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Life without Death: The Old Man in Chaucer's "Pardoner's Tale"

Elizabeth R. Hatcher
The Chaucer Review
Vol. 9, No. 3 (Winter, 1975), pp. 246-252
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25093311
Page Count: 7
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Life without Death: The Old Man in Chaucer's "Pardoner's Tale"
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Abstract

Many studies of the Old Man in Chaucer's Pardoner's Tale have illuminated his sources, analogues, Biblical connections, and iconographical traits. To get at the Old Man's primary meaning, however, we should consider his function in the context of the tale of the three rioters. In seeking to slay Death, these men are trying to fulfill a "rash wish," of which many examples exist in folktale, myth, and literature. The Old Man appears (presumably through divine mercy) to warn the young men of their rashness by embodying what existence would be like if they fulfilled their quest. In failing to recognize the Old Man's manifest meaning, the rioters show how their intellects are darkened by sin and ironically underscore the lesson that true wisdom is contempt of this mortal life.

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