The General Prologue - The Friar

A friar there was, a wanton and a merry,
A limiter, a very worthy man.
In all the Orders Four is none that can
Equal his friendliness and fair language.
He had arranged full many a marriage(5)
Of young women, and this at his own cost.
Unto his order he was a noble post.
Well liked by all and intimate was he
With franklins everywhere in his country,
And with the worthy women of the town.(10)
For very sweetly did he hear confession
And pleasant also was his absolution.
He was an easy man to give penance
When knowing he should gain a good pittance;
For to a begging friar, money given(15)
Is sign that any man has been well shriven.
For if one gave (he dared to boast of this),
He took the man’s repentance not amiss.
For many a man there is so hard of heart
He cannot weep however pains may smart.(20)
Therefore, instead of weeping and of prayer,
Men ought to give some silver to the poor freres.
His tippet was stuck always full of knives
And pins, to give to young and pleasing wives.
And certainly he kept a merry note:(25)
Well could he sing and play upon the rote.
At balladry he bore the prize away.
His throat was white as lily of the May;
Yet strong he was as any champion.
In towns he knew the taverns, every one,(30)
And every host and gay barmaid also
Better than beggars and lepers did he know.
For unto no such solid man as he
Accorded it, as far as he could see,
To have sick lepers for acquaintances.(35)
There is no honest advantageousness
In dealing with such poverty-stricken curs;
It’s with the rich and with big victuallers.
And so, wherever profit might arise,
Courteous he was and humble in men’s eyes.(40)
There was no other man so virtuous.
He was the finest beggar of his house;
A certain district being farmed to him,
None of his brethren dared approach its rim;
For though a widow had no shoes to show,(45)
So pleasant was his In principio,
He always got a farthing ere he went.
He lived by pickings, it is evident.
And he could romp as well as any whelp.
For he was not like a cloisterer,(50)
With threadbare cope as is the poor scholar,
But he was like a lord or like a pope.
Of double worsted was his semi-cope,
That rounded like a bell, as you may guess.
He lisped a little, out of wantonness,(55)
To make his English soft upon his tongue;
And in his harping, after he had sung,
His two eyes twinkled in his head as bright
As do the stars within the frosty night.
This worthy limiter was named Hubert.

Footnotes

  1. This attention to detail about the way in which the Friar speaks suggests that the Friar carefully constructed this attribute. The narrator claims that this lisp makes the Friar's English more sweet, suggesting that he speaks in this way to more effectively seduce those who might give him money. The Friar is therefore not only hypocritical, but intentionally manipulative.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. The Friar is the only pilgrim besides the Wife of Bath who is given a first name. Hubert was an unusual name in Chaucer's time. Scholars remain puzzled and divided as to why Chaucer decided to name this character.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. This simile compares the poor ragged clothing of a cloistered monk to the rich attire of the pope or an aristocrat. It demonstrates that the Friar dresses well. Since the cloistered monk is his point of comparison for poor clothing, the comparison also suggests that the Monk who was [previously described] (http://www.owleyes.org/read/canterbury-tales/the-monk#root-218780-1) did not stand for all monks.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. A farthing is a British coin roughly equivalent to a penny. Here, Chaucer demonstrates the full extent of the Friar's amorality: he takes money from everyone, even poor widows who do not even have shoes. The Friar is concerned primarily with money rather than his vocation, and he takes advantage of everyone, rich and poor alike.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. Again, the narrator ventriloquizes the Friar's arguments to demonstrate his severe hypocrisy. St. Francis, the founder of the Franciscan Friars, dedicated his life to preaching to lepers and keeping only their company. In making this statement, the Friar demonstrates not only his aristocratic mindset but his defiance of the very order he represents.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  6. This description of the Friar demonstrates that he spends more time in bars and with bar maids than he does helping the sick and the poor. Since he is a friar, and he has vowed to renounce the world and commit himself to preaching to the poor and sick, this description further demonstrates the Friar's hypocrisy.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  7. In the Medieval context, a champion was someone who won a trial by arms. In it, someone convicted of a particular crime had to fight another man to the death in order to prove his innocence. It was believed that God would be on the side of the man who's cause was just. In other words, if the accused was innocent he would win, and if he were guilty, he would lose.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  8. The narrator quickly turns from his severe criticism of the Friar's religious practices to talking about the Friar's ability to play a musical instrument well. He follows this with a catalogue of the Friar's other attributes, all of which make him good at pleasing others socially and bad at being a Friar.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  9. This means that giving money is a sign that one has confessed and purged one's soul of sin. However, in Catholic Church doctrine, it is not confession and payment for confession that relieves sin but honest repentance for that sin. Here, Chaucer ventriloquizes the Friar's argument in order to demonstrate his corruption and hypocrisy. This corrupt member of the clergy highlights one of the main themes in Chaucer's text of Church corruption.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  10. While sweetly and pleasant seem positive, these characteristics are actually a biting criticism against the Friar. In the medieval era, the ability to give a true confession was directly linked with someone's ability to get into heaven. If the Friar sweetly hears confessions and forgives them pleasantly, then the people confessing are not doing true penance for their sins and will not get into heaven. Thus, the Friar's pleasant demeanor actually makes him harmful; he cares more about retaining his rich friends than purging their souls of sin.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  11. This line serves as a double entendre which suggests that this Friar was intimate with these women both socially and sexually. Notice also that the company he keeps, franklins, rich landowners, and women, must be "worthy," meaning wealthy. This characterization directly goes against the Friar's vow to renounce possessions and material wealth for poverty.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  12. Friars differ from monks because they vow to serve God in society rather than in an isolated community of pious individuals. Friars are part of mendicant orders, groups of religious people who vow to live in poverty and travel the world preaching their beliefs. They avoided owning property and survived off the charity and good will of the people to whom they preached.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  13. This is a reference to the four prominent orders of friars, the Dominicans, the Franciscans, the Augustinians, and the Carmelites.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor