32 The Canterbury Tales: The Friar’s Prologue and Tale

“The Friar in the Ellesmere” in Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer. 2013. Wikimedia Commons.


by Annaleyse G. and Neveen A.


This tale is a bitter and satirical attack on the work of summoners; it is included in Chaucer’s Tales as a way of highlighting the animosity between the two professions within the church (as friars could take confession and give absolution which eliminated the need for an ecclesiastical court hearing, which is what summoners helped facilitate).



In this tale, the Friar paints an unsavory image of summoners which is refuted, in the next tale, by the Summoner himself. A church official (an archdeacon) has spies that work around his town and report back to him about who has sinned, so he can extort money from them in exchange for forgiveness for their sins.  Under the archdeacon, there is a Summoner (a person who calls sinners in front of the court of the church to face punishment for their sins). One day, he meets a demon and they swear to be partners and share their winnings with each other. The Summoner is someone who is manipulative and someone who easily blackmails people for money, even if their victims haven’t actually sinned, by charging them large amounts of money for sinners to not be summoned to the church. The yeoman is a demon who takes many forms and who takes people down to hell. The yeoman can only take people to hell if someone was sincere and honest in their wish for something or someone to go to hell. One day, they both come upon a farmer whose cart is stuck in the mud. In frustration, he yells for the devil to take everything. The demon says that since the wish was not truly sincere he has no power to do anything. Later, they come upon a widow, who refuses to pay for her sins because she claims that she hasn’t sinned. The Summoner falsely claims she had been unfaithful.  She tells the summoner to go to hell unless he repents for his sin of lying. The summoner refuses to repent for his sins and the demon takes the summoner to hell. The story ends with the wish that one day summoners will be good men and repent for their own sins (“The Friar’s Tale”).



In medieval times, the Catholic Church was a powerful structure in society. Church corruption, a recurring theme in Canterbury Tales, is also depicted in “The Friar’s Tale” (“Medieval Church Corruption”). The Church extracts money from members with the excuse of money being for the church, when it wasn’t and members began to lose their trust in the system. The corruption of the church in “The Friar’s Tale” teaches the punishment of greed, lies, and manipulation, and how one should repent for those sins. It also emphasizes the importance of sincerity in everything spoken (LitCharts, 2019).

Works Cited

“The Canterbury Tales: The Friar’s Prologue and Tale,” Cliffnotes, 2016, www.cliffsnotes.com/literature/c/the-canterbury-tales/summary-and-analysis/the-friars-prologue-and-tale

“The Friar’s Tale.” Wikimedia Foundation, 6 May 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Friar%27s_Tale


Discussion Questions

    1. Is the summoner of “the fiend” a “greater” evil in “The Friar’s Tale”?
    2. What insulting remark about summoners is made by the Friar in his prologue? Of what significance is this?
    3. What advice does the Friar give to the Wife? (i.e., to what should she limit herself when it comes to storytelling?)
    4. Who or what interrupts the Friar’s Tale in line 1332 and onward?

Further Resources

Reading: The Friar’s Prologue 


The Prologue of the Freres Tale.

       This worthylymytour, this noble Frere,
He made alwey a maner louryng chiere
Upon the Somonour, but for honestee
No vileyns word as yet to hym spak he.
5 But atte laste he seyde unto the wyf,
“Dame,” quod he, “God yeve yow right good lyf!
Ye han heer touched, also moot I thee,
In scole-matere greet difficultee.
Ye han seyd muche thyng right wel, I seye;
10 But, dame, heere as we ryde by the weye,
Us nedeth nat to speken but of game,
And lete auctoritees, on Goddes name,
To prechyng and to scole eek of clergye.
But if it lyke to this compaignye,
15 I wol yow of a somonour telle a game.
Pardee, ye may wel knowe by the name
That of a somonour may no good be sayd;
I praye that noon of you be yvele apayd.
A somonour is a rennere up and doun
20 With mandementz for fornicacioun,
And is ybet at every townes ende.”
       This worthy limiter, this noble friar,
He turned always a lowering face, and dire,
Upon the summoner, but for courtesy
No rude and insolent word as yet spoke he.
5 But at the last he said unto the wife:
“Lady,” said he, “God grant you a good life!
You have here touched, as I may prosperous be,
Upon school matters of great difficulty;
You have said many things right well, I say;
10 But, lady, as we ride along our way,
We need but talk to carry on our game,
And leave authorities, in good God’s name,
To preachers and to schools for clergymen.
But if it pleases all this company, then,
15 I’ll tell you of a summoner, to make game.
By God, you could surmise it by the name
That of a summoner may no good be said;
I pray that no one will be angry made.
A summoner is a runner up and down
20 With summonses for fornication known,
And he is beaten well at each town’s end.”

