Saturday, 24 March 2018

The Summoner's Tale by Chaucer

This is the Ninth story in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.  It has a prologue  In which the summoner hits the ceiling to take revenge on the Friar for his insulting story of a summoner.
The Prologue to the Summoner's Tale
The summoner jumps to his feet to counter-attack and asks other pilgrims to recall the well known story of a friar who was once taken by an angel to Hell where no friar was found.  The Friar was so proud and told the angel that hell was not the place meant for gracious friars. But the angel asked the Satan to lift up its big tail. Now there swarmed out twenty thousand friars from the anus of Saturn just like the bees from the hive.  After making a grand show, they again went back to their resting place. The Friar was so tormented in the hell and however God showed grace and restored the spirit of the Friar to his body.  God awakened the friar who was but still shivering in fear obsessed with devil’s arse.  By describing the nature of all friars like this, now the summoner ends his prologue and begins his tale.
The Summoner's Tale
A money minded friar, after collecting money from his parishioners in the church by songs and prayers, moves from house to house to beg for peer, whisky, wheat, corn, cheese and blanket from people.  He takes with him his comrade with a writing table and pen to write the name of the sinners and a boy to carry a sack to store the collected things.
Now the Friar enters the house of Thomas who is rich but old and sick.  The Friar says that Thomas has to contribute more to the convent to find recovery from his illness.  The Friar also kisses and embraces Thomas's wife who comes there and she suggests the Friar to advise her short-tempered husband.  The Friar condemns Thomas for being angry with his fair and meek wife and gives some examples how wrath has brought misery to the great men of the past.
In his first example, a story from Seneca, the Friar talks about a watchful ruler.  Once two knights  drove out in night but the next day only one returned. Then the judge, in suspicion, ordered death sentence to him for killing the other knight. The accused is taken by another knight to the place where he has to die.  To their great surprise, the lost knight appears there and so both knights are brought to the judge now.  The judge grows angry and  sentences all the three to be executed - the first knight as already ordered, the second knight who became the reason for the death of the first one, and the third knight for not executing the previous order. 
The Friar's second example is about the wrathful king Cambyses who was a drunkard as well.  Once one of his lords counselled him not to drink that it would make his eyesight and limbs powerless.  The enraged king brought the Lord’s son, took his bow and arrow, shot him to death and asked whether his eyesight and limbs were strong enough or not.  Thus friar illustrates that fury leads to homicide.
Now the Friar begs for gold from Thomas to build the convent but the latter is unwilling since the prayer of the friars of church has failed to cure his sickness.  Much annoyed by the Friar's repeated begging, Thomas decides to make the Friar a laughing stock and says that whatever he gives should be shared by him equally with other friars. The Friar swears.  Now Thomas asks the Friar to search behind his back at the bottom to find the hidden things.  The Friar puts his hand and starts groping around the rich man’s buttocks. What he gets now is nothing but prolonged fart with piercing sound.  The Friar, much infuriated, flees from the place with his men.   On his way, he visits another rich lord of the village and unfolds his grief to him.  Both the Lord and his wife take this matter very seriously and asks the Friar whether he is very clear now how to equally share the fart with his other twelve friars in the convent.  The Lord’s servant Jankin who is cutting the meat hears this riddle and offers a better solution that the sick man should be brought and laid at the centre of a cartwheel with twelve spokes and each friar should lie his nose at the end of the spoke to receive the equal share of the flatus. The Lord, his wife and all except the Friar John appreciate the wisdom of the servant who is rewarded with a new gown as well.  Thus ends the tale of the Summoner ridiculing The helpless friar.
The world is whole only when put together with the positive and the negative elements, the beautiful and the ugly, the wise and the foolish, the serious and the funny. Chaucer who can write the knight’s tale in lofty style for his scholars and royal audience, can also write this comic tale of summoner for his laymen and the common readers. He represents the vices of the society he lived in and in his time the friars were but the objects of ridicule like the one exemplified here. The repeated use of fart as a comic device elsewhere in Canterbury Tales may lead to disgust of his readers who , however, can’t help laughing at 'equal share' here. Story-within-a story, like the dream technique is another device frequently applied by Chaucer.  For instance, Chaucer tells Canterbury Tales in which the summoner narrates the tale of a friar who in turn proceeds to recite the tale of a king from Seneca to the sick Thomas. Adding prologue to even a comic tale like this may take the readers to question the necessity of its employment but indeed, without them, the coherence and sequence of stories and the guidance of the host with essential interruption may not be possible for Chaucer.

No comments:

Post a Comment