The Canterbury Tales The Friar's Tale
The Friar's Tale is about an archdeacon's summoner extremely adept in discovering those against whom the Church declares malevolent. The Church has strict laws against fornication, witchcraft, and lechery. Although immoral to the core, the summoner was powerful in discovering the lechers and forcing them to pay large amounts to the church. The Summoner in the group of pilgrims interrupts the Friar's tale with concern; however, the fair host allows the Friar to persist with his story. A feud has developed between these two pilgrims to Canterbury: the Friar and the Summoner. The Friar insists that his summoner would only summon those who had money to actually pay the church and would also hire the help of prostitutes, who in exchange for names of clients would be given safety. Incidentally, the summoner also hired those prostitutes for sexual services.
"That lay by hem, they tolde it in his ere.
Thus was the wenche and he of oon assent;
And he wolde fecche a feyned mandement,
And somne hem to chapitre bothe two,
And pile the man, and lete the wenche go." Friar's Tale, l.58-62
The summoner was traveling one day to issue a summons to a hunting yeoman. Aware that his profession was not favorable, he assumed the identity of a bailiff. The yeoman also claimed to be a bailiff and therein offered his hospitality to his supposed kindred spirit. Both the summoner and the yeoman travel together until the summoner inquires as to the yeoman's lodgings. He plans to steal from him. The yeoman claims to make his money through extortion and the summoner claims to do the same. The two eventually admit to their own villainy, until the yeoman reveals that he is the devil living in hell. The two discuss their shape, dwellings on earth, ability to on take human form, and labors. The summoner inquires to the yeoman's (devil's) labors on earth, to which he responds that he and everyone else is an instrument of God. The devil tells the summoner that the two will meet again and he will give more evidence of hell than either Dante or Virgil could offer.
The summoner recommends that the two continue on their journey, with each taking a share of their earnings. They bump into a carter whose wagon was stuck in the mud and was overtly cursing the devil for his pains. The summoner gladly suggests that the yeoman (the devil) take all of the carter's possessions as revenge. As the carter prays to God, the horses pull the wagon out of the mud. The summoner had many more plans for the two together; however, the devil plans to leave him. He says that they will meet again soon. An old crone, the woman whom the summoner wanted to visit with the devil, is given a summons to meet with the archdeacon for excommunication. She cannot attend due to illness and requests to pay the summoner to attend in her place. He demands a sum too large for her poor livelihood, and she cannot pay, despite her guiltlessness. She begins to curse the summoner for his unfair request, saying that she would like to give his body to the devil. The devil overhears the crone's request and grants his presence in hell that night. When she spoke, both the yeoman (devil) and the summoner arrived in hell, the home of true summoners.