that same vyce

Which that I use, and that is avaryce.

But, though my-self be gilty in that sinne,

Yet can I maken other folk to twinne     430

From avaryce, and sore to repente.

But that is nat my principal entente.

I preche no-thing but for coveityse;

Of this matere it oughte y-nogh suffyse.

Than telle I hem ensamples many oon     435

Of olde stories, longe tyme agoon:

For lewed peple loven tales olde;

Swich thinges can they wel reporte and holde.

What? trowe ye, the whyles I may preche,

And winne gold and silver for I teche,     440

That I wol live in povert wilfully?

Nay, nay, I thoghte it never trewely!

For I wol preche and begge in sondry londes;

I wol not do no labour with myn hondes,

Ne make baskettes, and live therby,     445

Because I wol nat beggen ydelly.

I wol non of the apostles counterfete;

I wol have money, wolle, chese, and whete,

Al were it yeven of the povrest page,

Or of the povrest widwe in a village,     450

Al sholde hir children sterve for famyne.

Nay! I wol drinke licour of the vyne,

And have a Ioly wenche in every toun.

But herkneth, lordings, in conclusioun;

Your lyking is that I shal telle a tale.     455

Now, have I dronke a draughte of corny ale,

By god, I hope I shal yow telle a thing

That shal, by resoun, been at your lyking.

For, though myself be a ful vicious man,

A moral tale yet I yow telle can,     460

Which I am wont to preche, for to winne.

Now holde your pees, my tale I wol beginne.



The Pardoner’s Tale


In Flaundres whylom was a companye

Of yonge folk, that haunteden folye,

As ryot, hasard, stewes, and tavernes,     465

Wher-as, with harpes, lutes, and giternes,

They daunce and pleye at dees bothe day and night,

And ete also and drinken over hir might,

Thurgh which they doon the devel sacrifyse

With-in that develes temple, in cursed wyse,     470

By superfluitee abhominable;

Hir othes been so grete and so dampnable,

That it is grisly for to here hem swere;[xii]

Our blissed lordes body they to-tere;[xiii]

Hem thoughte Iewes rente him noght y-nough;     475

And ech of hem at otheres sinne lough.

And right anon than comen tombesteres[xiv]

Fetys and smale, and yonge fruytesteres,

Singers with harpes, baudes, wafereres,

Whiche been the verray develes officeres     480

To kindle and blowe the fyr of lecherye,

That is annexed un-to glotonye;

The holy writ take I to my witnesse,

That luxurie is in wyn and dronkenesse.[xv]

Lo, how that dronken Loth, unkindely,     485

Lay by his doghtres two, unwitingly;

So dronke he was, he niste what he wroghte.

Herodes, (who-so wel the stories soghte),[xvi]

Whan he of wyn was replet at his feste,

Right at his owene table he yaf his heste     490

To sleen the Baptist Iohn ful giltelees.

Senek seith eek a good word doutelees;

He seith, he can no difference finde

Bitwix a man that is out of his minde

And a man which that is dronkelewe,[xvii]     495

But that woodnesse, y-fallen in a shrewe,

Persevereth lenger than doth dronkenesse.

O glotonye, ful of cursednesse,

O cause first of our confusioun,

O original of our dampnacioun,     500

Til Crist had boght us with his blood agayn!

Lo, how dere, shortly for to sayn,

Aboght was thilke cursed vileinye;

Corrupt was al this world for glotonye!

Adam our fader, and his wyf also,     505

Fro Paradys to labour and to wo

Were driven for that vyce, it is no drede;

For whyl that Adam fasted, as I rede,

He was in Paradys; and whan that he

Eet of the fruyt defended on the tree,[xviii]     510

Anon he was out-cast to wo and peyne.

O glotonye, on thee wel oghte us pleyne!

O, wiste a man how many maladyes

Folwen of excesse and of glotonyes,

He wolde been the more mesurable     515

Of his diete, sittinge at his table.