lines 22-36: The Summoner says he will repay the friar later

       Oure Hoost tho spak, “A, sire, ye sholde be hende
And curteys, as a man of youre estaat;
In compaignye we wol have no debaat.
25 Telleth youre tale, and lat the somonour be.”
       “Nay,” quod the Somonour, “lat hym seye to me
What so hym list; whan it comth to me lot,
By God, I shal hym quiten every grot.
I shal hym tellen which a greet honour
30 It is to be a flaterynge lymytour;
And eek of many another manere cryme
Which nedeth nat rehercen at this tyme;
And his office I shal hym telle, ywis.”
       Our host then spoke: “O sir, you should attend
To courtesy, like man of your estate;
In company here we will have no debate.
25 Tell forth your tale and let the summoner be.”
       “Nay,” said the summoner, “let him say to me
What pleases him; when it falls to my lot,
By God I’ll then repay him, every jot.
I’ll then make plain to him what great honour
30 It is to be a flattering limiter;
And also of many other ways of crime
Which do not have to be repeated at this time
I’ll certainly tell him what his business is.”
       Oure Hoost answerde, “Pees, namoore of this!”
35 And after this he seyde unto the Frere,
“Tel forth youre tale, my leeve maister deere.”
       Our host replied: “Oh peace, no more of this!”
35 And after that he said unto the friar:
“Tell now your tale to us, good master dear.”

Reading: The Friar’s Tale

lines 37-67: About a treacherous summoner

Heere bigynneth the Freres Tale

       Whilom ther was dwellynge in my contree
And erchedeken, a man of heigh degree,
That boldely dide execucioun
40 In punysshynge of fornicacioun,
Of wicchecraft, and eekof bawderye,
Of diffamacioun, and avowtrye,
Of chirche reves, and of testamentz,
Of contractes and of lakke of sacramentz,
45 Of usure, and of symonye also.
But certes, lecchours dide he grettest wo;
They sholde syngen if that they were hent;
And smale tytheresweren foule yshent,
If any persoun wolde upon hem pleyne.
50 Ther myghte astertehym no pecunyal peyne.
For smale tithes and for smal offrynge
He made the peple pitously to synge.
For er the bisshop caughte hem with his hook,
They weren in the erchedeknes book.
55 Thanne hadde he, thurgh his jurisdiccioun,
Power to doon on hemcorreccioun.
He hadde a somonourredy to his hond;
A slyer boye nas noon in Engelond;
For subtilly he hadde his espiaille,
60 That taughte hym wel wher that hym myghte availle.
He koude spare of lecchours oon or two,
To techen hym to foure and twenty mo.
For thogh this somonour wood were as an hare,
To telle his harlotrye I wol nat spare;
65 For we been out of his correccioun.
They han of us no jurisdiccioun,
Ne nevere shullen, terme of alle hir lyves.
       Once on a time there dwelt in my country
An archdeacon, a man of high degree,
Who boldly executed the Church’s frown
40 In punishment of fornication known,
And of witchcraft and of all known bawdry,
And defamation and adultery
Of church-wardens, and of fake testaments
And contracts, and the lack of sacraments,
45 And usury and simony also.
But unto lechers gave he greatest woe;
They should lament if they were apprehended;
And payers of short tithes to shame descended.
If anyone informed of such, ’twas plain
50 He’d not escape pecuniary pain.
For all short tithes and for small offering
He made folk pitifully to howl and sing.
For before the bishop caught them with his crook,
They were already in the archdeacon’s book.
55 Then had he, by his competent jurisdiction,
Power to punish them by such infliction.
He had a summoner ready to his hand,
A slyer rogue was not in all England;
For cunningly he’d espionage to trail
60 And bring reports of all that might avail.
He could protect of lechers one or two
To learn of four and twenty more, mark you.
For though this man were wild as is a hare,
To tell his evil deeds I will not spare;
65 For we are out of his reach of infliction;
They have of us no competent jurisdiction,
Nor ever shall for term of all their lives.

lines 68-73: The interruption of the Summoner

       “Peter! so been the wommen of the styves,”
Quod the Somonour, “yput out of oure cure!”
70        “Pees! with myschance and with mysaventure!”
Thys seyde oure Hoost, “and lat hym telle his tale.
Now telleth forth, thogh that the somonour gale;
Ne spareth nat, myn owene maister deere.”
       “Peter! So are the women of the dives,”
The summoner said, “likewise beyond my cure!”
70        “Peace, with mischance and with misadventure!”
Thus spoke our host, “and let him tell his tale.
Now tell it on, despite the summoner’s wail,
Nor spare in anything, my master dear.”

