If we define the Wife of Bath in regards to her imposing identity, her sexuality and knowable presence, then the Pardoner is the opposite; a marginalized character, The Pardoner is anything but knowable and his gender identity and sexuality is always in doubt. The Pardoner is a creature of the lie, as Lerer suggests, and so contrasts well to the Wife of Bath who is preoccupied with always attempting to get people to believe that she is telling the truth,
The Pardoner sets out to determine his position for himself; he is what he was alleged himself to be based off of his preaching and collection of hack artifacts, among which is bull testicles and various rags and bones of supposed saints. In the general prologue, we remember, that the narrator described the Pardoner as either a munic (gelding) or a mare (homosexual). If the Pardoner is in fact a munic, then the image of him keeping bull testicles would be doubly ironic but may also only be an imposition of the narrator’s ignorant projections.
The Pardoner is concerned not with the correction of sin but with gaining (thus, hearkening him back to a character in the Romance of the Rose). He is a sort of false prophet. Since Chaucer, of course, is creating this character out of a piece of literary fiction, it is important to note that the Pardoner is, in effect, a satirical creation.
The story of the Pardoner’s Tale is about three young men (fools) who hear about Death coming to town. The next town over, specifically, they discover. They rush out to meet death, believing themselves capable of vanquishing him. They heard that Death is out by an old tree. Once they arrive at the tree where death is supposed to be, however, they find nothing but a pot of gold.
What do they decide to do? They send of them into town for provisions, for their long journey to transport all of the gold, while the other two remain behind to protect the gold. Unfortunately, all scheme to kill one another; as the third is in town, the two guarding the pot plan on murdering the third when he returns, while the third that is in town planned on murdering the other two with poison he put in some drink. So when the third returns from town, he is killed, and the other two die from the poison that the third had put in the drink before he was murdered. Thus, all three die.
After his tale is done, the Pardoner attempts to use the post-story monologue about morality and avarice in order to sell his relics. This is where the trouble starts. Because, of course, he is trying to gain as much gold, silver, and jewelry as possible this conflicts with the moral of his story. He tries to get the tavern owner—Harry Bailey—to buy his relics first since he is most inflicted with sin; the Pardoner tries to get Harry to kiss his relics. The host does not react well.
If the Pardoner is a gelding, then the host saying that he wished that he had the Pardoner’s balls in his hand so as to cut them off, is doubly powerful. But it also raises the question of how the Pardoner would be castrated if he is already a gelding. In the case of the Pardoner, it is words which replace things; the Pardoner is a creature of the symbolic displacement of his own physical reality. Instead of a sexual identity, the Pardoner has a verbal identity. So, to castrate the Pardoner you cut of his tongue. You shut him up.
The conflict grows and it is the knight who must restore order between the host and the Pardoner. Indeed, this is reflected in the pronouns used: informal second-person for the Pardoner, first person formal for the knight. Thus, the social hierarchy of the universe is retorted by the order which the tales had been told.
The Pardoner’s tale challenges us on our notions on sexual identity, about whether the ostentatious display of artifacts is merely a façade or if it is actually part of the Pardoner’s sexual performance; is the Pardoner really a gelding or a mare, or is it merely the ignorance of the narrator who places him so?