Allas! the shorte throte, the tendre mouth,

Maketh that, Est and West, and North and South,

In erthe, in eir, in water men to-swinke

To gete a glotoun deyntee mete and drinke!     520

Of this matere, o Paul, wel canstow trete,

‘Mete un-to wombe, and wombe eek un-to mete,

Shal god destroyen bothe,’ as Paulus seith.[xix]

Allas! a foul thing is it, by my feith,

To seye this word, and fouler is the dede,     525

Whan man so drinketh of the whyte and rede,

That of his throte he maketh his privee,

Thurgh thilke cursed superfluitee.

The apostel weping seith[xx] ful pitously,

‘Ther walken many of whiche yow told have I,     530

I seye it now weping with pitous voys,

That they been enemys of Cristes croys,

Of whiche the ende is deeth, wombe is her god.’

O wombe! O bely! O stinking cod,[xxi]

Fulfild of donge and of corrupcioun!     535

At either ende of thee foul is the soun.

How greet labour and cost is thee to finde!

Thise cokes, how they stampe, and streyne, and grinde,

And turnen substaunce in-to accident,

To fulfille al thy likerous talent!     540

Out of the harde bones knokke they

The mary, for they caste noght a-wey

That may go thurgh the golet softe and swote;

Of spicerye, of leef, and bark, and rote

Shal been his sauce y-maked by delyt,     545

To make him yet a newer appetyt.

But certes, he that haunteth swich delyces

Is deed, whyl that he liveth in tho vyces.

A lecherous thing is wyn, and dronkenesse

Is ful of stryving and of wrecchednesse.     550

O dronke man, disfigured is thy face,[xxii]

Sour is thy breeth, foul artow to embrace,

And thurgh thy dronke nose semeth the soun

As though thou seydest ay ‘Sampsoun, Sampsoun’;

And yet, god wot, Sampsoun drank never no wyn.     555

Thou fallest, as it were a stiked swyn;

Thy tonge is lost, and al thyn honest cure;

For dronkenesse is verray sepulture

Of mannes wit and his discrecioun.

In whom that drinke hath dominacioun,     560

He can no conseil kepe, it is no drede.

Now kepe yow fro the whyte and fro the rede,

And namely fro the whyte wyn of Lepe,[xxiii]

That is to selle in Fish-strete[xxiv] or in Chepe.

This wyn of Spayne crepeth subtilly     565

In othere wynes, growing faste by,

Of which ther ryseth swich fumositee,

That whan a man hath dronken draughtes three,

And weneth that he be at hoom in Chepe,

He is in Spayne, right at the toune of Lepe,     570

Nat at the Rochel, ne at Burdeux toun;

And thanne wol he seye, ‘Sampsoun, Sampsoun.’

But herkneth, lordings, o word, I yow preye,

That alle the sovereyn actes, dar I seye,

Of victories in the olde testament,     575

Thurgh verray god, that is omnipotent,

Were doon in abstinence and in preyere;

Loketh the Bible, and ther ye may it lere.

Loke, Attila, the grete conquerour,

Deyde in his sleep,[xxv] with shame and dishonour,     580

Bledinge ay at his nose in dronkenesse;

A capitayn shoulde live in sobrenesse.

And over al this, avyseth yow right wel

What was comaunded un-to Lamuel—[xxvi]

Nat Samuel, but Lamuel, seye I—-     585

Redeth the Bible, and finde it expresly

Of wyn-yeving to hem that han Iustyse.

Na-more of this, for it may wel suffyse.

And now that I have spoke of glotonye,

Now wol I yow defenden hasardrye.     590

Hasard is verray moder of lesinges,

And of deceite, and cursed forsweringes,

Blaspheme of Crist, manslaughtre, and wast also

Of catel and of tyme; and forthermo,

It is repreve and contrarie of honour     595

For to ben holde a commune hasardour.

And ever the hyër he is of estaat,

The more is he holden desolaat.

If that a prince useth hasardrye,

In alle governaunce and policye     600

He is, as by commune opinoun,

Y-holde the lasse in reputacioun.

Stilbon, that was a wys embassadour,

Was sent to Corinthe, in ful greet honour,

Fro Lacidomie[xxvii], to make hir alliaunce.     605

And whan he cam, him happede, par chaunce,

That alle the grettest that were of that lond,

Pleyinge atte hasard he hem fond.

For which, as sone as it mighte be,

He stal him hoom agayn to his contree,     610

And seyde, ‘ther wol I nat lese my name;

Ne I wol nat take on me so greet defame,

Yow for to allye un-to none hasardours.

