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About The Canterbury Tales:|
Geoffrey Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales, a collection of stories in a frame story, between 1387 and 1400. It is the story of a group of thirty people who travel as pilgrims to Canterbury (England). The pilgrims, who come from all layers of society, tell stories to each other to kill time while they travel to Canterbury. He never finished his enormous project and even the completed tales were not finally revised. Scholars are uncertain about the order of the tales. As the printing press had yet to be invented when Chaucer wrote his works, The Canterbury Tales has been passed down in several handwritten manuscripts.
About The Friar's Prologue and Tale:
The Friar begins his tale with the description of an archdeacon that boldy carried out the laws of the church, especially the laws aginst fornication, witchcraft and lechery. The archdeacon had a summoner working for him who was quite skillful in finding lechers, although his own behaviour was questionable. Friars are not within the jurisdicton of summoners (line 65-67). The Summoner interrupts disagreeing the Friar, but the Host asks the Summoner to let the Friar continue his tale (lines 70-71). The Friar continues and narrates about the trade and practice of the unnamed summoner. The summoner only summons people that have enough money to pay the churchly fine, putting half the fine in his own pocket. He would blackmail prostitutes to reveal their customers in exchange of their own safety. After revelation, the customers are blackmailed too.
One day the summoner is on his way to an old widow whom he planned to present a false summons. The summoner meets a yeoman and the two men ride along talking to each other. The Yeoman declares he is a daemon who lives in hell (line 184). Sometimes devils are instruments of God and his human shape is only for the occasion. The two men seem to go along well. The summoner is not shocked or frightened by the daemon. On the contrary, the summoner seems impressed. It looks like the narrator ranks the devil higher than the summoner.
The devil and the summoner meet a carter whose hay-loaded wagon is stuck in the mud. “The devel have al, bothe hors and cart and hey!” curses the carter (line 283). The summoner takes this exclamation literally and suggests that the devil will take the carter's possessions. Although that is what the carter is literally saying, that is not what he means, the devil responds. “The carl spak oo thing, but he thoghte another” (line 304). When the carter prays to God, the horse pulls the wagon from the mud (lines 297-301).
The devil and the summoner go on to the old widow as initially planned. The summoner blackmails and extorts the old woman, but he overrates his power. The old woman refuses to pay and curses the summoner to hell giving his body to the devil. The devil hears this, takes it literally and disappears with the summoner into hell (line 376), which is the place where summoners really ought to be (line 377).
The Friar's Tale is about the degradation and humiliation of summoners and their profession. Summoners blackmail and extort people. The churchly system allows summoners to do so, but the churchly system itself is not attacked and not even mildy ridiculed. After all, ridiculing the medieval church was more or less equal to committing suicide.
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