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Barron's Booknotes-The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer-Free Book Notes
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THE SUMMONER'S TALE

The Summoner is so furious he shakes like a leaf, and retaliates first by mentioning a friar whose vision of hell includes seeing millions of friars swarming around the Devil's rear end.

The tale, grosser than the tale he's trying to pay back, is of a friar who is hypocrisy personified. Visiting a rich but sick man named Thomas, the friar gives a long sermon against anger, getting angrier as he goes on; against gluttony, having just asked Thomas's wife for an enormous meal; and in praise of poverty, while urging Thomas to give the friars all his money. He also pretends to have offered prayers he never delivered. Thomas, furious at being duped, tells the friar to reach for something hidden down his (Thomas') pants, then farts on him. The friar, like a spoiled child, runs to the lord and tells on Thomas, but the general consensus is that Thomas should share his "wealth" with the other friars as well!


This pay-back scheme compares to the Miller and Reeve contest in one- upsmanship vulgarity. But the humor here also lies in the Summoner's use of scholarly religious discourse as a gross subject.

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