A prominent feature in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales is the play upon duality -- seeming contradictions -- of meaning in the words, actions, and motives of the characters, whether it be the main narrator pilgrim-Chaucer, the Canterbury tale-tellers, or the tales’ characters. In the tales Chaucer juxtaposes many instances of dualities in which, on the surface, each member of the duality excludes each other. Such examples as the male and female in the Wife of Bath’s Tale, the nominal and the real in the Franklin’s Tale, and the court and the barnyard in the Nun’s Priest’s Tale are only scant glimpses of conflicting multi-layered dualities. Of these tales, the Pardoner’s Prologue and Tale best demonstrates the different kinds of dualities which Chaucer presents and which he plays upon the reader to seek a resolution to such opposing dualities.
The reader first sees the Pardoner as agreeing to two kinds of story requests, first from the Host and then the rest of the pilgrims:
“Telle us som myrthe or japes right anon.”
“It shall be doon,” quod he, “by Seint Ronyon!...”
....But right anon thise gentils gonne to crye,
“Nay, lat hym telle us of no ribaudye!
Telle us som moral thyng, that we may leere
Som wit, and thanne wol we gladly heere.”
“I graunt, ywis,” qoud he, “but I moot thynke
Upon som honest thyng while that I drynke.”
The duality is thus japes vs. morality in regards to tale-telling, and the Host and pilgrims imply in the above quotation that each excludes the other. But the Pardoner seems to agree to both requests, i.e. to tell a tale that is both of japes and of morality, as seen in the above quote. One can easily resolve this duality by equating japes with solaas, moral with sentence, which are the two components of a tale, according to the rules set up by the Host in the General Prologue (798).
The Pardoner himself, however, provides the...