I may lose friends by saying this, but I totally identify with the Summoner. I won’t make this a post about why I identify with the Summoner, but at the very least, I want to talk about him and the Friar.
Since I am doing my book review this week (Richard Firth Green’s A Crisis of Truth: Literature and Law in Ricardian England), I am going to organize this in a way that I can think clearly and quickly.
The Friar’s Prologue
1. This is humor: This worthy limitour, this noble Frere / He made alwey a maner louring cheere / Upon the Somnour, but for honestee / No vileins word as yet to him spak he. (ll. 1265-1268). Just think about the Friar leering at the Summoner throughout the pilgrimage.
The Friar loathes the Summoner, and their relationship is founded on the Friar’s hostility (similar to the Reeve/Miller, but I really do not think the Miller cares). I imagine the Summoner not really troubled by this until the Friar provokes him, but the Summoner is not going to have any of it. And the way they deal with each other’s enmity in their tales speaks perhaps to their level of insult they feel toward the other (i.e. the Summoner tells a tale to invalidate and embarrass the Friar, while the Friar draws a parallel between the Summoner and a demon – he is clearly upset).
2. The Friar is so brazenly outspoken with his hatred:
But if it like to this compaignye / I wol yow of a somnour telle a game. / Pardee, ye may wel knowe by the name / That of a somnour may no good be said / I praye that noon of yow be ivel apaid. (ll. 1278-1282).
The Friar addresses the entire company, asks if it is okay with them that he tells this joke about a summoner, which may no good be said, and hopes that no one will be displeased by that. He excises the Summoner entirely from the fellowship, and I can just imagine the Summoner sitting there in the company hearing this slander and rolling his eyes, just smirking and getting ready for what comes next. And the first to speak out is the Host, urging the Friar to be polite (hende) for a man of his estaat and to lat the Somnour be! (ll. 1286-1289). So the Summoner (oh my Oðin this is the BEST), effectively interrupts ‘Nay’, quod the Somnour, ‘lat him seye to me / Whatso him list; whan it comth to my lot, / By God, I shal him quiten every grot!’ (ll. 1290-1292). This is the Summoner’s “bring it on Friar” passage – and I enjoy it because it stands in such sharp contrast to the Reeve/Miller debacle. Whereas the Miller does not seem to care what the Reeve says, and the Reeve cares so very much what the Miller speaks about – the Friar and the Summoner are mutually annoyed with the other, so much so that they interrupt each other in both tales.
The Friar’s Tale
1. The “jurisdiction” of the Summoner. I like Jill Mann’s note on the relationship between summoners and archdeacons and their role in local courts. It is after the Friar expounds the unfavorable nature of a summoner’s role in society that the Summoner interrupts:
‘Peter! so been women of the stives,’ / Quod the Somnour, ‘yput out of oure cure!’ / ‘Pees, with mischaunce and with misaventure! / – Thus seide oure Hoost – ‘ and lat him telle his tale. / Now telleth forth, thogh that the Somnour gale; / Ne spareth nat, min owene maister deere.’ (ll. 1332-1337).
The Summoner is claiming that there are things that are beyond his control, like the brothels in London (see Mann’s n. on 905). But the Host curses the Summoner and tells the Friar to continue, even though the Summoner protests it. I like how the Friar gets back into the story though: ‘This false theef, this somnour, – quod the Frere -’ (l. 1338), he is unapologetically indignant.
2. The Summoner is worse than a demon because even the a demon recognizes the entente of others.
The summoner makes a pact of brotherhood with a Yeoman, who later reveals that he is actually a feend who dwells in helle (l. 1448). The summoner seems surprised, but not in any way terrified. He asks him about his home, work, and generalities of life. ‘A,’ quod this somnour, ‘Benedicite! What sey ye? / I wende ye were a yeman, trewely; / Ye han a mannes shape as wel as I. / Han ye a figure thanne determinat / In helle, ther ye been in youre estat?’ (ll. 1456-1460). The Friar insinuates that you cannot tell a summoner from a demon, since the summoner here validates that this demon can take the form of a man, as wel as I.
