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Main page » Non-Fiction » Science literature » Literature Studies » The Friar's Tale (Canterbury Tales)

The Friar's Tale (Canterbury Tales)


This story concerns a Summoner who is paid by a Bishop to summon sinners for Trial before the Church Court.

This particular Summoner has a team of spies and harlots who provide him with information concerning those living in the Parish, and the Summoner gathers this information to be used against them by the Church.  The Summoner blackmails the Parishioners to prevent him revealing the information to the Church Court.

One day when the Summoner is making his rounds to collect his money, he meets a young Yeoman.  The Yeoman asks the Summoner what his occupation is and he says that he is a Bailiff. The Yeoman responds, “Dear brother, so am I.”  The Yeoman lives in the north of the country. The two pass the time of day discussing work and they agree that they just receive enough income to cover expenses.  They suggest a partnership.

After they have sealed their partnership, the Yeoman reveals that he is a fiend from hell, but this does not unduly concern the Summoner, and will keep to their agreed partnership even although the Yeoman is the Beelzebub himself. 

The pair happen upon a farmer whose cart full of hay is stuck fast in the mud. He is whipping the horses, and in exasperation he shouts for the Devil to take it all, cart, horse, hay and all. The Summoner urges his partner to claim the farmer’s goods, but the Devil explains that he has no power to do so because the curse was not uttered from the farmer’s heart.

The Summoner takes the Devil to a rich widow who has consistently refused to pay the Summoner bribes. She again refuses to pay the 12 pence ‘owed’, so the Summoner threatens to take her new frying pan instead. The widow shouts at the Summoner – the Devil take you and the frying pan.  The Devil asks her if she really means these words and she replies, yes, unless the Summoner repents, but he refuses.  The Summoner finds himself body and soul in hell in a special place in the Devil’s kingdom where all the Summoners reside.

The Friar ends his tale with the hope that Summoners can some day repent of their evil doings and become good men.

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Tags: Summoner, Church, information, Court, against, Parish