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Chaucer, Geoffrey. "The Friar's Prologue and Tale" from The Canterbury Tales.

The Canterbury Tales

(from Norton)

- originally conceived as a series of 120 tales x but: completed 22 tales, began 2 others

- the title: the Canterbury Cathedral was a favourite pilgrimage site, the site of murder of archbishop Thomas Becket, a famous English saint (murdered 1170)

- uses a fictitious pilgrimage as the framing device for a number of stories

<> collections of tales linked in such a way were common in the later Middle Ages (e.g. Boccaccio's Decameron with 10 narrators telling 10 tales within 10 days)

x unlike in Boccaccio, Chaucer represents a wide spectrum of ranks and occupations in his narrators

- the variety of tellers is matched by the diversity of their tales: the stories contrast in genre, style, tone and values

- some of the stories are linked by the interchanges among the pilgrims who react to the tale and sometimes quarrel

- several narrators' stories also respond to topics taken up by previous tellers


"The Friar's Prologue"

Comprises a single extended stanza rhyming aabb. Intermixes narrative and dialogue.

The Friar expresses his dislike of summoners. The Friar and the Summoner make a brief exchange of opinions but are interrupted by the Host who tells them to drop the matter. The Friar introduces his tale which will concern a summoner.


"The Friar's Tale"

The Friar introduces an archdeacon who lived in his country and who was very zealous in punishing sinners. He focused especially on those sinners who paid small tithes. The archdeacon employed a summoner whom the Friar describes as a thief. At this point the pilgrim Summoner protests, but is silenced by the Host who encourages the Friar to continue his tale. The Friar goes on to describe the summoner's practice. The summoner pays his master but half of the profits raised and uses his informants and his lovers to find about his next victims.

The Friar describes the summoner's errand in which he feigns a cause to receive a bribe from a poor widow. On his way the summoner meets a yeoman. The summoner pretends to be a bailiff to avoid revealing his actual hated profession. The yeoman claims to be a bailiff, too. The two pronounce themselves brothers, connected by the same office. Then the supposed yeoman reveals that he is a devil and explains that he can take on various shapes, human or animal. The summoner asks the devil to teach him some tricks how to earn more money. The devil complains of his poverty, so the summoner suggests sharing his profit with him. The devil accepts and they continue riding to the house of the widow.

They come across a man whose cart gets stuck in mud. The man curses and calls that the devil may take the cart and the hay away. The devil however does not take it because he sees that the man does not mean it. Arriving at the widow's house, the summoner blackmails the old woman. The widow feels no guilt and denies ever having committed any offence. She has no money to give the summoner his bribe. The summoner demands her pan to take instead of money. She curses the summoner and exclaims that the devil may take both the summoner and the pan. On this the devil asks whether she means it. She does, so the devil actually takes the summoner and the pan to hell.

The Friar concludes his tale with a warning, urging not to speak the devil's name lest the devil himself should appear. He believes that summoners should repent or else they will be taken away to hell.


  • Author

    Geoffrey Chaucer. (c. 1343 - 1400). 
  • Full Title

    "The Friar's Prologue" and "The Friar's Tale" from The Canterbury Tales.
  • Composed

    Between c. 1386 - 1400. 
  • Form

    Narrative verse.

Works Cited

Abrams, M. H., ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 7th ed. Vol. 1. New York: Norton, 1999.

Chaucer, Geoffrey. "The Friar's Prologue". The Canterbury Tales. London: Campbell, 1992.

Chaucer, Geoffrey. "The Friar's Tale". The Canterbury Tales. London: Campbell, 1992.


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