Selfishness in The Pardoner's Tale

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A Bond of Fatality

Selfishness and greed are strong motivators; they plant seeds of determination that cannot be ignored. Even so, the consequences of selfish and greedy actions do not always prove to be positive. This is evident in both Macbeth by William Shakespeare and “The Pardoner’s Tale” by Geoffrey Chaucer. Each story has a protagonist or a set of protagonists that break moral codes and risk everything in order to be victorious. Both Macbeth and “The Pardoner’s Tale” depict murder as a way of achieving a new and refined lifestyle.

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Neither the three men in “The Pardoner’s Tale” nor Macbeth are evil or murderous prior to their desires. In “The Pardoner’s Tale”, the men’s original objective is to find Death and kill him, in order to avenge their friend who dies. This changes, though, when money becomes a factor and evokes greed in each of them: “…and there they found / A pile of golden florins on the ground, / …No longer was it Death those fellows sought” (Chaucer 192-194). The men are not seeking money initially, but once it is presented (P), they change and become corrupt. This also occurs in Macbeth; Macbeth is content in his life until three witches foretell his future: “All hail, Macbeth! Hail to thee, thane of Glamis! / …thane of Cawdor! / …that shalt be king hereafter!” (Shakespeare I, iii, 49-51). He then becomes infatuated with the idea of being king, and acts out of character to achieve what he wants. Therefore, desires provoke consequential actions in both “The Pardoner’s Tale” and Macbeth.

The three men in “The Pardoner’s Tale” and Macbeth’s efforts ultimately result in negative outcomes, despite their desired results. In “The Pardoner’s Tale”, two men plot to murder the third in order to keep gold for themselves: “Now look; when he comes back, get up in fun / To have a wrestle; then, as you attack, / I’ll up and put my dagger through his back” (Chaucer 247-250). The third man also plans to kill the other two men for his own benefit. In the end, both parties are successful, which leaves no successors in the situation; their selfish actions lead to their downfalls. Similarly, Macbeth’s continues to murder in order to protect himself and to keep his power, but he is just hurting himself with every kill. Rather than letting the prophecy fulfill itself, he takes matters into his own hands. Macbeth decides to kill Macduff, even when the prophecy does not include or suggest it:

“What need I fear of thee?

But yet I’ll make assurance double sure,

And take a bond of fate. Thou shalt not live,

That I may tell pale-hearted fear it lies,

And sleep in spite of thunder.” (Shakespeare IV, i, 82-86)

This shows his relentless greed that is similar to the greed in “The Pardoner’s Tale.” So even though the three men and Macbeth abandon morality and commit murder for personal benefit, their actions were not rewarding.

Determination that is evoked by selfishness and greed (P) can be powerful, but detrimental. In both “The Pardoner’s Tale” and Macbeth, the protagonists are seemingly good people until presented with provocative items and/or lifestyles (P). They all turn to murder in order to receive what they want, but the outcomes are in no way what they expected. The moral of both stories is that greed can lead to tragic events.

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