Date of Award


Level of Access Assigned by Author

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Tony Brinkley

Second Committee Member

Burton Hatlen

Third Committee Member

Patricia Burnes


This thesis intends to lay the foundation for a new theoretical way of approaching the Pardoner from The Canterbury Tales. I will demonstrate that, if we move away from the traditional readings of the Pardoner and instead move towards a Goffmanian dramaturgical analysis, we will no longer confine the Pardoner within the stifling parameters of a unified and consistent reading. Utilizing the work of Ludwig Wittgenstein, I will demonstrate that the Pardoner's various language games resist critical attempts to iden* his being, in the Heideggerian sense. Creating a unified and consistent reading of the Pardoner has more to do with various critics' personal intentions than letting the Pardoner speak for himself. Once the Pardoner is allowed to revel in the multiplicity and inconsistency that a dramaturgical analysis provides, we are able to see the Pardoner's multiple performances. His multiple and continuously shifting performances invite a queer reading. I will draw upon Judith Halberstam's definition of queerness, with particular emphasis on her assertion that the label "queer" should not be confined to homosexual experiences. "Queer" may be used to define anyone (regardless of their sexuality) who lives in opposition to reigning normative social paradigms. Having established the multiplicity of the Pardoner's being and his queer performativity, I will turn to the question of the nature of the Pardoner's sexuality and address the popular critical question of "what is the Pardoner's sexuality?" However, this thesis will argue that this frequent attempt to define the Pardoner's sexuality is problematic, because many critics impose onto him modern notions of sexuality, which are based upon our modern two-sex gender model. During the Medieval period, gender was still understood in terms of a one-sex model that viewed men as the "natural" gender. Men were organized hierarchically according to how fully they performed the "masculine" role. While male-male desire was not condoned, such behavior was viewed as a transgression against one's masculine gender rather than against sexuality, because the latter was not yet understood as a distinctly separate category; therefore, I see the suggestions in the General Prologue that the Pardoner is either a "geldyng or a mare" as a comment on his gender performance and not on his sexuality 0.691). In defying the medieval one-sex gender model, the Pardoner enters the space of what Halberstam calls "queer time," and thereby he allows us to recognize some of the ways in which gender is inherently performative.