Comparison Chaucer Pardoner'S Tale Raimi Simple Plan

Chaucer – Raimi #

I.              Context & Subject Matter #


**The Pardoner’s Tale                          

Circa 1350 – 1400  Written by 1387.

Medieval institutions were under attack:

  • Feudalism challenged by rising merchant class
  • Chivalry by brash upstarts.
  • Church dominant but in decline because of:
  • Schism between Rome and Avignon…
  • English Bishop’s loyalty to English King.
  • Corruption rife – wide spread.
  • Friars openly hated – (Chaucer fined for having beat a Friar.
  • Self-absorbed, self-indulgent, decadent

Death a common open occurrence and often personified in Literature of the time.

A Simple Pan 

 Circa 1990’s

  • Church has lost its dominance and individuals make up their own moral codes
  • Rural life style threatened by:
  • Increased mechanisation
  • Globalisation
  • Corporatisation of agriculture
  • Crippling debt by rapacious banks
  • Urbanisation
  • lost way of life

 Death common but covert – covered up, sanitised.


 The Pardoner’s Tale

The Pilgrims, 29 plus the host, Harry.

The Pardoner, perhaps the most depraved and reviled of the Pilgrims. A lay preacher who sells indulgences and fake relics to make money – a hypocrite.  He is described as “a geldyng or a mare”  Is he effeminate or a eunuch?

His account and actions are a complete negation of all Christian virtues: honesty, humility, poverty, chastity, love of fellow men…….

The Tale:  3 Villains/ Vagabonds:

Characters are not developed.

1)    **The Proudest

2)    the worste

3)    the **youngest (**sent to get food and wine)

  • All irredeemably evil.  Self serving.
  • Young, brash, crude, impolite, overbearing
  • Call the Old man “rude carl”, olde Churl”

The Old Man -  not named

  • Old, poor,  meek,  good or virtuous
  • Code of address is courteous: “loudes and sires
  • Speech slow, full of negatives,

A Simple Plan

Small town America with local sheriff, townspeople and local farmers.

**Lou Chambers-**long term unemployed, but married to a nurse, Nancy whom he loves.  Loyal to Jacob.
Reputation as town drunk.

Jacob Mitchell also unemployed, poorly educated, lack of skills and motivation.  Morally perhaps the best of group.  Romantic.

**Hank Mitchell **College educated but back in local town serving the farmers. Upstanding citizen who lives by his conscience. Reluctant to kill fox on Nature Reserve, counsels against using the money immediately, but ultimately the most unscrupulous.

Sarah:   No corresponding character in Chaucer.

 Orphaned, no background, At first cautious but ultimately the driving force behind Hank – a lady MacBeth who drives him to provide them financial security.  She is the most manipulative and self serving.  She plans most of the action.

**Carl Jenkins: **The local sheriff, a friend of Hank’s.

Neil Baxter (Roma McKovsky) bogus FBI agent.

II. Themes, Issues, Values, Concerns #

The Pardoner’s Tale & A Simple Plan

 Greed (money) is the root of all evil.

The Pardoner stresses this theme in all his talks but in practices the opposite.  He is depicted as one of the most greedy of all the pilgrims despite the fact that he would have taken a vow of poverty.

Lou and Jacob desperately need the money to survive, while Hank and Sarah merely desire it to secure their future.  Irony that the latter are prepared to do anything, including murder for it. ….. Lou declares, ‘It’s the American dream in

a goddam gym bag’.

Hank retorts,

You work for the American dream, you don’t steal it’.

Deception   (hypocrisy or duplicity)

The Pardoner admits in the General Prologue that “makes smooth his tongue when about to perform” yet he assures his fellow Pilgrims “*I wol you not deceyve” * (508) 

Chaucer has the Pardoner unwittingly expose his unsavory, corrupt practices vividly, dramatically and convincingly to warn people against the shameless hypocrisy of the Church.  The Church is rotten to the core.  He doesn’t care if a widow’s children starve, so long as he has his wine. …… Hank and Sarah appear the most upright citizens yet they commit the most heinous premeditated acts. 

The bogus FBI agent, Neil Baxter, says, *“You’re not the cold-blooded type, Mr. Mitchell” * but  Hank does. 