Sendeth othere wyse embassadours;

For, by my trouthe, me were lever dye,     615

Than I yow sholde to hasardours allye.

For ye that been so glorious in honours

Shul nat allyen yow with hasardours

As by my wil, ne as by my tretee.’

This wyse philosophre thus seyde he.     620

Loke eek that, to the king Demetrius

The king of Parthes, as the book seith us,

Sente him a paire of dees of gold in scorn,

For he hadde used hasard ther-biforn;

For which he heeld his glorie or his renoun     625

At no value or reputacioun.

Lordes may finden other maner pley

Honeste y-nough to dryve the day awey.

Now wol I speke of othes false and grete

A word or two, as olde bokes trete.     630

Gret swering is a thing abhominable,

And false swering is yet more reprevable.

The heighe god forbad swering at al,

Witnesse on Mathew;[xxviii] but in special

Of swering seith the holy Ieremye,[xxix]     635

‘Thou shalt seye sooth thyn othes, and nat lye,

And swere in dome, and eek in rightwisnesse;’

But ydel swering is a cursednesse.

Bihold and see, that in the firste table

Of heighe goddes hestes honurable,     640

How that the seconde heste of him is this—

‘Tak nat my name in ydel or amis.’

Lo, rather he forbedeth swich swering

Than homicyde or many a cursed thing;

I seye that, as by ordre, thus it stondeth;     645

This knowen, that his hestes understondeth,

How that the second heste of god is that.

And forther over, I wol thee telle al plat,

That vengeance shal nat parten from his hous,

That of his othes is to outrageous.     650

‘By goddes precious herte, and by his nayles,[xxx]

And by the blode of Crist, that it is in Hayles,[xxxi]

Seven is my chaunce, and thyn is cink and treye;

By goddes armes, if thou falsly pleye,

This dagger shal thurgh-out thyn herte go’—     655

This fruyt cometh of the bicched bones two,

Forswering, ire, falsnesse, homicyde.

Now, for the love of Crist that for us dyde,

Leveth your othes, bothe grete and smale;

But, sirs, now wol I telle forth my tale.     660

Thise ryotoures three, of whiche I telle,

Longe erst er pryme rong of any belle,

Were set hem in a taverne for to drinke;

And as they satte, they herde a belle clinke

Biforn a cors, was caried to his grave;     665

That oon of hem gan callen to his knave,

‘Go bet,’[xxxii] quod he, ‘and axe redily,

What cors is this that passeth heer forby;

And look that thou reporte his name wel.’

‘Sir,’ quod this boy, ‘it nedeth never-a-del.     670

It was me told, er ye cam heer, two houres;

He was, pardee, an old felawe of youres;

And sodeynly he was y-slayn to-night,

For-dronke, as he sat on his bench upright;

Ther cam a privee theef, men clepeth Deeth,     675

That in this contree al the peple sleeth,

And with his spere he smoot his herte a-two,

And wente his wey with-outen wordes mo.

He hath a thousand slayn this pestilence:

And, maister, er ye come in his presence,     680

Me thinketh that it were necessarie

For to be war of swich an adversarie:

Beth redy for to mete him evermore.

Thus taughte me my dame, I sey na-more.’

‘By seinte Marie,’ seyde this taverner,     685

‘The child seith sooth, for he hath slayn this yeer,

Henne over a myle, with-in a greet village,

Both man and womman, child and hyne, and page.

I trowe his habitacioun be there;

To been avysed greet wisdom it were,     690

Er that he dide a man a dishonour.’

‘Ye, goddes armes,’ quod this ryotour,

‘Is it swich peril with him for to mete?

I shal him seke by wey and eek by strete,

I make avow to goddes digne bones!     695

Herkneth, felawes, we three been al ones;

Lat ech of us holde up his hond til other,

And ech of us bicomen otheres brother,

And we wol sleen this false traytour Deeth;

He shal be slayn, which that so many sleeth,     700

By goddes dignitee, er it be night.’

Togidres han thise three her trouthes plight,

To live and dyen ech of hem for other,

As though he were his owene y-boren brother.

