The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

The Summoner's Tale Analysis

In this tale, the Summoner repays the Friar’s tale bashing summoners with a tale that makes just as much fun of friars. In many ways, the Summoner’s Tale is even more aggressive than the Friar’s, and medieval audiences who would have thought the Friar’s Tale skirted the line of good taste would likely have been outright offended by the Summoner’s Tale. The tale is circular in several ways. Despite the friar’s sermon against anger, the friar ends the tale in a fury; the Tale describes him as looking like “a wild boar.” It also contains a number of puns, the most prominent of which is the pun on “ferthyng,” or “farthing” (a coin) and “farting.” The two words were pronounced almost identically in Middle English, and medieval audiences would immediately have caught onto the joke that a “ferthyng” split into twelve is worthless.

On a more serious note, the tale also asks whether religious advice is actually worth people’s money. Does the friar in the tale actually give Thomas any advice worth more than a fart? Put another way, are tale-tellers just full of hot air?

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