lines 74-119: The summoner’s trade and practice

       This false theef, this somonourquod the Frere,
75 Hadde alwey bawdesredy to his hond,
As any hauk to lure in Engelond,
That tolde hym al the secree that they knewe;
For hire acqueyntace was nat come of newe.
They weren his approwours prively.
80 He took hymself a greet profit therby;
His maister knew nat alwey what he wan.
Withouten mandementlewed man
He koude somne, on peyne of Cristes curs,
And they were glade for to fille his purs,
85 And make hym grete feestes atte nale.
And right as Judas hadde purses smale,
And was a theef, right swich a theef was he;
His maister hadde but half his duetee.
He was, if I shal yeven hym his laude,
90 A theef, and eek a somnour, and baude.
He hadde eek wenches at his retenue,
That, wheither that sir Robert or sir Huwe,
Or Jakke, or Rauf, or whoso that it were
That lay by hem, they tolde it in his ere.
95 Thus was the wenche and he of oon assent;
And he wolde fecche a feyned mandement,
And somne hem to chapitre bothe two,
And pile the man, and lete the wenche go.
Thanne wolde he seye, ‘Freend, I shal for thy sake
100 Do striken hire out of oure lettres blake;
Thee thar namoore as in this cas travaille.
I am thy freend, ther I thee may availle.’
Certeyn he knew of briberyes mo
Than possible is to telle in yeres two.
105 For in this world nys dogge for the bowe
That kan an hurt deer from an hool yknowe
Bet than this somnour knew a sly lecchour,
Or an avowtier, or a paramour.
And for that was the fruyt of al his rente,
110 Therfore on it he sette al his entente.
And so bifel that ones on a day
This somnour, evere waityng on his pray,
Rood for to somne an old wydwe, a ribibe,
Feynynge a cause, for he wolde brybe.
115 And happed that he saugh bifore hym ryde
A gay yeman, under a forest syde,
A bowe he bar, and arwes brighte and kene;
He hadde upon a courtepy of grene,
An hat upon his heedwith frenges blake.
       This false thief, then, this summoner, said the friar
75 Had always panders ready to his hand,
For any hawk to lure in all England,
Who told him all the scandal that they knew;
For their acquaintances were nothing new.
They were all his informers privily;
80 And he took to himself great gain thereby;
His master knew not how his profits ran.
Without an order, and an ignorant man,
Yet would he summon, on pain of Christ’s curse,
Those who were glad enough to fill his purse
85 And feast him greatly at the taverns all.
And just as Judas had his purses small
And was a thief, just such a thief was he.
His master got but half of every fee.
He was, if I’m to give him proper laud,
90 A thief, and more, a summoner, and a bawd.
He’d even wenches in his retinue,
And whether ’twere Sir Robert, or Sir Hugh,
Or Jack, or Ralph, or whosoever ’twere
That lay with them, they told it in his ear;
95 Thus were the wench and he in partnership.
And he would forge a summons from his scrip,
And summon to the chapter-house those two
And rob the man and let the harlot go.
Then would he say: “My friend, and for your sake,
100 Her name from our blacklist will I now take;
Trouble no more for what this may entail;
I am your friend in all where ’twill avail.”
He knew more ways to rob and blackmail you
Than could be told in one year or in two.
105 For in this world’s no dog trained to the bow
That can a hurt deer from a sound one know
Better than this man knew a sly lecher,
Or fornicator, or adulterer.
And since this was the fruit of all his rent,
110 Therefore on it he fixed his whole intent.
And so it happened that once upon a day
This summoner, ever lurking for his prey,
Rode out to summon a widow, an old rip,
Feigning a cause, for her he planned to strip.
115 It happened that he saw before him ride
A yeoman gay along a forest’s side.
A bow he bore, and arrows bright and keen;
He wore a short coat of the Lincoln green,
And hat upon his head, with fringes black.