And up they sterte al dronken, in this rage,     705

And forth they goon towardes that village,

Of which the taverner had spoke biforn,

And many a grisly ooth than han they sworn,

And Cristes blessed body they to-rente—

‘Deeth shal be deed, if that they may him hente.’     710

Whan they han goon nat fully half a myle,

Right as they wolde han troden over a style,

An old man and a povre with hem mette.

This olde man ful mekely hem grette,

And seyde thus, ‘now, lordes, god yow see!’     715

The proudest of thise ryotoures three

Answerde agayn, ‘what? carl, with sory grace,

Why artow al forwrapped save thy face?

Why livestow so longe in so greet age?’

This olde man gan loke in his visage,     720

And seyde thus, ‘for I ne can nat finde

A man, though that I walked in-to Inde,

Neither in citee nor in no village,

That wolde chaunge his youthe for myn age;

And therfore moot I han myn age stille,     725

As longe time as it is goddes wille.

Ne deeth, allas! ne wol nat han my lyf;

Thus walke I, lyk a restelees caityf,

And on the ground, which is my modres gate,

I knokke with my staf, bothe erly and late,     730

And seye, “leve moder, leet me in!

Lo, how I vanish, flesh, and blood, and skin!

Allas! whan shul my bones been at reste?

Moder, with yow wolde I chaunge my cheste,

That in my chambre longe tyme hath be,     735

Ye! for an heyre clout to wrappe me!”

But yet to me she wol nat do that grace,

For which ful pale and welked is my face.

But, sirs, to yow it is no curteisye

To speken to an old man vileinye,     740

But he trespasse in worde, or elles in dede.

In holy writ ye may your-self wel rede,

“Agayns an old man, hoor upon his heed,

Ye sholde aryse;” wherfor I yeve yow reed,

Ne dooth un-to an old man noon harm now,     745

Na-more than ye wolde men dide to yow

In age, if that ye so longe abyde;

And god be with yow, wher ye go or ryde.

I moot go thider as I have to go.’

‘Nay, olde cherl, by god, thou shall nat so,’     750

Seyde this other hasardour anon;

‘Thou partest nat so lightly, by seint Iohn!

Thou spak right now of thilke traitour Deeth,

That in this contree alle our frendes sleeth.

Have heer my trouthe, as thou art his aspye,     755

Tel wher he is, or thou shalt it abye,

By god, and by the holy sacrament!

For soothly thou art oon of his assent,

To sleen us yonge folk, thou false theef!’

‘Now, sirs,’ quod he, ‘if that yow be so leef     760

To finde Deeth, turne up this croked wey,

For in that grove I lafte him, by my fey,

Under a tree, and ther he wol abyde;

Nat for your boost he wol him no-thing hyde.

See ye that ook? right ther ye shul him finde.     765

God save yow, that boghte agayn mankinde,

And yow amende!’—thus seyde this olde man.

And everich of thise ryotoures ran,

Til he cam to that tree, and ther they founde

Of florins fyne of golde y-coyned rounde     770

Wel ny an eighte busshels, as hem thoughte.

No lenger thanne after Deeth they soughte,

But ech of hem so glad was of that sighte,

For that the florins been so faire and brighte,

That doun they sette hem by this precious hord.     775

The worste of hem he spake the firste word.

‘Brethren,’ quod he, ‘tak kepe what I seye;

My wit is greet, though that I bourde and pleye.

This tresor hath fortune un-to us yiven,

In mirthe and Iolitee our lyf to liven,     780

And lightly as it comth, so wol we spende.

Ey! goddes precious dignitee! who wende

To-day, that we sholde han so fair a grace?

But mighte this gold be caried fro this place

Hoom to myn hous, or elles un-to youres—     785

For wel ye woot that al this gold is oures—

Than were we in heigh felicitee.

But trewely, by daye it may nat be;

Men wolde seyn that we were theves stronge,

And for our owene tresor doon us honge.     790

This tresor moste y-caried be by nighte

As wysly and as slyly as it mighte.

Wherfore I rede that cut among us alle

Be drawe, and lat se wher the cut wol falle;

And he that hath the cut with herte blythe     795

Shal renne to the toune, and that ful swythe,

And bringe us breed and wyn ful prively.

