The Middle Ages and “The Friar´s tale”
The story “The Friar´s tale” is included in the book The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer published in 1387. This story befalls in the period of the middle ages around 1066-1485. This era starts from the fall of the wester roman empire until the Renaissance. In this period of time, literature was mainly aimed at religious aspects since the catholic clerics were supposed to be the core of society; consequently, this is the reason why the major part of literature was about religion at that time. Moreover, there were also tremendous battles for religious ideologies called the Crusades. “The Friar´s Tale” is a representation of what is established in the previous lines regarding the medieval period since it contains a religious moral. Hence, this analysis will have its basis on how the role of women evolved into something more relevant than it used to be due to the Virgin Mary´s image, the main message and to whom it is aimed, and why the study of some literary devices such as allegory and imagery employed in the middle ages is important to comprehend the text.
In the middle ages, the role of women was not really highlighted since they were used to living as housewives, mothers, and peasants. At first sight, women do not have any main character in this story since they are barely mentioned in the text. Nonetheless, the widow is vital in this text since she stands up to the summoner and causes his decease. When the summoner wants to cheat on her, she confronts him by saying “By my salvation, you lie! she cried. Never in all my days, as a wife or widow, was I summoned unto your court before now; nor was I ever anything but faithful of my body! I would give your body, and my pan also, unto the Devil black and rough!” (4). So, the devil takes the summoner´s soul to hell; this man deserves the punishment for he was a liar. The role of the “normal” woman has been challenged in this story mainly because the image of the Virgin Mary was significant for the writers in this period since they belonged to the catholic church. Hence, women are not observed as a “tool” for men anymore but as strong individuals who stick to the rules and do not allow anyone to disturb their rights. In this era, most of the texts were written by catholic priests and monks, so they started to have respect for women, and this provoked a minute change that afterwards turned to be a whole revolution for women´s rights. Therefore, the change of the role of women in society changes mainly due to the image of the Virgin Mary, and this allows them to have more liberties and facilities that they were not used to; besides, they are given more importance in the stories as reflected in “The Friar´s tale” from the middle ages.
In the medieval period, the majority of the texts were written by people from the church, so the stories tended to have a moral to teach citizens how to behave correctly according to the bible. As readers can notice, “The Friar´s tale” was written within this period of time and its message conveys a religious aspect. This story attempts to teach a moral to those who do not really think about what they utter before they say it. When the widow declares “May the Devil, she said, take him, before he dies, and pan and all, unless he will repent himself!” (4). This curse falls upon the summoner since he was trying to swindle the widow; even though the woman acted bravely, she cursed the summoner so badly that the devil answers “Now, brother, be not angry, but in all fair dealing your body and this pan, said the devil, be mine by right. You must go to hell with me tonight, where you shall know more of our secrets than a master of divinity” (4). Consequently, the widow´s words were taken literally by the devil who seized this woman´s wrath to take the summoner to hell. The message in this story falls into the fact that sometimes one´s rage can be an instrument of evil and the fiends can take the words literally, so the situation can have a disastrous outcome. It is true that the aim of the majority of the medieval literature did not have anything to do with changing the social structure of society at that time; however, in “The Friar´s tale”, readers can realize that the story is aimed to all the population, from that time, and essentially it sends a message to all the women for them to notice that they are valuable. Although the message for women is very subtle, it implies the beginning of a whole upheaval. Moreover, the tale also concerns about salvation and the spiritual change. At the end of the story, the text transmits the idea of change by stating “And God, who made mankind after His likeness, save us and guide us one and all, and grant this Summoner to become a good man” (4). Readers can also notice the moral of change by the depiction of the summoner who still has the opportunity to redeem from all the evil he has perpetuated to humanity although he has been already punished.
As it is known, some literary devices stopped to be used in the middle ages such as the case of the alliteration that was no longer taken into account for literature in this period. On the other hand, others such as the kenning prevailed from the past ages and others such as imagery and allegory began to be implemented in the literature of that age. So, as they employed these figures of speech in their texts, readers ought to decipher the meaning of each in “The Friar´s tale”. First of all, the use of the allegory is really helpful in order to fully comprehend this text. As readers may notice, the summoner is never given a name; this happens because “he”
Represents a critique to some professions such as prostitution and the fiend conveys the double standard of society. The sluts were used as an allegory for lies and deceiving as one may notice when the narrator states “Thus the prostitute and he were often in partnership. And he would fetch a forged mandate and summon both of them before the chapter, and he would rob the man and let the prostitute go” (2). The summoner uses the prostitute (lies) to obtain whatever he wants, so the real meaning of this word in this case can be depicted as a lie. Prostitutes were very criticized due to the religious wave of the middle ages that appealed to the bible to criticize this profession. Besides, the summoner itself is a critic to professions that involve any event that violets the bible´s rules such as prostitution and robberies. Therefore, when the narrator declares “And so it happened one time that this summoner, ever watching for his prey, rode to summon an old widow, forging a case, because he wished to rob her. And it happened that he saw riding before him under a forest-side a cheerful yeoman” (2), he depicts the use of the summoner as the evil and the cheerful yeoman chasing this summoner, who can be seen as society always living up the temptations. Furthermore, this old widow may be a portrayal of the “good” people´s peace since it is purloined by what they called evil forces such as prostitution and assaults. Then, the yeoman, the fiend, is also conveying a message of evilness since it represents the greed and lust that the majority of society attempts to reach. Hence, the use of the summoner, prostitution, the old widow, and the fiend are not innocently placed in the story only to make sense but to create different perspectives and portrayals of the situation lived in the middle ages from a religious point of view.
To conclude, literature in the middle ages was mostly known because of its religious content since priests and monks were the ones presented as the core of the church and for that matter as the core of society too. “The Friar´s Tale” by Chaucer clearly portrays some of the features contemplated in this era. The role of women turns and they started to be taken into account in their literature with some main characters such is the case of the widow; nonetheless, this occurs due to the respect to the image of the Virgin Mary by people from church. This fact is relevant for it boosted women to change their role and start to fight for a better integration into society. This minute change could be a turning point for the newest women´s revolution against the injustice they were suffering by being alienated. Furthermore, the message of this story clearly conveys a moral teaching since it was written within the middle ages. The moral of this story tries to teach society about the drawbacks of cursing others, that is, when someone does not really think about what she/he says at a moment of wrath, and this can be taken literally by the evil forces such is the case of the widow. Moreover, in this period of time, some literary devices were not anymore used by writers whiles others such as allegory and imagery were more often employed in their literature. “The Friar´s Tale” presents some allegories such as the use of the summoner, the widow, and the fiend. The summoner depicts a critique to some professions that are not allowed by the catholic church; the widow is the portrayal of the “good” people´s peace that is disturbed by some professions such as prostitution and robberies. Besides, the fiend is a depiction of the double standard that members of society always fake in order to follow temptations. Hence, this story casts the change of the women´s role, the clarification of its message that is employed to provide readers a moral about what not to do in daily life, and the adding of some new literary devices that are relevant for the middle ages´ literature.