illustration of a clergyman with Canterbury cathedral behind him

The Canterbury Tales

by Geoffrey Chaucer

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The Summoner’s Tale Summary

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The Summoner’s Prologue

The Summoner is furious at the Friar’s tale, and he claims that friars are carried off to hell even more than summoners. In fact, friars, the summoner asserts, have a special place in hell, right in Satan’s rear end.

The Summoner’s Tale

A friar in Yorkshire is always calling on people to pay money for Masses to deliver the souls of their loved ones from purgatory. He begs constantly, asking for food and clothing and other good things, and then writes down contributors’ names, promising to pray for them. He has a man to carry the goods he receives, but he always erases the names and never prays for anyone. He just keeps going from house to house.

Then one day, the friar goes to the home of his old friend Thomas, where he has received many good meals. Thomas is sick but still asks after the friar’s well-being. The friar makes a long speech about giving a sermon and doing his best to interpret the Bible.

The friar then greets Thomas’s wife and praises her elaborately. She tells him that her husband has been angry and impatient and complaining lately and that she cannot please him. She also asks if the friar will dine with them, and he assures her that he needs only plain food, for his nourishment is the Bible. Finally, the wife tells the friar that her child has died, and he responds that he saw the little one being taken up to heaven. Friars have access to such visions, he explains, for they fast and pray and are pure.

The friar then moves into a long sermon on fasting, providing scriptural examples. He speaks of friars as innocent ones, dedicated to humility, poverty, chastity, and charity. They follow God’s word, he says, and pray for those who support them.

Thomas is not especially convinced. He has spent plenty of gold on friars and their prayers. The friar tells Thomas that he is the only friar one needs. Thomas should invest his money correctly and not divide it. The friar gives Thomas plenty of other advice about not arguing with his wife and not getting so angry. He illustrates this with the story of an angry judge and the two knights that he wrongly had executed due to his excessive ire. The friar preaches against drunkenness, too, again illustrating his point with a story of an innocent child killed by a drunk lord.

The friar offers to hear Thomas’s confession, but Thomas has just confessed to his parish curate. The friar asks for gold for the cloister as well, assuring Thomas that it is much needed. Thomas becomes angry and says that he will give the friar something that he can split evenly with all his brothers. He passes gas right in the friar’s hand.

The friar angrily leaves and goes down to court, where he finds some sympathy from the lord and lady regarding the insult. The talk turns quickly, however, to how gas might be evenly divided, and a squire has the best idea and earns himself cloth for a new gown.

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