THE SUMMONER’S TALE
There was once a Friar who resided in Holderness, Yorkshire, who spent much
of his time casting, spells over his Parishioners and then requesting money so that the Brotherhood of Friars could pray for their misfortune.
Although the Friars would promise to make their prayers to God, in most
cases they didn’t.
One day, our Friar went to the home of an old man called Thomas who had been
confined to bed for many days. The Friar assured Thomas that he has been praying constantly on Thomas’ behalf.
Thomas’ wife asks the Friar to pray for her husband so that his anger could be subdued. She complains that her husband is always unpleasant and surly. The wife offers the Friar some dinner, and after he describes his life of poverty and want, he suggests a lavish menu for his dinner to the wife.
After the Friar has finished his meal, he gives the wife a long sermon
concerning the virtues of fasting and on the sin of gluttony.
The Friar then turns his attention back to Thomas and gives him a long
sermon on excessive wealth, hinting that he should give generously to the Friar with a view to increasing his chances of returning to full health. Thomas responds that he has already given a lot of money to
the Friars and it hasn’t helped him much. The Friar responds that he has spread his gifts too widely and that he should concentrate all his giving to the Convent that the Friar is a member of, and he will
encourage all his Brothers to pray earnestly for Thomas.
Before the Friar leaves, Thomas remembers that he has a special gift for the
Friar, but that it must be shared equally amongst all the Friars at the Convent, but the Friar has to swear to share it. He quickly agrees. He tells the Friar to reach down between his buttocks where
there is something hidden. When the Friar complies, the old man lets off an enormous fart and the Friar stomps out of the house. He thinks - I will pay him back for this.
The Friar makes his way to a wealthy Lord’s house and he is still shaking
with anger, so he tells the Lord how the old man has offended him. The Friar is also concerned as to how he will keep his promise by dividing the old man’s ‘gift’ into equal parts. The Lord’s valet,
hearing this conversation, makes a suggestion. Obtain a 13-spoke wheel and at the end of each spoke, a Friar should kneel. Strap the old man to the hub of the wheel. When he farts, the wheel could
be turned, and each Friar could share equally. The Lord and his Lady think the Valet’s answer is excellent.
All agree except the Friar.
When you see past the vulgarity of this tale, we can see that the message
Chaucer is making concerns the hypocrisy of some Friars.
In this tale, the Friar is quick to sermonize to others concerning fasting,
gluttony and charity, but he does not practice what he preaches.
We suspect that the Friar enjoys in indulging himself whenever he goes on his rounds, and this selfish preoccupation means that he and his Brothers have little time for making supplications to the Lord, which they have been paid to do by their Parishioners.
The Middle Ages were perhaps a low point in the history of Friars, and this
story is more a tragedy than a comedy.
It is clear that the spread of Christianity came about through the hard work of the Friars, but now, in the Middle Ages, they are viewed with disdain as is evident in this story.
The last point is that we have pairs of tales between the Reeve and the
Miller, and the Summoner and the Friar, where all the narrators resort to excessive vulgarity in order to insult their counterpart. It is a pity that there is a lack of subtlety in parts of these stories.
The host turns his attention to the Clerk from Oxford who has been very
quiet, and he tells him to cheer up.
He asks him to tell us a lively tale, and the Clerk agrees.