Even though their stories don’t match, the law enforcers believe Hank because of his credibility.

As Sarah says “You’ve got to remember how people see you.  You’re a…..sweet normal guy. No one will ever believe that you could do the things you’ve done.”

**Both reinforce capitalist ideology: “**Protect your own and to hell with everyone else.”

Chaucer satarises the deceived as well for being well meaning but overly credulous, gullible and easy prey of unscrupulous Con artists.


Widespread and expected.  Graphic violence of two of the rioutres killing the youngest before they drink the wine and die of poisoning. … Ruthless violence perpetrated by Hank who is goaded by a scheming Sarah.


Prevalent and open.  Medieval writers personify death as the grim reaper.  Death is accepted as part of life and openly depicted.  All three villains die. …. We are sheltered from death by covering corpses, body bags and closed coffins.

Early Graveyard scenes a portent of deaths.

Deaths are abundant: Hank and Jacob’s father, the pilot, the farmer, Dwight Stephenson, Lou and his wife Nancy, The sheriff, Carl, Neil Baxter, the bogus FBI agent and Jacob.  ……


Despite ranting against gluttony and excessive drinking, the Pardoner is drunk in the Tavern when he is coaxed to tell “some moral tale”.

Drink is central to the vagabonds.  It is the first thing they think of getting once they discover the money and soon it is one of the vehicles of death through poisoning. …. Many of the events involve alcohol in pubs or at home. 

Lou and Jacob share a beer in Nature Reserve.

Lou is not affronted at being called the town drunk while Jacob enjoys drinking with him.  Hank and Sarah enjoy a drink but instead of beer prefer wine, a more respectable drink.


Structure: linear, circular, episodic, flash backs,  climatic.     Images: (visual,  auditory, o1factory,  tactile, ,gustatory) figures  of speech:  similes, metaphors, personification, analogy, synecdoche, contrast, antithesis, unity,  irony, Allusions,  etc

The Pardoner’s Tale 4  Audiences:

  1. An imaginary parish of lewd (ignorant) susceptible, credulous, poor, rustic congregation for his mock sermon.

2.  actual pilgrims; high social class, intelligent, discriminating, perceptive.

3…Us the responders.

  1. Drinkers in the tavern.

Prologue is rather self effacing, taking the Pilgrims into his confidence with intimate  conversational chattiness, candid confessions, lack of elaboration and figurative language.  “*entente is not but for to wynne, and nothing for correction of synne”.  (*75-76). Ulterior motives.

His style changes with the occasion; during the diatribe on vices he slowly becomes rhetorical, argumentative with emotional exclamations to elaborate and rant and rave. 100 lines on gluttony with detailed examples of food and drink, historical examples, learned allusions to biblical, historical and classical authorities and the use of weighty Latin and French phrases.

The mock or sample sermon he preaches is a direct address to an imaginary audience.  He adopts a superior patronising attitude while he tries to impress, intimidate, persuade and condition his victims with Papal edits, letters patent and the sprinkling of Latin and French.

“Thus spitte I out my venym of hoolynesses.”

The sermon consists of 3 parts:  1) Opening Text (Greed the root of all evil)  2) The examples – a running commentary,   3) ** The Finale** – a denunciation of the vices addressed directly to the Pilgrims. (Here he seems to have been carried away and forgets who he is talking to and at tempts to sell them his relics to save their souls.  The Host is not amused and retorts in a rude and abusive manner to the insult.)

The Tale itself is a simple flat retelling, recount or narrative. It has a faster pace with a short monosyllabic vocabulary.  He exemplifies with contrasts and the use of irony.  The old man’s lack of confidence is demonstrated by his use of negatives.

A Simple Plan

As a film it uses both text and sub-text to reinforce its messages. The sub-text includes images:

  • Contrast of black and white, the black birds juxtaposed with the pure white snow.
  • Contrast of Red Poinsettas & blood and the innocent white snow.
  • Sarah’s protruded womb – is she a Madonna (pure innocent) or a whore (guilty)?
  • Sarah nursing baby while scheming dirty deeds alludes to Lady MacBeth who claims she could have dashed her baby’s brains out.
  • Gravesyard scene – early premonition of death
  • Fox as a predator – later reappears stuffed in Barber shop – an omen for them.

a variety of camera angles:

At first sympathetic to Hank and Sarah, a respectable decent Mid Western family. Wide distant shots detach us from them.