And two of us shul kepen subtilly

This tresor wel; and, if he wol nat tarie,

Whan it is night, we wol this tresor carie     800

By oon assent, wher-as us thinketh best.’

That oon of hem the cut broughte in his fest,

And bad hem drawe, and loke wher it wol falle;

And it fil on the yongeste of hem alle;

And forth toward the toun he wente anon.     805

And al-so sone as that he was gon,

That oon of hem spak thus un-to that other,

‘Thou knowest wel thou art my sworne brother,

Thy profit wol I telle thee anon.

Thou woost wel that our felawe is agon;     810

And heer is gold, and that ful greet plentee,

That shal departed been among us three.

But natheles, if I can shape it so

That it departed were among us two,

Hadde I nat doon a freendes torn to thee?’     815

That other answerde, ‘I noot how that may be;

He woot how that the gold is with us tweye,

What shal we doon, what shal we to him seye?’

‘Shal it be conseil?’ seyde the firste shrewe,

‘And I shal tellen thee, in wordes fewe,     820

What we shal doon, and bringe it wel aboute.’

‘I graunte,’ quod that other, ‘out of doute,

That, by my trouthe, I wol thee nat biwreye.’

‘Now,’ quod the firste, ‘thou woost wel we be tweye,

And two of us shul strenger be than oon.     825

Look whan that he is set, and right anoon

Arys, as though thou woldest with him pleye;

And I shal ryve him thurgh the sydes tweye

Whyl that thou strogelest with him as in game,

And with thy dagger look thou do the same;     830

And than shal al this gold departed be,

My dere freend, bitwixen me and thee;

Than may we bothe our lustes al fulfille,

And pleye at dees right at our owene wille.’

And thus acorded been thise shrewes tweye     835

To sleen the thridde, as ye han herd me seye.

This yongest, which that wente un-to the toun,

Ful ofte in herte he rolleth up and doun

The beautee of thise florins newe and brighte.

‘O lord!’ quod he, ‘if so were that I mighte     840

Have al this tresor to my-self allone,

Ther is no man that liveth under the trone

Of god, that sholde live so mery as I!’

And atte laste the feend, our enemy,

Putte in his thought that he shold poyson beye,     845

With which he mighte sleen his felawes tweye;

For-why the feend fond him in swich lyvinge,

That he had leve him to sorwe bringe,

For this was outrely his fulle entente

To sleen hem bothe, and never to repente.     850

And forth he gooth, no lenger wolde he tarie,

Into the toun, un-to a pothecarie,

And preyed him, that he him wolde selle

Som poyson, that he mighte his rattes quelle;

And eek ther was a polcat in his hawe,[xxxiii]     855

That, as he seyde, his capouns hadde y-slawe,

And fayn he wolde wreke him, if he mighte,

On vermin, that destroyed him by nighte.

The pothecarie answerde, ‘and thou shalt have

A thing that, al-so god my soule save,     860

In al this world ther nis no creature,

That ete or dronke hath of this confiture

Noght but the mountance of a corn of whete,

That he ne shal his lyf anon forlete;

Ye, sterve he shal, and that in lasse whyle     865

Than thou wolt goon a paas nat but a myle;

This poyson is so strong and violent.’

This cursed man hath in his hond y-hent

This poyson in a box, and sith he ran

In-to the nexte strete, un-to a man,     870

And borwed [of] him large botels three;

And in the two his poyson poured he;

The thridde he kepte clene for his drinke.

For al the night he shoop him for to swinke

In caryinge of the gold out of that place.     875

And whan this ryotour, with sory grace,

Had filled with wyn his grete botels three,

To his felawes agayn repaireth he.

What nedeth it to sermone of it more?

For right as they had cast his deeth bifore,     880

Right so they han him slayn, and that anon.

And whan that this was doon, thus spak that oon,

‘Now lat us sitte and drinke, and make us merie,

And afterward we wol his body berie.’

And with that word it happed him, par cas,     885

To take the botel ther the poyson was,

And drank, and yaf his felawe drinke also,

For which anon they storven bothe two.

But, certes, I suppose that Avicen

Wroot never in no canon, ne in no fen,[xxxiv]     890

Mo wonder signes of empoisoning

Than hadde thise wrecches two, er hir ending.

