The Canterbury Tales of Geoffrey Chaucer/Pardoner’s Tale/Prologue

The Prologue of the Pardoner’s Tale
by Geoffrey Chaucer

Here followeth the Prologue of the Pardoner's Tale

Radix malorum est cupiditas: Ad Thimotheum, Sexto.

"LORDINGS," quoth he, "when I preach in churches I take pains to have a stately utterance, and ring it out roundly as a bell, for all that I say I know by heart. My theme is alway the same— 'Radix malorum est cupiditas.'

"First I announce whence I come, and then I show my bulls, one and all. First I show our liege lord's seal on my patent, to protect my body, that no man, neither priest nor clerk, may be so bold as to disturb me in Christ's holy labours; and then after that I say my say; I show bulls of popes and cardinals, of patriarchs and bishops; and I speak a few words in Latin to colour my preaching and to stir men to devotion. Then I show forth my long crystal boxes crammed full of clouts and bones; they be relics, as each man weeneth. Then I have in latten a shoulder-bone which came from an holy Jew's sheep. 'Good men,' say I, 'pay heed to my words! If this bone be washed in any well, and cow or calf or sheep or ox be swollen of any worm or worm's sting, take water of that well and wash his tongue, and anon he is sound; and eke of pox and of scab and every sore shall every sheep be cured that drinketh a draught of this well; pay heed to what I say. If the goodman that owneth the beasts will every week, fasting, ere the cock croweth, drink a draught of this well as that holy Jew taught our elders, his beasts and his stock shall multiply. And, sirs, jealousy also it healeth. For though a man be fallen into a jealous fit, let his pottage be made with this water and never shall he mistrust his wife more, though he knew the sooth of her fault, even had she taken two or three priests. Here ye may see a mitten eke; he that will put his hand in this mitten shall have multiplying of his grain when he hath sown, be it wheat or barley, if so be he offer pence, or else groats. Good men and women, one thing I warn you. If any wight be now in this church that hath done horrible sin, that he dare not for shame be shriven of it, or any woman, be she old or young, that hath hoodwinked her husband, such folk shall have no power nor grace to offer for my relics here. And whosoever findeth himself free from such fault let him come and offer in God's name, and I will assoil him by the authority which was granted me by bull.'

"By this trick I have won an hundred mark year by year, since I was a pardoner. I stand like a clerk in my pulpit, and when the lay people be set down, I preach as ye have heard and tell an hundred more false deceits. Then briskly I stretch forth my neck, and east and west I nod upon the people, like a dove sitting on a barn. My hands and my tongue go so nimbly that it is joy to see my diligence. My preaching is all of avarice ad such cursedness, to make them generous to give their pence, and especially to me. For my purpose is naught but gain, and not a whit correction of sin. I reck never, when they be in their graves, though their souls go a-blackberrying! For certes many a preaching cometh full oft of evil intention: one man to please folk and flatter them, to be advanced by hypocrisy, one for vain glory and another for hate. For when I dare quarrel with a man in none other wise, then will I sting him with my bitter tongue in preaching, so that he shall not escape being falsely defamed, if he hath trespassed to me or my brethren. For though I tell not his own name, men shall know well who is the man by signs and other circumstances. Thus I quit folk that do us displeasure. Thus I spit out my venom under colour of holiness, to seem holy and true.

"But I will shortly describe my purpose. I preach of nothing but covetousness. Therefore my theme ever was and yet is, Radix malorum est cupiditas. Thus I can preach against that same sin which I practise, and that is avarice. Though of that sin myself be guilty, yet I can make other folk to cast off avarice, and sore to repent; but that is not my principal aim; I preach nothing but for covetousness. That ought to suffice of this matter.

"Then I tell them many an ensample from old stories, of long time ago. For simple people love old tales. Such things they can well report and remember. What? trow ye whiles I preach and win gold and silver by my words, that I will live wilfully in poverty? Nay, nay, truly I thought of it never. For I will preach in sundry regions and beg. I will do no labour with my hands, nor make baskets and live thereby, because I would not idly beg. I will follow none of the apostles; I will have money, wool, wheat and cheese, although the poorest lad give it, or the poorest widow in a village, though her children die for famine. Nay, I will drink liquor of the grape and in every town have a jolly wench. But hark, lordings, in conclusion, your will is that I tell some story. Now that I have drunk a draught of corny ale, by God's light, I hope I shall tell you somewhat that shall by reason be to your liking. For though I myself be a full vicious man, yet I can tell you a moral tale, which I am wont to preach for gain. Hold your peace now. I will begin my tale."