The Friar's Tale in The Canterbury Tales: Prologue & Summary

Instructor: Bryan Cowing

Bryan is a freelance writer who specializes in literature. He has worked as an English instructor, editor and writer for the past 10 years.

'The Canterbury Tales' is a tough read. This doesn't stop instructors from assigning it with sadistic glee. In this lesson, we will ease your burden and take a look at the 'Friar's Tale.'

Nobody Likes Summoners

The Friar opens his tale with a prologue in which he thanks the Wife of Bath for her tale and for her ability to tackle matters of ''greet difficultee.'' He then announces that he has a tale he would like to tell. He specifies that he is going to poke fun at summoners (members of the church who find people who have broken spiritual laws and bring them to court or blackmail them). We get the immediate feeling that the Friar does not care for summoners as he comments, ''That of a somonour may no good be sayd.'' In other words, nothing good can be said about summoners.

The Friar's Tale

The host tells the Friar that he should not poke fun at summoners, but the Friar explains that he is not afraid of the Summoner, and if the host has a problem with the story, he can bring it on. He begins his tale by describing an archdeacon who was hard on sinners, but especially womanizers (the Friar calls them lechers). The archdeacon had a summoner who was talented at hunting down lechers. This summoner would protect a few from punishment if they would help him turn in 20 others.

Next, the Friar explains just how corrupt the summoner is. The people who help him the most are prostitutes. He promises to let the prostitutes off the hook if they pay him with sexual favors and help him turn in their customers. One day, as the summoner is heading out to harass and fine a widow, he sees a yeoman riding along the same road. The summoner strikes up a conversation, lying and saying that he is a bailiff since ''He dorste nat, for verray filthe and shame Seye that he was a somonour, for the name''. In other words, due to the ''filth'' and ''shame'' associated with summoners, he lies and says that he is a bailiff. The yeoman admits that he makes money by stealing and lying. He tells the summoner that if he ever visits his hometown, he will be welcomed to all that the yeoman has. The summoner asks where the yeoman lives, pretending to be interested in visiting. He is really just interested stealing the yeoman's riches.

The Truth About the Yeoman

Eventually, the yeoman admits that he is not a yeoman, and in fact, he is not even a human being. He is a demon from hell in human form. He tells the summoner that he can take any form he likes. The demon then explains that he and the summoner will meet again, and when they do, the summoner will thoroughly know what demons and hell are. Creepy. The summoner, apparently unfazed by the satanic comment, suggests that the two travel together and swindle as a team.

They head into town where they see a man riding in a cart with hay in it. His horses are not cooperating, and it looks like he is having a rough day in general. Out of anger, the man curses his situation and says that he wishes the devil would just take the horses and the cart and everything. The summoner urges the demon to follow through and take what the man has cursed. The demon says that the man didn't really mean it, so he cannot take them. He is proven right when the man, just a few moments later, thanks God for his horses and cart.

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