Thus ended been thise homicydes two,

And eek the false empoysoner also.

O cursed sinne, ful of cursednesse!     895

O traytours homicyde, o wikkednesse!

O glotonye, luxurie, and hasardrye!

Thou blasphemour of Crist with vileinye

And othes grete, of usage and of pryde!

Allas! mankinde, how may it bityde,     900

That to thy creatour which that thee wroghte,

And with his precious herte-blood thee boghte,

Thou art so fals and so unkinde, allas!

Now, goode men, god forgeve yow your trespas,

And ware yow fro the sinne of avaryce.     905

Myn holy pardoun may yow alle waryce,

So that ye offre nobles or sterlinges,

Or elles silver broches, spones, ringes.

Boweth your heed under this holy bulle!

Cometh up, ye wyves, offreth of your wolle!     910

Your name I entre heer in my rolle anon;

In-to the blisse of hevene shul ye gon;

I yow assoile, by myn heigh power,[xxxv]

Yow that wol offre, as clene and eek as cleer

As ye were born; and, lo, sirs, thus I preche.     915

And Iesu Crist, that is our soules leche,

So graunte yow his pardon to receyve;

For that is best; I wol yow nat deceyve.

But sirs, o word forgat I in my tale,

I have relikes and pardon in my male,     920

As faire as any man in Engelond,

Whiche were me yeven by the popes hond.

If any of yow wol, of devocioun,

Offren, and han myn absolucioun,

Cometh forth anon, and kneleth heer adoun,     925

And mekely receyveth my pardoun:

Or elles, taketh pardon as ye wende,

Al newe and fresh, at every tounes ende,

So that ye offren alwey newe and newe

Nobles and pens, which that be gode and trewe.     930

It is an honour to everich that is heer,

That ye mowe have a suffisant pardoneer

Tassoille yow, in contree as ye ryde,

For aventures which that may bityde.

Peraventure ther may falle oon or two     935

Doun of his hors, and breke his nekke atwo.

Look which a seuretee is it to yow alle

That I am in your felaweship y-falle,

That may assoille yow, bothe more and lasse,

Whan that the soule shal fro the body passe,     940

I rede that our hoste heer shal biginne,

For he is most envoluped in sinne.

Com forth, sir hoste, and offre first anon,

And thou shalt kisse the reliks everichon,

Ye, for a grote! unbokel anon thy purs.’     945

‘Nay, nay,’ quod he, ‘than have I Cristes curs!

Lat be,’ quod he, ‘it shal nat be, so theech!

Thou woldest make me kisse thyn old breech,

And swere it were a relik of a seint,

Thogh it were with thy fundement depeint!     950

But by the croys which that seint Eleyne fond,[xxxvi]

I wolde I hadde thy coillons in myn hond

In stede of relikes or of seintuarie;

Lat cutte hem of, I wol thee helpe hem carie;

Thay shul be shryned in an hogges tord.’     955

This pardoner answerde nat a word;

So wrooth he was, no word ne wolde he seye.

‘Now,’ quod our host, ‘I wol no lenger pleye

With thee, ne with noon other angry man.’

But right anon the worthy knight bigan,     960

Whan that he saugh that al the peple lough,

‘Na-more of this, for it is right y-nough;

Sir pardoner, be glad and mery of chere;

And ye, sir host, that been to me so dere,

I prey yow that ye kisse the pardoner.     965

And pardoner, I prey thee, drawe thee neer,

And, as we diden, lat us laughe and pleye.’

Anon they kiste, and riden forth hir weye.


The Pardoner’s Tale in Modern and Middle English

The Pardoner’s Tale in Modern English


[i] The nails and blood of Christ, by which it was then a fashion to swear.

[ii] Mediaeval medical writers; see note 36 to the Prologue to the Tales.

[iii] Boist: box; French “boite,” old form “boiste.”

[iv] Erme: grieve; from Anglo-Saxon, “earme,” wretched.

[v] Cardiacle: heartache; from Greek, “kardialgia.”

[vi] Corny ale: New and strong, nappy. As to “moist,” see note 39 to the Prologue to the Tales.