High camera angle looking down at Sarah breast feeding diminishes her.


  • Sarah pregnant framed by bedroom – domestic bliss.
  • Sarah and Hank separated by the burning money indicates a deterioration in relations.
  • The mesh in the plane & chicken wire – the obstacles in the way of enjoying sustenance

sound effects:

  • Jacob’s beat up pickup radio blares with “Spirit in the Sky”
  • Strong crescendos during Hank’s murder of Dwight Stephenson.
  • Other songs: “So Sleepless You,  Auld Lang Syne,  Preaching the Blues.

cross cutting devices:

  • From the fox breaking into chicken pen to people going about ordinary life symbolises the universal struggle for survival.
  • Black birds (scavengers) to three people (scavengers).


*Approach: Subjective/Objective,  Attitude or Tone,  Audience,   Style: diction, word play, puns,  connotative/denotative,   emotive (coloured biased,) /demotive, (technical, dispassionate)  clichés, proverbial, idiomatic, expressive, flat,  Jargon,  euphemisms, pejorative, oxymoron.   Gender biases.  Register:  formal, stiff, dignified  or Colloquial;  relaxed, conversational, inclusive, friendly  or Slang;  colourful, intimate,  Rhetorical devices;  Questions,  exclamations,  cumulation,  crescendo,  inversion,  bathos,  repetition,  3 cornered phrases.  *

The Pardoner’s Tale                          

**Cant: ** false piety, “*Money is bad, so give it to me.” *   He is a slick snake oil saleman.

Pardoner adopts a superior condescending attitude to the ignorant congregations, “Thus sitte I oout my venym of hoolynesse”.

To Pilgrims he is candidly hypocritical; “entente is not but for to wynne, and nothing for correccion of synne.”  (75-6)

Style modulates depending on circumstances:

To Pilgrims intimate, confiding and respectful,

To lewd (ignorant) peasant congregation – over-bearing, patronising, rhetorical.

 Tale:  Contrasts the respectable a courteous address of the old man with the brash, crude and abusive language of the riotoures.

A Simple Pan Contrast of language across class lines:

 Hank and Sarah – Middle class Formal language:  *insinuate – hint     police matter – go to the cops accomplice – assisting

Lou criticises Hank for his “pretentious” educated language.

Jacob, Lou and Nancy – lower class

Slang and Vulgate:

Nancy calls Lou “you asshole

Pub language is abrasive, confrontational, abusive and crudely aggressive.  Lots of four letter words in relaxed situations.

Jacob tends to speak in cliched axioms:

“if it ain’t broke why fix it?”

Or in simple plain English: “I think dad killed himself”

“I wish someone else had found that money.”

VI.           Evaluation: #

The Pardoner’s Tale                          

The Pardoner’s Tale is one of Chaucer’s strongest indictments on the systematic and entrenched corruption of the Catholic Church of his time. Though the Church had been corrupt for centuries before, it would be at least a hundred more years before the Reformation where Martin Luther, a former priest would finally move for an alternative form of Christianity.

 Chaucer created a variety of flawed Church officials on this pilgrimage and most are portrayed in a subtle satiric manner, however, the Pardoner is scathingly and sarcastically depicted as a petty, mean, self-serving irredeemable hypocrite.  He is morally bankrupt and the exchange with the host at the end indicates the contempt most pilgrims had for him.

The Tale itself is not really a narrative, rather an exemplum used to illustrate the mock sermon he delivers to demonstrate his persuasive skills.

A Simple Plan 

*A Simple Plan *is a successful portrayal of mid America at the time of crisis as more and more people are forced off the land to adapt to urban living.

 While the film appropriates the plot of The Pardoner’s Tale but is much more.

It fleshes out the characters, provides more complex motivations and complications. 

It uses Aristotle’s theory of “revelation” through plot and character and uses film sub-text to convey its major issues.