Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales” is a collection of stories told by fictional characters who are on a journey. “The Pardoner’s Tale” is told by a pardoner traveling with the group. He pretends to be a devout man intent on the salvation of others. However, he admits outright that he is an extremely greedy man and is only in it for wealth. In the story the pardoner tells, irony is heavily used. Verbal irony, situational irony, and dramatic irony are all used by Chaucer to enhance the message of the story as well as keep the reader interested. Chaucer uses verbal irony to reveal the extremely hypocritical nature of his characters.
The best example of this can be found in the Pardoner himself. In the prologue, he states “Radix malorum est cupiditas. ” This is Latin for “Avarice is the root of all evil. ” There is no way the Pardoner believes this, for he is an extremely greedy man, but sees no evil in what he is doing. Therefore, this is a prime example of verbal irony. The entire message of the Pardoner’s story is the exact opposite of what he himself believes. In the story the pardoner tells, a great example of verbal irony is when one of the Rioters says “My word. I won’t betray you. I’ll be true. This occurs mere moments after the same Rioter promised the exact same thing to the Youngest, who they are plotting to kill. Another example of Irony in the tale is when the Youngest tells the apothecary “Sell me some poison if you will, I have a lot of rats I want to kill. ” He obviously does not mean rats, but his fellow Rioters. He portrays his statement as if he has to kill some bothersome pests, when he really wants to kill his brothers. Verbal irony is used in “The Pardoner’s Tale” in order to reveal the hypocritical personalities of his characters, as well as to provide some humor for the reader.
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Chaucer uses situational irony in order to keep the reader interested in the story. An example occurs at the very beginning of the prologue, where the Pardoner talks about how he preaches against avarice. A few lines later, he says the exact opposite thing that a reader would expect him to say. He states that he is a most unholy man who is tempted sorely by money. This keeps the reader interested in the story by presenting an extremely important new detail, as well as being mildly humorous. Another example of situational irony occurs after the Pardoner has finished telling his tale.
He decrees that the Host is the most sinful, but really, he himself is. It is this unexpected and inappropriate statements that form the situational irony in “The Pardoner’s Tale. ” They keep the story exciting and intriguing for the reader. Chaucer uses dramatic irony in order to prove his point that greed is the root of all evil. The Rioters’ greed for the gold led to their murders, which is most certainly an evil. After killing the Youngest, one of the older Rioters says “Now for a drink. Sit down and let’s be merry. The reader knows that the bottles were poisoned, but the Rioters do not. When they take a swig and die, it shows the reader that the original greed to have the gold all for themselves was the cause of all the evil. If the reader did not know about the poisoning of the bottles, the connection between greed and evil would not be established. Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Pardoner’s Tale” uses the three forms of irony in order to make the story more interesting, as well as prove his main point, that avarice is the root of all evil.