The Friar in the Canterbury Tales

Updated January 11, 2022

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The Friar in the Canterbury Tales essay

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In “The Canterbury Tales” by Geoffrey Chaucer, Chaucer begins his writing by describing several different individuals whom he would be going on a pilgrimage with to see the shrine of Thomas A. Beckett. Chaucer would be experiencing this pilgrimage with twenty-nine other individuals, each with a distinct personality and background. During the pilgrimage, Harry Bailey, a traveling companion, comes up with the idea to begin a game. For this game, each person going on the pilgrimage will tell two stories on the way there, and two on the way back. The winner receives a free dinner.

According to Kathrine Bailey, “Chaucer excels at portraying the dynamic interactions between the assorted travelers, particularly when he has one character tell a tale designed to show another in a bad light.” (Bailey) As he begins to describe each person in his own words and in very strong detail, it is easy to see that many of these pilgrims do not reflect the church as one may expect during the fourteenth century. Though many of these travelers do not represent the church well, the friar stands out the most. Chaucer uses the characteristics of the friar, such as greediness, selfishness, and his begging nature to show his opposition to the church.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a friar is “a member of a mendicant order.” (Webster-Merriam) A friar’s life was based on giving up everything he had and becoming a beggar in order to survive. However, friars were also supposed to move from place to place and not only beg but also spread the gospel and help those in need. It was their duty to give to others what they could, though they were in need themselves. Friars were expected to beg for necessities rather than needs.

While this was the standard in the medieval times, the friar in The Canterbury Tales would be considered the complete opposite of what a loyal friar to the church should be. Chaucer states that the friar, Huberd, was “an easy man in giving penance, where he knew he’d get more than a pittance.” (Chaucer, 1207) The friar was once poor and began begging many people for money rather than actual essentials that he needed. Although the friar was not wealthy, he was well liked by many people of the town.

Because the friar was highly favored by the rich folk, he spent a good amount of time with them and avoided the poor and ill. He believed that he was too good for individuals he considered lesser than himself. The friar was charming and also musically inclined. Therefore, he was favored and he was able to gather a good sum of money. While the friar was a beggar, he was also a liar and practically robbed citizens of their money. Though he was well liked, the friar was manipulative as well as ruthless. He would go to the ends of the Earth to get what he so badly desired, even if it meant lying and stealing from the individuals who considered him a friend.

From a handful of lies that Chaucer talks about, a major one states that the friar told several people that he was able to listen to their confession of their sins. He also convinced the sinners that they could be simply forgiven if they were able to provide a gift of some sort according to Chaucer. He was able to use the fact that he was highly favored, regardless of his social status, to trick people into giving him large amounts of money.

The friar was well known and adored by many women as well, as he knew how to speak to a woman and tried to provide her whatever she wanted as long as he got what he wanted in return. He also carried small gifts around to give to lovely women. Where greediness began in the friar’s life, selfishness quickly followed. Once the friar had received enough money from people in the town, he quickly realized that he no longer needed to beg as much. However, he was not as giving as some may think when he was no longer poor. The friar was selfish. He would turn his back on those that were sick or need in order to benefit himself.

Just as today, people of the church are viewed as individuals that have respectable morals and more than likely have rather high standards for themselves. They also are willing to help those in need and should give back to the church in a way to show respect to the Lord. However, the friar was rather the opposite of what an ideal Christian man should be. He kept his “earnings” to himself and did not show any remorse. Huberd was scandalous and many, if not all the citizens of the church were completely blind to what he was doing for his own gain. Not only did the friar become selfish in not helping those in need, but Chaucer also states that “For private begging turf, he laid out rent; none of his brothers came there where he went.” (Chaucer, 1208)

Though he begged day after day, he went to the extent of paying other beggars so that he could be the only friar in the area. The friar was not only avaricious of his money, but he was also avaricious of the people he corrupted into giving him money. Huberd did not want any other friar to have the privilege of receiving the type of currency that he was. Just as many characteristics show that Chaucer was not traveling with an ordinary friar, his physical appearance shows this as well.

Chaucer talks about how the friar did not have a dark complexion but had rather white skin, showing that he was not an outdoorsman and did not work outside often. However, he would he would help others and do small amounts of labor for a small fee. He was also strong and dressed very nicely according to Chaucer, nothing like a friar should be dressed due to their lack of financial stability. Chaucer also says that Huberd also went to the degree of changing the way he spoke, stating that “He lisped a little out of wantonness to make his English sweet upon his tongue.” (Chaucer 1208)

Huberd went out of his way to change many physical traits about himself in order to make himself more attractive to others who would soon be deceived and provide him with a certain token of worth. Huberd was a crook. He was a mischievous man who found his happiness and worth in the money that he made, unlike the parson who found his worth in the Lord. The friar was a smooth talker who was very deceitful and took advantage of anybody he came in contact with. Whether a person had a good amount of money or nothing at all, he was able to persuade that individual to give him something of value. Huberd was a lazy man who did not work hard and spent his days fooling people rather than helping them. He left the deprived and sick behind and followed the wealthy country folk, knowing that he could outwit each one.

Though he was part of the church, he misrepresented the church and how a friar, as well as a Christian man should live. Greed overtook his desires and he longed for fortune rather than faith and the Lord’s blessings. He solely relied on several earthly things to get by, rather than putting his trust in the Lord. According to Raybin, “In the tale assigned to the Friar, the theme takes full hold, and Chaucer displays most directly what devils are like and what their relationship is to God.” (Raybin) Ultimately, the friar altered the way the church was viewed by Chaucer due to his actions and the way he took advantage of people.

The Friar in the Canterbury Tales essay

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The Friar in the Canterbury Tales. (2022, Jan 11). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/the-friar-in-the-canterbury-tales/


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