During the Middle Ages, England was a nation in social chaos. Deception of every kind was rampart throughout the lands. Many people felt that there was a great need for moral improvement in society. In Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales he clearly brings to light his thoughts and concerns of "ethical cleansing". No tale more fully expresses this idea than that of "The Pardoner's Tale" and "The Nun's Priest's Tale."The Pardoner's Tale" suggests a profile of the Pardoner as a moral man, a man of God. The narrator is viewed as a wise, gentle, and truthful man who wants to share his story in a respectful tone.
His story reveals his message, which is that greed leads to destruction and the corruption of all things good. The Pardoner appears to have beliefs that are consistent with the moral of the story. As he describes the journey of the three riders, he recognizes the evils of being greedy. "For it was utterly the man's intent / To kill them both and never to repent" (255). He is perceived as a holy man who values truth and honesty. His tale describes the downfall in man's pride and arrogance.
This is demonstrated through the irony of the three riders as they seek Death, whom they find when they plot against each other for selfish reasons and kill one another. "They fell on him and slew him, two to one... He took a bottle full of poison up / And drank and his companion drank from it also and they both perished" (256). The Pardoner's prologue, however, reveals a man dedicated not to God and church, but rather, to the ruthless exploitation of the masses. Told in the form of a confession, the Pardoner reveals his method of preaching and manipulating his audience.
"That trick's been worth a hundred marks a year / Since I became a Pardoner, never fear... And tell a hundred lying mockeries more" (242). The epilogue of "The Pardoner's Tale" provides a final view of the teller, who is not concerned with truth or morality. Is there any good at all in the Pardoner? Even though the Pardoner provides his services because of his greed, he knows intuitively that all those around him require spiritual and moral guidance. He is able to turn the villagers he dupes away from their greedy ways by telling them a story of death and destruction".
The Nun's Priest's Tale" primarily revolves around Chanticleer's dream. However, the importance of the story was not in the dream but rather in his actual encounter with the fox. Chanticleer notices the fox while watching a butterfly, and the fox confronts him with dissimulating courtesy, telling the rooster not to be afraid. "Sir! Wither so fast away? / Are you afraid of me, that I am your friend?" (227).
As a way to trap Chanticleer the fox praises him on his magnificent voice. "Truly I came to do no other thing / Than just to lie and listen to you sing. / You have as merry a voice as God has given / To any angel in the courts of Heaven" (227). Chanticleer relishes the fox's flattery of his singing. He beats his wings with pride, stands on his toes, stretches his neck, closes his eyes, and crows loudly. The fox reaches out and grabs Chanticleer by the throat, and then slinks away with him back toward the woods.
Fortunately for Chanticleer the response to his disappearance was rather immediate. The dogs follow, and pretty soon the whole barnyard joins in the chase. Chanticleer very cleverly suggests that the fox turn and boast to his pursuers. The fox opens his mouth to do so, and Chanticleer flies out of the fox's mouth and into a high tree. The fox tries to flatter the bird into returning to the ground, however, Chanticleer has learned his lesson. He tells the fox that flattery will no longer work for him.
The priest even says it himself to his listeners, "Lo, such it is to be on your guard against the flatterers of the world" (231). This story served not only to provide a moral but also a warning to the people that there is a "Chanticleer" and a "fox" in all of us. Thus we must be weary of deception everywhere we go. The priest preaches moral cleanliness in a subtler manner than the Pardoner does nonetheless he does so. The Middle Ages was a time when greed and deception reigned supreme. Many intellectuals felt that society, as a whole, needed some sort of moral enlightenment.
One of those people was Chaucer who expresses his ideas through The Canterbury Tales. "The Pardoner's Tale" as corrupt and exploiting as it was managed to express a clear moral message that greed can lead to destruction. In "The Nun's Priest's Tale" Chaucer shows how sycophants used laudatory words to persuade or trick people into complying with their wants and desires.