Monday, May 30, 2005

Chaucer in the Senate ...

Over at Power Line, Sen. Robert Byrd’s recent disquisition on Chaucer’s “Pardoner’s Tale” draws some pointed commentary. Read the whole thing. But then consider what George Lyman Kittredge had to say about the Pardoner in Chaucer and His Poetry. The Pardoner, Kittredge notes, “cynically reminds his fellow-travellers of what he told them at the outset, — that he is merely giving them a specimen of his pulpit oratory: “And lo, sires, thus I preche!”
But something happens:
Then, suddenly, unexpectedly, without an instant’s warning, his cynicism falls away, and he utters the solemn words: “May Christ, the physician of our souls, grant you His pardon, for that is better than mine! I will not deceive you, though I get my living by fraud!” … The Pardoner has not always been an assassin of souls. … Once he preached for Christ’s sake; and now, under the spell of the wonderful story he has told and of recollections that stir within him, he suffers a very paroxysm of agonized sincerity. It can last but a moment. The crisis passes.… He takes refuge from himself in a wild orgy of reckless jesting … nobody but Geoffrey Chaucer divined the tragic face behind the satyr’s mask.
Would that windbag from West Virginia might have such a moment of authenticity!

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