Classics and the Western Canon discussion

21 views
Discussion - Canterbury Tales > Week 7 - The Friar's Tale

Comments Showing 1-10 of 10 (10 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Now we come to another Miller-Reeve tit-for-tat. That one was between two working class men; this one is between two ecclesiastics.

The Friar goes first. Friars, in the church hierarchy, were lower in church rank than the Prioress and the Monk, but above the other churchmen and women. They were supposed to have taken a vow of poverty and to support themselves by begging, and to follow the mission of relieving the suffering of the diseased and the outcast. From Chaucer's description, though, this Friar is just a wee bit short of his intended role.

The Friar's tale is a beautiful skewering of the abuses of the role of Summoners. The role of a summoner was a nonclerical one; he was not a Priest but a lay person whose job was to deliver the summons issued by the Ecclesiastical Court. But the Summoner in the Friar's tale is anything but an honest, responsible lay officer of the court.

What amazes me is how Chaucer got away with this and some of his other tales clearly offensive to the majesty of the Church.

The Friar's actually story is amusing enough, but shows the utter stupidity of the summoner who has no clue what's actually going on. One doesn't wonder that Chaucer's Summoner take great umbrage at the tale.


message 2: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK What amazes me is how Chaucer got away with this and some of his other tales clearly offensive to the majesty of the Church.

Perhaps this was because of his position at Court? Kings had their quarrels with the church and may have tolerated such offensiveness by a courtier because they agreed with it but could not easily go against the church themselves. Henry VIII's later quarrels with the Pope's authority illustrate this. Had Chaucer been a Commoner, he may not have been able to be so forthright.


toria (vikz writes) (victoriavikzwrites) | 186 comments Can anyone put this tale into some context for me. Who was a summoner? were they Universally unpopular and corrupt? What caused the Animosity between him and the fryer. I really liked this tale. I think that it might be better than the wife of bath's tale.


message 6: by Sasha (new)

Sasha MadgeUK wrote: "What amazes me is how Chaucer got away with this and some of his other tales clearly offensive to the majesty of the Church.

Perhaps this was because of his position at Court? Kings had their quar..."


I am listening to Katherine Swynford: The Story of John of Gaunt and His Scandalous Duchessand Weir states that John of Gaunt, who was the Duke of Lancaster, son of King Edward III and Chaucer's brother-in-law by marriage, was very pious, but critical of the Church.


message 7: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK John of Gaunt, who was the Duke of Lancaster, son of King Edward III and Chaucer's brother-in-law by marriage, was very pious, but critical of the Church.

Yes, the first English bible was handwritten by Wycliffe in 1380 and he was a critic of the church. His followers, the Lollards, made dozens of copies and distributed them amongst the ordinary people. As this website says: 'The most important Lollards were a group of knights who were part of the king's court. These included Sir William Neville, Sir John Montague and Sir William Beachamp, with sympathetic support and active protection from the Black Prince and John of Gaunt (at least from 1371 to 1382), which reflected traditional noble anti-clericalism.'

http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/...

So Chaucer is reflecting the anti-clericalism of not only his master but other influential courtiers.


message 8: by Bill (new)

Bill (BIll_B) | 250 comments Everyman wrote: The Friar's actually story is amusing enough, but shows the utter stupidity of the summoner who has no clue what's actually going on. One doesn't wonder that Chaucer's Summoner take great umbrage at the tale. ..."


Whether Chaucer is consciously doing it or not, I think that when depicts the stupidity of the summoner, he is depicting a pretty deep understanding of christian theology regarding evil or sin.

The evil of the Summoner is not that he isn't given every indication that the fiend is there for him, or even that he is incapable of understanding it, but that he willfully refuses to listen. The fiend calls him stupid, and the summoner understands that part (he sarcastically repeats--"I'm a dunce"), but in his effort to steer the conversation to his own benefit, he ignores what the fiend is telling him. He only wants to hear more about the fiends technique in ensnaring people, specifically as to why the fiend takes different shapes, presumably as this will give some insight into his ensnaring process.

With every event or turn of the conversation, the fiend reminds the summoner that he is an instrument of God and is there to test him, and the summoner simply refuses to hear what he's saying. This is a good depiction of the christian understanding of sin or evil--in which human evil is a result of willful ignore-ance or blindness--as opposed to the greek socratic understanding that evil is a result of ignorance through simple lack of knowleage.

This story, while short, is as good and deep as the Wife of Bath, in my view.


message 9: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Bill wrote: "The evil of the Summoner is not that he isn't given every indication that the fiend is there for him, or even that he is incapable of understanding it, but that he willfully refuses to listen. "

That's a nice point. There are none so blind... He is certainly given plenty of clues along the way, but he is so focused on his abuses of office that he is blind to the dangers surrounding him.

This is, as you so well point out, a pretty clear statement on the theology of sin and salvation. He clearly misses seeing straight and narrow path he should follow because his eye is so focused on the wrong that he wants to do.

There is a good sermon in this tale for any preacher who wants it!


message 10: by Sasha (new)

Sasha Bill wrote: "Everyman wrote: The Friar's actually story is amusing enough, but shows the utter stupidity of the summoner who has no clue what's actually going on. One doesn't wonder that Chaucer's Summoner take..."

Nice analysis. I am reading three versions of CT, one on Kindle, which semi-modernized, with translations on the same page, one on the net in modern English and a print version in middle English with a glossary at the back of the book. The latter is a bit unweildy, so I tend not to look at the glossary and just read the tale, picking up the 'gist' of the story. I read the Friar's Tale in the print version. This is a long winded way of explaining
that I didn't pick up the subtleties Bill did. I interpreted the Summoner as being plain greedy, so intent on learning the craft of extortion that he was oblivious to everything else.

I agree, Everyman, it would make a great sermon!


back to top