In Chaucer’s genius work, The Canterbury Tales, the Friar and the Summoner tell tales of mockery about one another. Like the Miller and the Reeve before them the Friar and the Summoner are in rivalry with each other. However the difference between the rivalry between the Reeve and the Miller and the rivalry between the Friar and the Summoner is the competitive spirit. Unlike the Reeve and the Miller, the Friar and the Summoner’s rivalry is not a personal hatred but a hatred for the other’s office.This hatred inspires the tales of both the Friar and the Summoner. The two tell tales that make a mockery of each other’s occupation. Both The Friar’s Tale and The Summoner’s Tale discuss the topic of perversion of office.Unlike the Friar, the Summoner does not tell a noble tale but a humorous tale. After both tales, neither the Summoner nor the Friar is able to justify themselves through their tales. It is quite evident that the two tales are consistent with their tellers. The Friar’s Tale The Summoner’s Tale are the Friar and Summoner’s way of avenging attacks on their professions. The Friar begins the series of attacks in his prologue. In his prologue “the noble Friar”(292) directly attacks the Summoner. The Friar not only ridicules the Summoner by saying “a summoner isn’t much to be commended”(293).
The Friar continues the verbal assailment by accusing the Summoner of “dealing out summonses for fornication”(293). The Summoner interrupts the Friar and promises to “pay him back…tell him all about that job of his”(293) after he is finished telling his tale. The Friar then tells his exemplum about a Summoner who perverts his office by committing “adultery and defamation, breaches of wills and contract, spolitation…and disregard of sacraments”(293). The Friar’s moral tale tells a tale about an ugly summoner who forms a fellowship with Satan. The Summoner “did not … for shame…that he was a summoner”(296) instead he says he is a baliff. The Friar’s tale mocks the idiotic summoner who says “ i’ll hold to my engagement…though you were…the very Devil”(298). The Friar’s mockery of the Summoner and his occupation would soon be repaid by the vengeful and angry Summoner. After the Friar’s offensive tale, the Summoner “rose in wrath against the Friar”(303). As a bitter response to The Friar’s Tale, the Summoner tells a tale that mocks the Friar. Before his tale, the Summoner mocks the Friar in his prologue. In his prologue, a friar goes to hell with an and he is surprised that of all the friars “none ever come into this place?”(304). The angel then shows the friar “some twenty thousand friars…crept into his (the Devil’s) arse”(304). After his funny prologue, the Summoner then tells his even funnier tale.
In The Summoner’s Tale , the tale includes acts of perversion of office committed by the friar. These perversions are mainly related to the Friar’s vow of poverty such as “pretence of praying”(308) for “those who gave him offerings or food”(305). Like the Summoner did earlier, the Friar interrupts the Summoner while he is telling his tale , saying “there you lie, you Summoner!”(306). The Summoner continues his tale about a friar who stops at the home of a sickly man named Thomas and attempts to get money from the ailing man and his wife. The Summoner chronicles that the friar “kissed her (Thomas’ wife) sweetly, chirping like a sparrow”(307). When the friar then asks Thomas for money so Thomas, angered, tells the friar he has something “hidden for secrecy”(316). When the friar “launched his hand”(316) for the gift from Thomas, Thomas “blew a fart”(316) into “that friar’s hand”(316). This made the friar “mad as a lion”(316) and later the friar is “chased away”(316) by “the sick man’s servant”(316).
The angry friar then storms into the house of “a man of honour”(316), saying “i have received an insult”(317) . Instead of receiving sympathy, the friar is mocked by the man and his wife and servant. The reason for the rivalry between the Friar and the Summoner stems from financial matters. If people receive forgiveness of sins from the Monk then they do not need to bribe the Summoner and vice versa. This brings up a need for competition between the two church officials. The Friar and the Summoner are both characters from the lower class and they tell tales about people from lower classes. The difference, however, is that the tale the Summoner tells seems childish and not as noble in comparison to The Friar’s Tale. The Summoner’s Tale seems not be as well thought out and mature as the Friar’s. The Summoner, unlike the Friar, did not have time to fully think of a proper response for his attacker. At the end of both tales, however, neither of the two church officials are able to disprove the claims made against them. The two tales are about attacking and not defending , so the tales are not really meaningful or effective for either of the two.
Although the two tales successfully make a fool of its attacker, they do not do a good job of defending the teller of the tale. Neither tale justifies the underlining cause of rivalry between the two church officials. Neither of the tellers are bold enough to include themselves in their own tales. The tales of both the Friar and the Summoner inevitably prove that the two men are hypocrites . The tales tell the reader or listener that the teller and his respective correspondent are fit the description assigned to them by the other person. The two tales are expected from both tellers. The rivalry and range of accusations present in the stories should come as no surprise to the audience. The two tales are great means of starting an argument but neither continuing nor defending them. Both tales are interrupted by the other clerk while they are being told. The Summoner’s clever choice to tell a bawdy tale instead of a noble one like the Friar separates the two tales. The two tales are typical of their narrators and are rather underwhelming compared to the tales told by the other pilgrims.