[vii] The outline of this Tale is to be found in the “Cento Novelle Antiche,” but the original is now lost. As in the case of the Wife of Bath’s Tale, there is a long prologue, but in this case it has been treated as part of the Tale.

[viii] Hautein: loud, lofty; from French, “hautain.”

[ix] Radix malorum est cupiditas: “the love of money is the root of all evil” (1 10)

[x] All had she taken priestes two or three: even if she had committed adultery with two or three priests.

[xi] Blackburied: The meaning of this is not very clear, but it is probably a periphrastic and picturesque way of indicating damnation.

[xii] Grisly: dreadful; fitted to “agrise” or horrify the listener.

[xiii] Mr Wright says: “The common oaths in the Middle Ages were by the different parts of God’s body; and the popular preachers represented that profane swearers tore Christ’s body by their imprecations.” The idea was doubtless borrowed from the passage in Hebrews (vi. 6), where apostates are said to “crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put Him to an open shame.”

[xiv] Tombesteres: female dancers or tumblers; from Anglo- Saxon, “tumban,” to dance.

[xv] “Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess.” Eph. v.18.

[xvi] The reference is probably to the diligent inquiries Herod made at the time of Christ’s birth. See Matt. ii. 4-8

[xvii] A drunkard. “Perhaps,” says Tyrwhitt, “Chaucer refers to Epist. LXXXIII., ‘Extende in plures dies illum ebrii habitum; nunquid de furore dubitabis? nunc quoque non est minor sed brevior.’“ (“Prolong the drunkard’s condition to several days; will you doubt his madness? Even as it is, the madness is no less; merely shorter.”)

[xviii] Defended: forbidden; French, “defendu.” St Jerome, in his book against Jovinian, says that so long as Adam fasted, he was in Paradise; he ate, and he was thrust out.

[xix] “Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats; but God shall destroy both it and them.” 1 Cor. vi. 13.

[xx] “For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.” Phil. iii. 18, 19.


[xxi] Cod: bag; Anglo-Saxon, “codde;” hence peas-cod, pin-cod (pin-cushion), &c.

[xxii] Compare with the lines which follow, the picture of the drunken messenger in the Man of Law’s Tale.

[xxiii] Lepe: A town near Cadiz, whence a stronger wine than the Gascon vintages afforded was imported to England. French wine was often adulterated with the cheaper and stronger Spanish.

[xxiv] Another reading is “Fleet Street.”

[xxv] Attila was suffocated in the night by a haemorrhage, brought on by a debauch, when he was preparing a new invasion of Italy, in 453.

[xxvi] “It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, nor for princes strong drink; lest they drink, and forget the law, and pervert the judgment of any of the afflicted.” Prov. xxxi. 4, 5.

[xxvii] Most manuscripts, evidently in error, have “Stilbon” and “Calidone” for Chilon and Lacedaemon. Chilon was one of the seven sages of Greece, and flourished about B.C. 590. According to Diogenes Laertius, he died, under the pressure of age and joy, in the arms of his son, who had just been crowned victor at the Olympic games.

[xxviii] “Swear not at all;” Christ’s words in Matt. v. 34.

[xxix] “And thou shalt swear, the lord liveth in truth, in judgement, and in righteousness.” Jeremiah iv. 2

[xxx] The nails that fastened Christ on the cross, which were regarded with superstitious reverence.

[xxxi] Hailes: An abbey in Gloucestershire, where, under the designation of “the blood of Hailes,” a portion of Christ’s blood was preserved.

[xxxii] Go bet: a hunting phrase; apparently its force is, “go beat up the game.”

[xxxiii] Haw; farm-yard, hedge Compare the French, “haie.”

[xxxiv] Avicen, or Avicenna, was among the distinguished physicians of the Arabian school in the eleventh century, and very popular in the Middle Ages. His great work was called “Canon Medicinae,” and was divided into “fens,” “fennes,” or sections.

[xxxv] Assoil: absolve. compare the Scotch law-term “assoilzie,” to acquit.

[xxxvi] Saint Helen, according to Sir John Mandeville, found the cross of Christ deep below ground, under a rock, where the Jews had hidden it; and she tested the genuineness of the sacred tree, by raising to life a dead man laid upon it.

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