THE performance of Chaucer's Pardoner of Rouncivale is characterized by doubleness.
This fact has led recent Chaucerian criticism to diverge in portraying him as either blighted with a hideous physical defect
(advocated by the likes of Curry and Patterson) or suffering an aberrant sexual orientation (McAlpine). I posit that his protean
act can be better understood as a disguise that is, as a fictive technique that aims primarily to expose the characters moral
fragmentation. I will present my reading of The Pardoner's Tale within the frame of the interpretive theory of St. Augustine
of Hippo with the hope of extending and clarifying early pioneering work in this field. St. Augustine, who arose from a time
of social and moral upheaval, can put in proper perspective the contrarieties that slide and scrape at the core of the Pardoner.
Within that interpretive frame, the Pardoner can be revealed as a metaphorical figure that conceals an inherent nothingness
behind his disguise. Moreover, a careful reading of The Pardoner's Tale shows that it is an apposite illustration of major
Augustinian themes, especially those expounded in the early, obscure treatise On Lying. The Pardoner's avowal that his main
theme is the Pauline aphorism Radix Malorum est cupiditas (334, 426, I Timothy 6:10) and subsequent description of his modus
operandi have thrown many critics off the scent of what truly ails and peynes (330) his character.
In the Augustinian
mindset, the Pardoner is in a parasitic state, dependent wholly on the truth that he parodies for an existential grounding.
The prevailing truth system that the Pardoner seeks to thwart retains dominance over his version of the truth. His language
slips to expose fealty to a transcendental signified. According to St. Augustine, the law of love is the ultimate standard
and end of interpretation. Any writer or rhetorician, such as the Pardoner, however, may fall into error, which may degenerate
into sin or the willful turning away from the invisible God, author of the law of love, toward the love of oneself. The Pardoner
functions as an anthropomorphized emptiness, a radical Other that neither feels remorse for past transgressions nor gains
acceptance from a society whose laws he has transgressed. His performance may be defined as a lie, which in the Augustinian
sense is a kind of evil or privation of a good (or truth). His character, in turn, fits the Augustinian view of a liar as
having a double heart that is, there is a double thought: the one, of that thing which he either knows or thinks to be true
and does not produce; the other, of that thing which he produces instead thereof, knowing or thinking it to be false ( On
Lying 458). Ironically, the Pardoner has ensconced himself in a career as a surrogate confessor remitting temporal punishment
due to sins. He peddles phony relics that supplant the saving absolution of a legitimate priest. The Pardoner's exemplum is
a clever device whose end is to establish his authority over a band of pilgrims. He seeks to turn his audience into copies
of himself, a non-being trapped in material concerns.