lines 120-169: The summoner meets a yeoman and they ride along

120        “Sire,” quod this somnour, “hayl, and wel atake!”
       “Welcome,” quodhe, “and every good felawe!
Wher rydestow, under this grene-wode shawe?”
Seyde this yeman, “Wiltow fer to day?”
120        “Sir,” said the summoner, “hail and well met, Jack!”
       “Welcome,” said he, “and every comrade good!
Whither do you ride under this greenwood?”
Said this yeoman, “Will you go far today?”
       This somnour hym answerde and seyde, “Nay;
125 Heere faste by,” quodhe, “is myn entente
To ryden, for to reysen up a rente
That longeth to my lordes duetee.”
       This summoner replied to him with: “Nay,
125 Hard by this place,” said he, “’tis my intent
To ride, sir, to collect a bit of rent
Pertaining to my lord’s temporality.”
       “Artow thanne a bailly?” “Ye,” quod he.
He dorste nat, for verray filthe and shame
130 Seye that he was a somonour, for the name.
       “Depardieux,” quodthis yeman, “deere broother,
Thou art a bailly, and I am another.
I am unknowen as in this contree;
Of thyn aqueyntance I wolde praye thee,
135 And eek of bretherhede, if that yow leste.
I have gold and silver in my cheste;
If that thee happe to comen in oure shire,
Al shal be thyn, right as thou wolt desire.”
       “And are you then a bailiff?” “Aye,” said he.
He dared not, no, for very filth and shame,
130 Say that he was a summoner, for the name.
       “In God’s name,” said this yeoman then, “dear brother,
You are a bailiff and I am another.
I am a stranger in these parts, you see;
Of your acquaintance I’d be glad,” said he,
135 “And of your brotherhood, if ’tis welcome.
I’ve gold and silver in my chest at home.
And if you chance to come into our shire,
All shall be yours, just as you may desire.”
       “Grant mercy,” quod this somonour, “by my feith!”
140 Everych in ootheres hand his trouthe leith,
For to be sworne bretheren til they deye.
In daliance they ryden forth and pleye.
       “Many thanks,” said this summoner, “by my faith!”
140 And they struck hands and made their solemn oath
To be sworn brothers till their dying day.
Gossiping then they rode upon their way.
       This somonour, which that was as ful of jangles,
As ful of venym been thise waryangles,
145 And evere enqueryng upon every thyng,
       “Brother,” quod he, “where is now youre dwellyng
Another day if that I sholde yow seche?”
This yeman hym answerde in softespeche,
       “Brother,” quod he, “fer in the north contree,
150 Where-as I hope som tyme I shal thee see.
Er we departe, I shal thee so wel wisse
That of myn hous ne shaltow nevere mysse.”
       This summoner, who was as full of words
As full of malice are these butcher birds,
145 And ever enquiring after everything,
       “Brother,” asked he, “where now is your dwelling,
If some day I should wish your side to reach?”
This yeoman answered him in gentle speech,
“Brother,” said he, “far in the north country,
150 Where, as I hope, some day you’ll come to me.
Before we part I will direct you so
You’ll never miss it when that way you go.”
       “Now, brother,” quod this somonour, “I yow preye,
Teche me, whil that we ryden by the weye,
155 Syn that ye been a baillif as am I,
Som subtiltee, and tel me feithfully
In myn office how that I may moost wynne;
And spareth nat for conscience ne synne,
But as my brother tel me, how do ye.”
       “Now, brother,” said this summoner, “I pray
You’ll teach me, while we ride along our way,
155 Since that you are a bailiff, as am I,
A trick or two, and tell me faithfully
How, in my office, I may most coin win;
And spare not for nice conscience, nor for sin,
But as my brother tell your arts to me.”
160        “Now, by my trouthe, brother deere,” seyde he,
“As I shal tellen thee a feithful tale,
My wages been ful streite and ful smale.
My lord is hard to me and daungerous,
And myn office is ful laborous,
165 And therfore by extorcions I lyve.
For sothe, I take al that men wol me yive.
Algate, by sleyghte or by violence,
Fro yeer to yeer I wynne al my dispence.
I kan no bettre telle, feithfully.”
160        “Now by my truth, dear brother,” then said he,
If I am to relate a faithful tale,
My wages are right scanty, and but small.
My lord is harsh to me and niggardly,
My job is most laborious, you see;
165 And therefore by extortion do I live.
Forsooth, I take all that these men will give;
By any means, by trick or violence,
From year to year I win me my expense.
I can no better tell you faithfully.”

