The Pardoner in the “Dogges Boure”: Early Reception of the Canterbury Tales
As the Host repeatedly insists, examples provoke sensory and emotional responses in their audiences; they express the hope that involving audiences in narrative will inspire virtue. In the Book of the Knight of the Tower, the Confessio Amantis, and the Physician’s Tale, virtue is understood in largely secular terms. Indeed, the religious character of narrative inspiration is unpredictable; one sermon rails against the man who doesn’t respond to the Passion of Christ, but weeps when he hears the tale of Guy of Warwick.1 But despite the suspicion of non-biblical examples expressed by religious writers, many make use of the marvelous effects of narrative. We saw in chapter 1 that Gregory the Great’s oft-quoted remark provides a touchstone: “Since examples often rouse the hearts of one’s hearers to love of God and neighbor better than words, I want to report to you a miracle.” The context is a homily on the cleansing of the temple, illustrated with a local tale about the monk Martyrius’s miraculous pity for a leper, later revealed to be Christ.2 For Gregory, examples (especially from life) are a kind of lure, offering a particular, narrative pleasure in order to rouse (exitare) audiences to take a story to heart. Miraculously, here, unlike in Guy of Warwick, the tale of the leper is finally the story of Christ. The audience’s response, too, is implicitly miraculous, for when they are roused to love, they partake of the presence of the divine in the world. Gregory’s story, like most sermon examples, produces a moment of moral clarity in which love for one’s neighbor may be consciously articulated and embraced.
KeywordsEarly Reception Affective Response Fifteenth Century Verbal Violence Canterbury Tale
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