The Summoner’s Prologue
1. This prologue is as filthy as the Summoner is described. He is clearly ire about the Friar’s tell, and calls him a liar – which interestingly figures into his discussion of what anger does to a person in his tale. Yet, the Summoner’s point seems to transform anger into laughter (vengeance into jest). I will not refrain from saying that the Summoner is being totally rude here, but he is the second of the two to tell his tale, so it must be understood as a response. It is productive that the Summoner tells a micro-tale in his prologue, as it sets up the ers imagery for the end (pun-somewhat-intentional-kind of unavoidable?) of his tale.
In his micro-tale the Summoner has an angel speak: ‘Hold up thy tail, thow Sathanas!’ quod he, / ‘Shewe forth thin ers, and lat the frere se / Where is the nest of freres in this place.’ … And er that half a furlong wey of space / Right so as bees out swarmen from an hive, / Out of the develes ers ther gonne drive / Twenty thousand freres on a route, / And thurghout helle swarmeden aboute, And comen again as faste as they may gon / And in his ers they crepten everychon, / He clapte his tail again and lay ful stille. (ll. 1692-1699). The spatial imagery of this seems to foreshadow the logic that the friar within the Summoner’s Tale is concerned – both the reaching for the gift from Thomas, and how to divide up a fart evenly. It is also worth mentioning that the Summoner was just formerly equated with demons/devil – and here is the devil himself, swallowing up friars into his asshole.
Summoner 1, Friar 0.
The Summoner’s Tale
1. The Host supports the Summoner. When the Friar interrupts in the beginning of the Summoner’s tale stating that he is a liar, Harry Bailley not only tells the Summoner to continue, but to not leave anything out: ‘Nay, ther thow lixt, thow Somnour!’ quod the Frere. / ‘Pees!’ quod oure Hoost, ‘for Cristes moder deere! / Tel forth thy tale, and spare it nat at al.’ / ‘So thrive I,’ quod this Somnour, ‘so I shal.’ (ll. 1761-1764).
The emphasis on lying/truth (which is apropos to my review this week), seems to concern the Friar/Summoner issue much more than strict vengeance from the Reeve to the Miller. This is perhaps because both the Summoner and the Friar are associated with the settlement of disputes and public offenses – Friar’s would be present on love-days (dispute settlement days), as well as holding responsibility for the spiritual outcome of folks, while the Summoner’s whole career path is associated with ‘justice’. The level of “truth” in the friar and summoner’s line of work was always in question – so these two question each other.
2. The entente thing again. Without going through the narrative of the Summoner’s Tale, I just want to highlight a moment where the friar (in the tale, not the company, so via the Summoner) expresses his entente. This plays nicely with the destruction of the summoner’s entente (to be worse than the devil) in the Friar’s Tale.
In shrift, in preching, is my diligence, / And studye in Petres words and in Poules. / I walke and fisshe Cristen mennes soules, / To yelden Jesu Crist his proper rente; / To sprede his word is set al min entente. (ll. 1818-1822). Here the friar tells Thomas what his job description is – which is intended to be reinterpreted by the audience by the end of the tale, whereby the friar’s main entente is to get money out of Thomas. In his tale the Summoner shows that the friar engages with most of the deadly sins (gluttony, anger, pride, lechery, avarice – to name a few).
In the Friar’s Tale, the entente of the summoner is suggested as the feend tells him what it is that he does, and his world-view: My purchas is th’effect of al my rente. / Looke how thow ridest for the same entente, / To winne good – thow rekkest nevere how – /Right so fare I, for ride I wolde right now / Unto the worldes ende for a preye.’ (ll. 1451-1455).
I do not know how to end this, so my post wol I ende in this manere.
 This isn’t actually a great thing to say, I think. I mean, the Summoner is described in wicked gross terms, and is just a total jerk. Maybe this should go up in an “About Me” section of a dating profile: “Ask me over coffee why I identify with the Summoner from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.” … I regret nothing.
 Jill Mann, ed. The Canterbury Tales. (New York: Penguin, 2005), n. on 904.