lines 170-208: The yeoman reveals his true identity

170        “Now certes,” quodthis somonour, “so fare I.
I spare nat to taken, God it woot,
But if it be to hevy or to hoot.
What I may gete in conseil prively,
No maner conscience of that have I.
175 Nere myn extorcioun, I myghte nat lyven,
Ne of swiche japes wol I nat be shryven.
Stomak ne conscience ne knowe I noon;
shrewe thise shrifte-fadres everychoon.
Wel be we met, by God and by Seint Jame!
180 But, leeve brother, tel me thanne thy name,”
Quod this somonour. In this meene while
This yeman gan a litel for to smyle.
170        “Now truly,” said this summoner, “so do I.
I never spare to take a thing, knows God,
Unless it be too heavy or too hot.
What I get for myself, and privately,
No kind of conscience for such things have I.
175 But for extortion, I could not well live,
Nor of such japes will I confession give.
Stomach nor any conscience have I, none;
A curse on father-confessors, every one.
Well are we met, by God and by Saint James!
180 But, my dear brother, tell your name or names.”
Thus said the summoner, and in meanwhile
The yeoman just a little began to smile.
       “Brother,” quod he, “wiltow that I thee telle?
I am a feend; my dwellyng is in helle,
185 And heere I ryde aboute my purchasyng,
To wite wher men wol yeve me any thyng.
My purchas is th’effect of al my rente.
Looke how thou rydest for the same entente,
To wynne good, thou rekkest nevere how;
190 Right so fare I, for ryde wolde I now
Unto the worldes ende for a preye.”
       “Brother,” said he, “and will you that I tell?
I am a demon, my dwelling is in hell.
185 But here I ride about in hope of gain
And that some little gift I may obtain.
My only income is what so is sent.
I see you ride with much the same intent
To win some wealth, you never care just how;
190 Even so do I, for I would ride, right now,
Unto the world’s end, all to get my prey.”
       “A!” quod this somonour, “benedicite! sey ye?
I wende ye were a yeman trewely.
Ye han a mannes shap as wel as I;
195 Han ye a figure thanne determinat
In helle, ther ye been in youre estat?”
       “Nay, certeinly,” quod he, “ther have we noon;
But whan us liketh, we kan take us oon,
Or elles make yow seme we been shape
200 Somtyme lyk a man, or lyk an ape,
Or lyk an angel kan I ryde or go.
It is no wonder thyng thogh it be so;
A lowsy jogelour kan deceyve thee,
And pardee, yet kan I moore craft than he.”
205        “Why,” quod this somonour, “ryde ye thanne or goon
In sondry shap, and nat alwey in oon?”
       “For we,” quod he, “wol us swiche formes make
As moost able is oure preyes for to take.”
       “Ah,” cried he, “ben’cite! What do you say?
I took you for a yeoman certainly.
You have a human shape as well as I;
195 Have you a figure then determinate
In hell, where you are in your proper state?”
“Nay,” said he, “there of figure we have none;
But when it pleases us we can take one,
Or else we make you think we have a shape,
200 Sometimes like man, or sometimes like an ape;
Or like an angel can I seem, you know.
It is no wondrous thing that this is so;
A lousy juggler can deceive, you see,
And by gad, I have yet more craft than he.”
205        “Why,” asked the summoner, “ride you then, or go,
In various shapes, and not in one, you know?”
       “Because,” said he, “we will such figures make
As render likely that our prey we’ll take.”

lines 209-239: The demon’s trade and practice

       “What maketh yow to han al this labour?”
210        “Ful many a cause, leeve sire somonour,”
Seyde this feend, “but alle thyng hath tyme.
The day is short, and it is passed pryme,
And yet ne wan I nothyng in this day.
I wol entende to wynnyng, if I may,
215 And nat entende oure wittes to declare.
For, brother myn, thy wit is al to bare
To understonde, althogh I tolde hem thee.
But, for thou axest why labouren we –
For somtyme we been goddes instrumentz,
220 And meenes to doon his comandementz,
Whan that hym list, upon his creatures,
In divers art and in diverse figures.
Withouten hym we have no myght, certayn,
If that hym list stonden ther-agayn.
225 And somtyme, at oure prayere, han we leve
Oonly the body and nat the soule greve;
Witnesse on job, whom that we diden wo.
And somtyme han we myght of bothe two,
This is to seyn, of soule and body eke.
230 And somtyme be we suffred for to seke
Upon a man, and doon his soule unreste,
And nat his body, and al is for the beste.
Whan he withstandeth oure temptacioun,
It is a cause of his savacioun,
235 Al be it that it was nat oure entente
He sholde be sauf, but that we wolde hym hente.
And somtyme be we servant unto man,
As to the erchebisshop Seint Dunstan,
And to the apostles servent eek was I.”
       “What causes you to have all this labour?”
210        “Full many a cause, my dear sir summoner,”
Replied the demon, “but each thing has its time.
The day is short, and it is now past prime,
And yet have I won not a thing this day.
I will attend to winning, if I may,
215 And not our different notions to declare.
For, brother mine, your wits are all too bare
To understand, though I told mine fully.
But since you ask me why thus labour we-
Well, sometimes we are God’s own instruments
220 And means to do his orders and intents,
When so he pleases, upon all his creatures,
In divers ways and shapes, and divers features.
Without him we’ve no power, ’tis certain,
If he be pleased to stand against our train.
225 And sometimes, at our instance, have we leave
Only the body, not the soul, to grieve;
As witness job, to whom we gave such woe.
And sometimes have we power of both, you know,
That is to say, of soul and body too.
230 And sometimes we’re allowed to search and do
That to a man which gives his soul unrest,
And not his body, and all is for the best.
And when one does withstand all our temptation,
It is the thing that gives his soul salvation;
235 Albeit that it was not our intent
He should be saved; we’d have him impotent.
And sometimes we are servants unto man,
As to that old archbishop, Saint Dunstan,
And to the apostles servant once was I.”

