Greed in “The Pardoner’s Tale”: the Destructive Force of Wealth

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Updated: Aug 26, 2023
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As defined by Google, greed is an intense and selfish desire for something, especially wealth, power, or food. Greed is one of the most toxic and divisive characteristics in history. In the past, greed has led to the downfall of entire nations and can influence people to turn on even their loved ones. 

The Pardoner’s Tale Theme: The Lure of Greed

In “The Pardoner’s Tale,” three friends are ultimately driven to betray each other by an intense lust for wealth and earthly riches.

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Near the story’s beginning, three men are having drinks in a tavern together. They then witness a funeral procession for an old friend of theirs. Because they were already intoxicated, they set out to slay the one people called “Death.”

However, they fail to realize that Death is not a natural person but is more of an idea or a state of being that is feared but not fully understood. They ask the bartender where they can find this cunning and cynical man. After he tells them that they can find Death in a nearby village, the men seek vengeance for their fallen adversary and the other victims of Death. On their way, they encounter a frail older man and reproach him for his age and appearance. After they harass him, they threaten to beat him if he refuses to aid them in their search for Death. The older man informs them that Death can be found under a tree within reasonably short walking distance.

Under this tree, instead of finding Death, they find eight bushels of gold. Death instantly becomes the least of the men’s worries as they are in awe of all this money they have stumbled upon. Due to the possibility of being accused of stealing, the men realize that it would be better to refrain from taking the gold to one of their homes until nighttime. They also realize they have abundant time to do nothing, so they draw straws to see which one has to make the trip back into town for food and drinks. The youngest of the three men draws the shortest straw. While he returns to town, the other two men conspire to kill him so they have more gold for themselves.  However, they are not the only ones who may have a trick or two up their sleeves.

From Revenge to Ruin: The Destructive Nature of Wealth

The young man buys two bottles of wine and heads to the nearest drugstore. He asks the clerk for rat poison, insisting he has a rat problem. After he receives the poison, he laces the wine bottles and heads back to the tree. Upon his arrival, he is quickly killed by the other two men, who unknowingly are about to receive a similar fate. The two older men sat down to drink the wine, and both died quickly and painfully due to the poison. After all of their work to find Death, these three men are driven to kill each other by nothing other than “an intense desire for something, especially wealth.”

These men, albeit drunk, started seeking revenge on Death for the passing of friends and others in their village during the plague. After money came into the picture, these men immediately forgot their motives for even being at the tree and turned on each other to augment their wealth. This story proves that no matter how good one’s motives may be, no man is exempt from the temptations of greed and money. Throughout history, nations such as Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union have proved that greed can single-handedly dismantle relationships and even entire countries. Greed, as shown by these three men in “The Pardoner’s Tale,” can drive people apart and ultimately influence people to even kill each other over money and riches.


  1. Google. (2023). Definition of greed. In Google Dictionary. Retrieved from
  2. Chaucer, G. (2003). The Pardoner’s Tale. In V. A. Kolve & G. Olson (Eds.), The Canterbury Tales: Nine Tales and the General Prologue (pp. X-X). Norton & Company. (Original work published 14th century)
  3. Shirer, W. L. (1960). The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany. Simon and Schuster.
  4. Conquest, R. (2007). The Great Terror: A Reassessment. Oxford University Press.
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Greed in "The Pardoner's Tale": The Destructive Force of Wealth. (2023, Aug 26). Retrieved from