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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 Summoner's Prologue and Tale:
The tale of the Summoner is about a friar who preaches and begs in Holderness, a region in Yorkshire (line 46). The nameless friar visits local people and asks them to give him something, for instance money, food or anything else in exchange for the promise to pray for them. The friar writes the name down of a person who gives him something, but after leaving erases the name (line 94). So the friar is a liar who presents fables (line 96). The Friar interrupts the narrating Summoner callng him a liar, but the Host intervenes commanding the Friar to let the Summoner continue his tale (lines 97-100).
So the friar in The Summoner's Tale goes on and comes to the house of Thomas and his wife, a local resident who turns out to be ill. The friar more or less complains about the small church contribution and lack of attendance of churchly services. Thomas' wife offers the friar a meal and tells that her child has died recently (lines 188-189). The friar responds and says he had a revelation in which the dead child has entered heaven (lines 190-194). Fellow friars had a similar revelation, because friars are able to see more than other people. The friar explains extensively that the impoverished state of friars brings them closer to God. Abstinence is a boundary condition to get in touch with God.
The friar insists that Thomas should give him something. Thomas tells the friar that he has donated all his possessions to other friars without getting any better (line 285-289). The friar delivers Thomas a sermon about unreasonable dictators and persists on getting something, preferably gold to build a cloister (line 435). Thomas is more and more annoyed by the friar and says that he is sitting on a gift. Thomas is willing to deliver the gift to the friar on the condition that the friar will split the gift equally among the other friars. The friar agrees immediately (line 473) and puts his hand behind Thomas' back searching for the gift. Thomas farts in the friar's hand louder than a horse could do (lines 485-487). The friar enrages and promises revenge, but the servants of Thomas chase the friar out of the house (lines 492-493).
The angry friar walks away and finds the local lord of the village. The lord asks the friar about his apparent anger and the friar narrates about how he was insulted. He angrily wanders how to divide something (a fart) that cannot be divided (line 550). The lord is puzzled by this intellectual challenge, but the lord's squire knows a solution. Take a cartwheel that has twelve spokes. Each of twelve friars should lay his nose at the end of a spoke (line 600). The nameless friar has to sit at the hub in the middle of the cartwheel and fart. Each of the spokes will carry the smell from the center to the rim where the awaiting noses of the friars are. That is how to divide a fart in twelve. The audience in the tale agrees with the solution of the squire. End of story.
The Summoner's Tale begins with telling that friars live in the devil's arse and it ends with a description on how to divide a fart between friars. No lack of arse jokes and puns in The Summoner's Tale. Are twelve friars gathered around a cartwheel a parody of Jesus and his twelve apostles? Could be. Is the ascent of Jesus to heaven something like a fart that goes to the noses of his apostles? That would be a blasphemous thought, besides too far-fetched, so "no". Is religious advice and preaching of a friar or summoner worth any money? Or is talking and preaching by friars and summoners similar to farting, leaving religion itself untouched? Well, what a nice example of symbolism, and plausible too.
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