lines 240-258: The demon’s various shapes of appearance

240        “Yet tel me,” quodthe somonour, “feithfully,
Make ye yow newe bodies thus alway
Of elementz?” The feend answerde, “Nay.
Somtyme we feyne, and somtyme we aryse
With dede bodyes, in ful sondry wyse,
245 And speke as renably and faire and wel
As to the Phitonissa dide Samuel.
(And yet wol som men seye it was nat he;
I do no fors of youre dyvynytee.)
But o thyng warne I thee, I wol nat jape, –
250 Thou wolt algates wite how we been shape;
Thou shalt herafterward, my brother deere,
Come there thee nedeth nat of me to leere.
For thou shalt, by thyn owene experience,
Konne in a chayer rede of this sentence
255 Bet than Virgile, while he was on lyve,
Or dant also. Now lat us ryde blyve,
For I wole holde compaignye with thee
Til it be so that thou forsake me.”
240        “Yet tell me,” said the summoner, “faithfully,
Make you yourselves new bodies thus alway
Of elements?” The demon replied thus: “Nay.
Sometimes we feign them, sometimes we arise
In bodies that are dead, in various ways,
245 And speak as reasonably and fair and well
As to the witch at En-dor Samuel.
And yet some men maintain it was not he;
I do not care for your theology.
But of one thing I warn, nor will I jape,
250 You shall in all ways learn our proper shape;
You shall hereafter come, my brother dear,
Where you’ll not need to ask of me, as here.
For you shall, of your own experience,
In a red chair have much more evidence
255 Than Virgil ever did while yet alive,
Or ever Dante; now let’s swiftly drive.
For I will hold with you my company
Till it shall come to pass you part from me.”

lines 259-270: The summoner and the demon promise to share each other’s earning

       “Nay,” quod this somonour, “that shal nat bityde!
260 I am a yeman, knowen is ful wyde;
My trouthe wol I holde, as in this cas.
For though thou were the devel Sathanas,
My trouthe wol I holde to my brother,
As I am sworn, and echof us til oother,
265 For to be trewe brother in this cas;
And bothe we goon abouten oure purchas.
Taak thou thy part, what that men wol thee yive,
And I shal myn; thus may we bothe lyve.
And if that any of us have moore than oother,
270 Lat hym be trewe, and parte it with his brother.”
       “Nay,” said the other, “that shall not betide;
260 “I am a bailiff, known both far and wide;
My promise will I keep in this one case.
For though you were the devil Sathanas,
My loyalty will I preserve to my dear brother,
As I have sworn, and each of us to other,
265 That we will be true brothers in this case;
And let us both about our business pace.
Take your own part, of what men will you give,
And I will mine; and thus may we both live.
And if that either of us gets more than other,
270 Let him be true and share it with his brother.”

lines 271-306: About the true meaning and intention of a curse

       “I graunte,” quodthe devel, “by my fey.
And with that word they ryden forth hir wey.
And right at the entryng of the townes ende,
To which this somonourshoop hym for to wende,
275 They saugh a cart that charged was with hey,
Which that a carteredroof forth in his wey.
Deep was the wey, for which the carte stood.
The cartere smoot, and cryde as he were wood,
“Hayt, Brok! Hayt, Scot! what spare ye for the stones?
280 The feend,” quod he, “yow fecche, body and bones,
As ferforthly as evere were ye foled,
So muche wo as I have with yow tholed!
The devel have al, bothe hors and cart and hey!”
       “Agreed, then,” said the devil, “by my fay.”
And with that word they rode upon their way.
As they drew near the town- it happened so-
To which this summoner had planned to go,
275 They saw a cart that loaded was with hay,
The which a carter drove along the way.
Deep was the mire; for which the cart now stood.
The carter whipped and cried as madman would,
“Hi, Badger, Scot! What care you for the stones?
280 The devil,” he cried, “take body of you and bones,
As utterly as ever you were foaled!
More trouble you’ve caused me than can be told!
Devil take all, the horses, cart, and hay!”
       This somonourseyde, “Heere shal we have a pley.”
285 And neer the feend he drough, as noght ne were,
Ful prively, and rownedin his ere:
Herkne, my brother, herkne, by thy feith!
Herestow nat how that the cartere seith?
Hent it anon, for he hath yeve it thee,
290 Bothe hey and cart, and eek his caples thre.”
       This summoner thought, “Here shall be played a play.”
285 And near the demon he drew, as naught were there,
And unobserved he whispered in his ear:
“Listen, my brother, listen, by your faith;
Hear you not what the carter says in wrath?
Take all, at once, for he has given you
290 Both hay and cart, and this three horses too.”
       “Nay,” quod the devel, “God wootnever a deel!
It is nat his entente, trust me weel.
Axe hym thyself, it thou nat trowest me;
Or elles stynt a while, and thou shalt see.”
295        This carterethakketh his hors upon the croupe,
And they bigonne to drawen and to stoupe.
“Heyt! Now,” quod he, “ther Jhesu Crist yow blesse,
And al his handwerk, bothe moore and lesse!
That was wel twight, myn owene lyard boy.
300 I pray God save thee, and Seinte Loy!
Now is my cart out of the slow, pardee!”
       “Lo, brother,” quodthe feend, “what tolde I thee?
Heere may ye se, myn owene deere brother,
The carl spak oo thing, but he thoghte another.
305 Lat us go forth abouten oure viage;
Heere wynne I nothyng upon cariage.”
       “Nay,” said the devil, “God knows, never a bit.
It is not his intention, trust to it.
Ask him yourself, if you believe not me,
Or else withhold a while, and you shall see.”
295        This carter stroked his nags upon the croup,
And they began in collars low to stoop.
“Hi now!” cried he, “May Jesus Christ you bless
And all his creatures, greater, aye and less!
That was well pulled, old horse, my own grey boy!
300 I pray God save you, and good Saint Eloy!
Now is my cart out of the slough, by gad!”
       “Lo, brother,” said the fiend, “what said I, lad?
Here may you see, my very own dear brother,
The peasant said one thing, but thought another.
305 Let us go forth upon our travellers’ way;
Here win I nothing I can take today.”

