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Chaucer’s Pardoner and Host—On the Road, in the Alehouse Shayne Aaron Legassie Columbia University W e first encounter the Pardoner of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in a sly passage steeped in images of Christian pilgrimage. Having come from Rome to Southwark in the company of the corrupt Summoner , the Pardoner makes a flamboyant entrance: With him ther rood a gentil PARDONER Of Rouncivale, his freend and his compeer, That streight was comen fro the court of Rome. Ful loud he soong ‘‘Com hider, love, to me!’’ This Somonour bar to hym a stif burdoun; Was nevere trompe of half so greet a soun. (I.669–74)1 As Melvin Storm and others have suggested, the ‘‘styf burdoun,’’ which the Summoner is said to ‘‘bare,’’ has the literal meaning of the bass line of the song of which the Pardoner sings the melody, but the word burdoun can also mean ‘‘staff,’’ such as the kind used in pilgrimage, with all of its priapic connotations.2 Although the Pardoner supposedly comes 1 Citations of the Canterbury Tales refer to Larry D. Benson, gen. ed., The Riverside Chaucer, 3rd ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987). I would like to thank the following people for their questions, suggestions, objections, and support on earlier versions of this essay: Columbia University’s Medieval Guild and Queer Student Alliance, Susan Crane, Joan Ferrante, Kamil Godula, Frank Grady, Robert Hanning, Derrick Higginbotham , Adnan Hussein, Ellen Kettels, Katherine Lewis, Asifa Malik, Brenna Mead, Margaret Pappano, Paul Strohm, and the two anonymous readers of SAC. 2 Melvin Storm, ‘‘The Pardoner’s Invitation: Quaestor’s Bag or Becket’s Shrine?’’ PMLA 97 (1982): 810–18. Indeed, the Old French word bourdon is the one used in the Romance of the Rose (2.21354), a text that inspired part of Chaucer’s characterization of the Pardoner. The Pardoner’s pilgrimage staff is also overtly phallic in the prologue to the anonymous Tale of Beryn, a fifteenth-century continuation of the Canterbury Tales. See ‘‘The Canterbury Interlude and Merchant’s Tale of Beryn,’’ in John M. Bowers, ed., The Canterbury Tales: Fifteenth-Century Continuations and Additions (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 1992). PAGE 183 183 ................. 16596$ $CH6 11-01-10 14:06:58 PS STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER from the pope’s court in Rome, the vernycle (I.685), a pilgrim badge cast in the likeness of the veil that swabbed Christ’s bloody face, marks him as a pilgrim rather than an ecclesiastical bureaucrat. In this brief introduction of the Pardoner, we see him heading from one pilgrimage center to another, intoning in hircine falsetto a love ballad with his hyperphallicized ‘‘freend,’’ in language that intimates their sexual relationship through a pun involving one of the central symbols of the pilgrim enterprise . Moreover, the last time we hear of the Pardoner is after his conflict with the Host in Fragment VI, an altercation whose rhetoric also figures sodomy through images and practices associated with pilgrimage. Chaucer ’s linking of pilgrimage and homoeroticism could not be more straightforward and was not unusual in medieval Europe. This observation warrants a reconsideration of the Pardoner’s place in the pilgrimage frame of the Canterbury Tales. Most antihomophobic interpretations of the Pardoner that have drawn on a diverse group of texts collectively referred to as ‘‘queer theory ’’ have seen him as a force that throws the heteronormative constitution of the pilgrim compaignye into crisis. These readings of the frame of the Canterbury Tales follow a similar narrative arc: from a not-quitesuccessful construction of a provisional but heteronormative social structure (the pilgrimage compaignye), to an return of the repressed element of that structure (in the form of the ‘‘queer’’ Pardoner) that calls into question its foundational assumptions, to a not-entirely-decisive containment of that ‘‘queer’’ epistemological challenge through the Pardoner ’s violent marginalization from and equivocal reintegration into the compaignye.3 The assumption of a sexually normative pilgrimage is a heuristic convenience that has allowed scholars to impart crucial insights 3 A list of the studies that have influenced me most includes: Carolyn Dinshaw, Chaucer ’s Sexual Poetics (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989), and Getting Medieval: Sexual Communities Pre- and Post Modern...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1949-0755
Print ISSN
0190-2407
Pages
pp. 183-223
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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