Is the old man in the Pardoner’s Tale “Death” personified? The Pardoner’s tale is from the Canterbury Tales. In the Pardoner’s Tale, three idiots swear an oath to kill Death. They then leave the tavern they’re in and attempt to accomplish this feat. On the way they meet an old man who they insult and ask why he’s all wrapped up except his face and why he’s so old. He replies,

“Because I cannot find a man, even if I should walk from here to India, in city or in village, who will exchange his youth for my age. And therefore I must keep my old age as long as it is God’s will. Alas, death will not take me! Thus I walk, a restless wretch, and thus day and night I knock with my staff upon the ground, which is my mother’s gate, and say, “Dear mother, let me in. Lo, how I vanish away, flesh and skin and blood! Alas, when shall my bones be at peace? Mother, I would exchange my chest with you, which has been long time in my chamber, yes, for a hair-cloth shroud to wrap myself in!” But still she will not do me that favor; wherefore my face is pale and withered. ” …

“And now God be with you, wherever you may walk or ride; I must go where I have to go.”

The three idiots become convinced he is working with Death and ask him to tell them where they can find Death. He replies,

“If you are so glad to find Death, turn up this crooked path; for by my faith I left him in that grove under a tree, and there he will wait, and for all your boasting will he hide.”

The three idiots then run to the tree the old man has indicated and find thousands of gold coins. Eventually they turn on each other and all three end up dead.


There are only two ways to interpret the old man: either he’s insane or he can live forever. The second seems more likely because everything else about him seems normal and he knows that if they find a ton of gold, they will “find death”. Is the old man Death? On the one hand he says, “Death will not take me,” which seems to imply that he isn’t death. On the other, he seems to know how they will die, fits the description of death, and “must go where [he has] to go”.


There isn’t enough information to make a sure call one way or the other. The clues that are provided appear contradictory or at best, evenly weighed.