lines 307-325: The summoner attempts to blackmail an old woman

       Whan that they coomen somwhat out of towne,
This somonour to his brother gan to rowne:
“Brother,” quod he, “heere woneth an old rebekke,
310 That hadde almoost as lief to lese hire nekke
As for to yeve a peny of hir good.
I wole han twelf pens, though that she be wood,
Or I wol sompne hire unto oure office;
And yet, God woot, of hire knowe I no vice.
315 But for thou kanst nat, as in this contree,
Wynne thy cost, taak heer ensample of me.”
       When they had come a little out of town,
This summoner whispered, to his brother drawn,
“Brother,” said he, “here lives an ancient crone
310 Who’d quite as gladly lose her neck as own
She must give up a penny, good or bad.
But I’ll have twelvepence, though it drive her mad
Or I will summon her to our office;
And yet God knows I know of her no vice.
315 But since you cannot, in this strange country,
Make your expenses, here take note of me.”
       This somonourclappeth at the wydwes gate.
“Com out,” quod he, “thou olde virytrate!
trowe thou hast som frere or preest with thee.”
320        “Who clappeth?” seyde this wyf, “benedicitee!
God save you, sire, what is youre sweete wille?”
       “I have, quod he, “of somonce here a bille;
Up peyne of cursyng, looke that thou be
To-morn bifore the erchedeknes knee,
325 T’answere to the court of certeyn thynges.”
       This summoner knocked on the widow’s gate.
“Come out,” cried he, “you old she-reprobate!
I think you’ve got some friar or priest there, eh?”
320 “Who knocks then?” said the widow. “Ben’cite!
God save you, master, what is your sweet will?”
“I have,” said he, “a summons here, a bill;
On pain of excommunication be
Tomorrow morn at the archdeacon’s knee
325 To answer to the court for certain things.”

lines 326-345: The old woman says she has no money and asks for mercy

       “Now, lord,” quodshe, “Crist Jhesu, kyng of kynges,
So wisly helpe me, as I ne may.
I have been syk, and that ful many a day.
I may nat go so fer,” quod she, “ne ryde,
330 But I be deed, so priketh it in my syde.
May I nat axe a libel, sire somonour,
And answere there by my procuratour
To swich thyng as men wole opposen me?”
       “Now, lord,” said she, “Christ Jesus, King of kings,
So truly keep me as I cannot; nay,
I have been sick, and that for many a day.
I cannot walk so far,” said she, “nor ride,
330 Save I were dead, such aches are in my side.
Will you not give a writ, sir summoner,
And let my proctor for me there appear
To meet this charge, whatever it may be?”
       “Yis“, quod this somonour, “pay anon – lat se –
335 Twelf pens to me, and I wol thee acquite.
I shal no profit hantherby but lite;
My maister hath the profit, and nat I.
Com of, and lat me ryden hastily;
Yif me twelf pens, I may no lenger tarye.”
340        “Twelf pens!” quodshe, “now, lady Seinte Marie
So wisly help me out of care and synne,
This wyde world thogh that I sholde wynne,
Ne have I nat twelf pens withinne myn hoold.
Ye knowen wel that I am povre and oold;
345 Kithe youre almesse on me povre wrecche.”
       “Yes,” said this summoner, “pay straightway -let’s see-
335 Twelvepence to me, and I’ll have you acquitted.
Small profit there for me, be it admitted;
My master gets the profit, and not I.
Come then, and let me ride on, speedily;
Give me twelvepence, I may no longer tarry.”
340        “Twelvepence!” cried she, “Our Lady Holy Mary
So truly keep me out of care and sin,
And though thereby I should the wide world win,
I have not twelvepence in my house all told.
You know right well that I am poor and old;
345 Show mercy unto me, a poor old wretch!”

