Greed's Exemplum

Essay by delldeskHigh School, 12th gradeA, December 2008

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Exemplum comes from the Latin word exempla which means “for example”. A great exemplum is an anecdote, usually dealing with morality, which tells a story to illustrate a point. Exemplums put in picture tales that can be used as an “example” for a lesson. Such points can be of any magnitude and usually conveys a positive moral. Keeping this in mind, it is easy to see why The Pardoner’s Tale is an ideal example of a proper exemplum. The Pardoner’s Tale circumscribes the metaphor “Money is the root of all evil” in such a way that the moral of the story is easily developed. The tale circles around greed and how more money, leads to more evil. As the plot unfolds it is visually demonstrated that most people will do whatever it takes to have more for themselves, specifically more money. The Pardoner’s uses his tale completely delineate the exemplum that the root of all evil is money.

Money is usually the sweetest candy for the eyes. Just a mere glance at money can turn even the most civilized men into beasts. But why is money so significant, and why are people so preoccupied with it - even those who already have plenty? One reason is because money is seen as a “traditional” reward. The common people are raised with the expectation that money and work go hand and hand, but most will agree free money (money taken) is much sweeter than money earned. Another reason people have such compulsion for money is that it is tangible. In other words, unlike the king’s praise or being knighted, money can be held, counted, and can be physically accumulate. Money is also a symbolic metaphor. It represents how successful one is and can be appreciated by others, which everyone would like. All these characteristics of money lead people to crave money more than anything else and make it blatantly evil.

In The Pardoner’s Tale encompasses the theme “Money is the root of all evil” right from the start. Three drunken rioters sit drinking and hear a funeral knell. The three drunkards soon learn of their friends slaying by a mysterious figure, named Death, they decide to avenge and kill Death. The three rioters agree stating, “Let’s each hold up a hand to one another, /each of us will become the others’ bother. /with this false traitor death we’ll do away; / The slayer of so many we shall slay.”(Chaucer 697). As they go on their adventure they run into a man, who says he has been waiting for Death for a very long time. Startled by the name of their target the rioters demand to obtain the whereabouts of Death, and so the old man tells them. They find out that Death is under a tree and they peruse to find the tree and look under it. But it is not Death they find but rather a plethora of gold coins. Almost instantly the objective to kill death is no longer of discussion, but much rather the gold. The Pardoner tells, “Well nigh eight bushels, that was their impression. / To seek Death was no longer their obsession, / As each of them, so gladdened by the sight / Of gold florins, all so fair and bright.”(Chaucer 771) This shows how money’s evil temptation ripped the focus of the rioters from hunting Death, to keeping the gold. Such strong sights on a goal were disintegrated because of money’s wicked attraction. Money is indeed defined as the root of all evil.

Mid- way through the tale the Pardoner again demonstrates the true infamous power of money. Once the three rioters had come across the gold, they realize that they could not bring the gold into town in broad daylight instead they must wait until nightfall to carry the money to town. Knowing that night fall I wasn’t till later, they draw straws to see which one of them will go back to the village, alone, and retrieve wine and food while the other two wait by the tree. Once the chosen of the three headed towards the town the two left realized that they could divide the money in to two instead of three; this way more wealth will be given to the two. They decide to devise a plan to kill the retriever and take his share:“As soon as he sits down, as if for fun / Arise as though you’d have with him some play, / Then in both sides ill stab him right away / While you and he are struggling as in game. / And with your dagger see you do the same. / Then all this gold, dear friend, when we are through / Shall be divided up twist me and you / … / So the two rouges agreed they would betray / And slay the third, as you have heard me say.” (Chaucer 826)This shows the true root of evil- money. So sinful is the pull of money that the two rioters are willing to kill to obtain more of it. Thus an example is shown by the rioter’s intentions.

As the tale concludes the comprehensive evil of money is exemplified. Once the retrieving rioter gets to the town he too is mesmerized by the seductive taste of money. He states, “‘O Lord …If only that I might / Have all this treasure for myself alone!’” which show how the greed of money is making him arrogant and thus a greater sinner. He too devises a plan to kill the two rioters waiting by the tree, this way (he states) “… ‘There is no man who lives beneath god’s throne / Who could then live as I, so merrily!’” Showing how greed is consuming him and his arrogant a high. He decides to poison the wine he is retrieving and kill the two other rioters. AS the retriever arrives back to the other rioters the climax is unveiled and the awful root of money brings out the evil actions committed by the rioters. “For just as they planned his death before, / So by them he was slain right on the spot. / … / It happened then by chance that with that word / He took the bottle poisoned by the third / And drank from it, then gave some to his mate, / And both of them met promptly with their fate.”(Chaucer 880). Thus as the theme of the story goes money, and its evil nature, took the lives of all the three who found it.

The Pardoners Tale gives insight as to why “Money is the root of all evil” through many angles. It gives view points of all three rioters and their plots. Showing how money initiated sinful plans of murder and conspiracy. The exemplum is indeed parallel with the pardoner’s tale and has direct correlation to the lesson of money’s debunked evil. Money is evil and deception is magnified and perfectly brought out by The Pardoner’s Tale.

bibliographies:Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales. England, 1600.