In The Wife of Bath’s Prologue in Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, the Friar and the Summoner have a heated exchange before she begins her tale. The contrast of the tone of their speech demonstrates how very different these two characters are.
The Friar is the first one to speak when he interjects a comment after the Wife of Bath’s introduction to her tale. She tells her fellow pilgrims about how her abusive relationship with her fifth husband Jankin turned into the best of her five marriages. The Friar teases her about being long-winded as she introduces her tale.
The Frere lough, whan he hadde herd al this,
‘Now, dame,’ quod he, ‘so have I Ioye or blis,
This is a long preamble of a tale!’
Although he makes gentle fun of the Wife, he does not really ridicule her. His tone is jocular and humorous.
But the Summoner suddenly attacks the Friar in defense of the Wife. He claims the Friar is inserting himself where he does not belong and compares him to a fly buzzing around and fouling people’s meals.
And whan the Somnour herde the Frere gale,
‘Lo!’ quod the Somnour, ‘Goddes armes two!
A frere wol entremette him ever-mo.
Lo, gode men, a flye and eek a frere
Wol falle in every dish and eek matere.
What spekestow of preambulacioun?
What! amble, or trotte, or pees, or go sit doun;
Thou lettest our disport in this manere.’
The Summoner’s tone is not as humorously teasing as the Friar’s. The comparison to a fly that ruins people’s enjoyment is positively insulting, and he finishes his comment by ordering the Friar to leave.
The Friar responds, and this time his tone is a bit more challenging than the one he used with the Wife. He threatens to tell their companions stories that will ridicule Friars, making the Summoner the butt of the joke.
Ye, woltow so, sir Somnour?’ quod the Frere,
‘Now, by my feith, I shal, er that I go,
Telle of a Somnour swich a tale or two,
That alle the folk shal laughen in this place.’
Even though he is defensive, he does not equal the belligerent tone the Summoner adopts in his response.
‘Now elles, Frere, I bishrewe thy face,’
Quod this Somnour, ‘and I bishrewe me,
But if I telle tales two or thre
Of freres er I come to Sidingborne,
That I shal make thyn herte for to morne;
For wel I wool thy patience is goon.’
The Summoner also threatens to tell stories, but his anti-Friar tales will not be amusing. They will be hurtful enough to make the Friar cry. The juxtaposition of these threats contrasts the humorous nature of the Friar with the pugnacious attitude of the Summoner.