lines 346-359: The summoner persists and the old woman curses the summoner

       “Nay thanne,” quodhe, “the foule feend me fecche
If I th’excuse, though thou shul be spilt!”
       “Nay, then,” said he, “the foul Fiend may me fetch
If I excuse you, though your life be spilt!”
       “Allas!” quod she, “God woot, I have no gilt.”
       “Pay me,” quod he, “or by the swete Seinte Anne,
350 As I wol bere awey thy newe panne
For dette which thou owest me of old.
Whan that thou madest thyn housbonde cokewold,
I payde at hoom for thy correccioun.”
       “Thou lixt!” quodshe, “by my savacioun,
355 Ne was I nevere er now, wydwe ne wyf,
Somoned unto youre court in al my lyf;
Ne nevere I nas but of my body trewe!
Unto the devel blak and rough of hewe
Yeve I thy body and my panne also!”
       “Alas!” cried she, “God knows I have no guilt!”
       “Pay me,” he cried, “or by the sweet Saint Anne
350 I’ll take away with me your brand-new pan
For debt that you have owed to me of old,
When you did make your husband a cuckold;
I paid at home that fine to save citation.”
       “You lie,” she cried then, “by my own salvation!
355 Never was I, till now, widow or wife,
Summoned unto your court in all my life;
Nor ever of my body was I untrue!
Unto the Devil rough and black of hue
Give I your body and my pan also!”

lines 360-380: The true meaning and intention of the old woman’s curse

360        And whan the devel herde hire cursen so
Upon hir knees, he seyde in this manere,
“Now, Mabely, myn owene mooder deere,
Is this youre wyl in ernest that ye seye?”
360        And when the devil heard her cursing so
Upon her knees, he said to her just here:
“Now, Mabely, my own old mother dear,
Is this your will, in earnest, that you say?”
       “The devel,” quodshe, “so fecche hym erhe deye,
365 And panne and al, but he wol hym repente!”
       “Nay, olde stot, that is nat myn entente,
Quod this somonour, “for to repente me
For any thyng that I have had of thee.
I wolde I hadde thy smok and every clooth!”
370        “Now, brother,” quod the devel, “be nat wrooth;
Thy body and this panne been myne by right.
Thou shalt with me to helle yet to-nyght,
Where thou shalt knowen of oure privetee
Moore than a maister of dyvynytee.”
375 And with that word this foule feend hym hente;
Body and soule he with the devel wente
Where as that somonours han hir heritage.
And God, that maked after his ymage
Mankynde, save and gyde us, alle and some,
380 And leve thise somonours goode men bicome!
       “The Devil,” said she, “take him alive today,
365 And pan and all, unless he will repent!”
       “Nay, you old heifer, it’s not my intent,”
The summoner said, “for pardon now to sue
Because of aught that I have had from you;
I would I had your smock and all your clo’es.”
370        “Nay, brother,” said the devil, “easy goes;
Your body and this pan are mine by right.
And you shall come to hell with me tonight,
Where you shall learn more of our privity
Than any doctor of divinity.”
375 And with that word this foul fiend to him bent;
Body and soul he with the devil went
Where summoners have their rightful heritage.
And God, Who made after his own image
Mankind, now save and guide us, all and some;
380 And grant that summoners good men become!

lines 381-400: The moral of the friar’s tale

       Lordynges, I koude han toold yow, quodthis Frere,
Hadde I had leyser for this Somonour heere,
After the text of Crist, Poul, and John,
And of oure othere doctours many oon,
385 Swiche peynes that youre hertes myghte agryse,
Al be it so no tonge may it devyse,
Thogh that I myghte a thousand wynter telle
The peynes of thilkecursed hous of helle.
But for to kepe us fro that cursed place,
390 Waketh, and preyeth Jhesu for his grace
So kepe us from the temptour Sathanas.
Herketh this word! Beth war, as in this cas:
“The leoun sit in his awayt alway
To sle the innocent, if that he may.”
395 Disposeth ay youre hertes to withstonde
The feend, that yow wolde make thral and bonde.
He may nat tempte yow over youre myght,
For Crist wol be youre champion and knyght.
And prayeth that thise somonours hem repente
400 Of hir mysdedes, er that the feend hem hente!
       Masters, I could have told you, said this friar,
Were I not pestered by this summoner dire,
After the texts of Christ and Paul and John,
And of our other doctors, many a one,
385 Such torments that your hearts would shake with dread,
Albeit by no tongue can half be said,
Although I might a thousand winters tell,
Of pains in that same cursed house of hell.
But all to keep us from that horrid place,
390 Watch, and pray Jesus for his holy grace,
And so reject the tempter Sathanas.
Listen to this word, be warned by this one case;
The lion lies in wait by night and day
To slay the innocent, if he but may.
395 Dispose your hearts in grace, that you withstand
The devil, who’d make you a slave among his band.
He cannot tempt more than beyond your might;
For Christ will be your champion and knight.
And pray that all these summoners repent
400 Of their misdeeds, before the devil torment.

Source Text:

Kökbugur, Sinan, ed. The Canterbury Tales (in Middle and Modern English). Librarius.com, 1997, is copyright protected but reproduction expressly allowed for non-profit, educational use.

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An Open Companion to Early British Literature Copyright © 2019 by Allegra Villarreal is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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