Many readers and critics of The Canterbury Tales agree that the Pardoner is a scoundrel. His self-revelatory prologue seems to confirm this. But the label does not necessarily make it easier to understand him. While one critic suggests that "modern scholars and not Chaucer … have made the Pardoner perplexing" (Stewart 6), others continue to dissect and analyze-even the Pardoner's "eyen" have been the subject of scholarship (Schweitzer 247 -50). As many readers already know, scholarship on the Pardoner abounds. Not limiting their scrutiny to a single aspect of the Pardoner's anatomy, critics have been especially interested in his genitals — or lack of genitals. As a "geldyng or a mare" (A, 691), the Pardoner might be merely an effeminate male, or he might be a eunuch or a homosexual. Questions about his sexuality compound the questions regarding his morality. For Carolyn Dinshaw, any appearance of being a scoundrel is counterbalanced by the Pardoner's "performance" (9, 157), which presents Chaucer's "critique of patriarchal conceptions of language and literary activity" (16). Claiming that the Pardoner is "defined by absence" (158). Dinshaw takes "him to be a eunuch, a figurative one if not in fact a literal one as well" (158), an interpretation of the Pardoner that reveals concern with the symbolic dimensions of the Pardoner's condition, not with the morality of his behavior. Arguing that the Pardoner is a homosexual, not a eunuch, Monica E. McAlpine does not excuse this scoundrel's behavior because of his homosexuality; instead, she explains that "the avarice the Pardoner boasts about is a screen sin, concealing some grave defect of body or soul or both" (14). Wolfgang E.H. Rudat, building on McAlpine's position, claims that the Pardoner "sells false relics because … he is a fake as a man" (125). But for Rudat the Pardoner is not simply a scoundrel out to increase his wealth by selling false relics: on a deeper level he attempts to "be re-integrated into humanity" (128). To a greater or lesser degree almost all critics regard the Pardoner as a scoundrel. Those that say outright that he is a scoundrel, guilty of the same cupiditas against which he preaches, usually grant him a few redeeming characteristics, the most popular of which is his self-knowledge. While some attempt to show the Pardoner in a favorable light, all agree that he cannot be completely exculpated. By examining his character and situation from a new perspective — one that emphasizes his awareness of his mortality — l intend to show that Chaucer gives the Pardoner a power of vision that forces him to be honest with himself in a way that none of the other pilgrims is.



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