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relics, simulacra


This article argues that reading the relics Chaucer’s Pardoner carries through the lens of Jean Baudrillard’s definition of simulacra illustrates the potential existence – and subsequent dangers – of a simulated hyperreality to the spirituality of the fourteenth century. Juxtaposing “The Pardoner’s Prologue” from The Canterbury Tales and Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation lends meaning to both the machinations of Chaucer’s (arguably) most corrupt pilgrim, and to the postmodern idea of simulated realities. Rather than doubles or imitations of an original image or conception of reality, Baudrillard’s simulacra are indistinguishable replacements for the real, as the Pardoner would have us believe of his relics. Understanding the Pardoner’s relics as simulacra allows us to see Chaucer’s awareness of the danger of simulation to faith in medieval Christian society. By insinuating the idea of false relics to his audience through fiction, Chaucer suggests to his audience that all relics could be fakes, throwing into question the business of relics, indulgences, and possibly salvation. Further, Chaucer’s invention of the Pardoner in a fiction that influences reality makes The Canterbury Tales a layering of hyperreality, offering a weighty, consequential example of a simulation so real that the real threatens to become non-existent.