Summary and Analysis of The Friar's Tale (The Canterbury Tales)
Prologue to the Friar's Tale:
The Friar commends the Wife of Bath for her tale, and then says that he will tell a tale about a summoner. He does not wish to offend the Summoner who travels with them, but insists that summoners are known for lewd behavior. The Summoner does not take offense, but does indicate that he will repay the Friar in turn. The job of the Summoner to which the Friar objects is to issue summons from the church against sinners who, under penalty of excommunication, pay indulgences for their sins to the church, a sum which the summoner often pockets.
The Friar's Tale will continue the pattern of reciprocity that had earlier been established before the interruption of the Wife of Bath's Tale. The Friar will tell his tale about a summoner, while the summoner will in turn repay the friar with a tale about a man of his profession. However, compared to the earlier pattern of tales repaying one another for insults, the interaction between the Friar and the Summoner is more muted and less personal. The Friar insists that he does not wish to insult the Summoner personally, while the Summoner's reaction to the Friar is rational and relatively muted.
The Friar's Tale:
The Friar's Tale tells of an archdeacon who boldly executed the Church's laws against fornication, witchcraft and lechery. Lechers received the greatest punishment, forced to pay significant tithes to the church. The archdeacon had a summoner who was quite adept at discovering lechers, even though he himself was immoral.
The Summoner interrupts the Friar's Tale with an objection, but the Host allowed the Friar to continue his tale. The Friar tells that the summoner of his tale would only summon those who had enough money to pay the church, and would take part of the charge. He would enlist the help of prostitutes who would reveal their customers to the summoner in exchange for their own safety (and offer of sexual services). One day, the summoner was traveling to issue a summons to a yeoman, who had been hunting. The summoner claimed to be a bailiff, knowing that his actual profession was so detested. The yeoman claimed to be a bailiff, and offers hospitality to the summoner. The two travel together, and the summoner asks where the yeoman lives, intending to later rob him. The summoner asks the yeoman how he makes money at his job, and the bailiff admits that he lives by extortion. The summoner admits the he does the same, and they reveal to each other their villainy, until the yeoman finally declares that he is a fiend whose dwelling is in hell. The summoner asks the yeoman (the devil) why he has a human shape, and he claims that he assumes one whenever on earth. The summoner asks him why he labors as such, and the devil...