The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

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13: The Friar's Tale Summary and Analysis

Summary
The Friar says it is time to speak of "gayer things" and volunteers to tell a tale he knows about a summoner. He adds that everyone knows how hated summoners are. The Host is afraid the Friar will upset the pilgrim Summoner, but the pilgrim Summoner says that he will shortly pay the Friar back. The Friar begins.

An archdeacon kept in his employ a summoner who had no rival for finding sinners. The man kept a network of spies to help him discover wrongdoers. He often pretended that he had charges against an individual, but if that person would compensate him, the charges would be "dismissed." By extorting money in this manner, the summoner grew rich; he shared only a little of what he collected with the archdeacon.

One day, as the rogue was on his way to charge an old widow, he meets a vigorous yeoman on the road to whom he takes an instant liking. This yeoman is a bailiff, the summoner's civil counterpart. When their conversation reveals their mutual dishonesty, lack of conscience, and love of gold, the summoner and the bailiff pledge eternal brotherhood.

Later in the trip, the summoner asks the bailiff's name and learns that he is a fiend, a devil who can alter his shape at will. He explains that he sometimes does the devil's work and sometimes inflicts God's punishments. The yeoman/demon gives the summoner a chance to forsake him, but the summoner renews his oath...

(The entire section is 493 words.)