LANGFORD, CHAUCER AND THE PARDONER
How the Pardoner in their Prologues Reveals What Distinguishes Langford from Chaucer
The Distinctive Tone, Concerns, Methods and Goals of Each Author
Geoffrey Chaucer and William Langland both lived and wrote in the late fourteenth century. Both broke from the established practice by writing in their native language, the English of that day, rather than in Latin, then the universal language for formal written communication. Both Chaucer and Langland satirize, along with many other ills of that era, the greed and venality of the clergy of their time – Chaucer in The Canterbury Tales and William Langford in Piers Plowman. Both are looked upon as among the forefathers of English literature.
The two of them shared a great deal in common. They lived at the same time, wrote at about the same time, wrote about the same things, wrote in the same language and broke with tradition to do so. It would be quite easy and indeed natural for one to assume that they were indeed quite similar individuals. Not so at all.
The thesis of this paper is that, despite these seeming commonalities, despite their being linked together in literary history, William Langland and Geoffrey Chaucer were actually very different persons with sharply differing personalities, convictions and styles. These differences stand out clearly in a side-by-side comparison of the treatment each author gives to the character of the Pardoner in the Prologues of their most famous works -- The Canterbury Tales of Chaucer and Piers Plowman of Langland. By better knowing each man as an individual, the reader can more deeply grasp and appreciate each of these two classics.
Langland is the more radical of the two. He rails at the state of society, and especially inveighs against the greed of the clergy. He is heavy-handed, direct and angry. In short, he is a social dissident who sees the world...