Friar In Canterbury Tales Essay, Research Paper
Chaucer’s attitude towards the friar is one of sarcasm. The friar is “wanton and merry,” but this pleasant-sounding description is actually packed with mockery. By the 14th century, friars, who were supposed to give up all worldly things and live only by begging for food and alms, were almost totally corrupt. They were known for flattering the rich and deceiving the poor, and especially for seducing women in outright disregard for their vow of celibacy. Chaucer’s Friar, Hubert, is a “limiter,” one who is licensed to beg in a certain area. He’s married off women “giving each of his young women what he could afford her” which implies that he seduced them first. He’s “highly believed and intimate” with “country folk within his boundary and city dames” of his area. He’s allowed to hear confessions and give easy penances if he knows he’ll get well paid. Here, Chaucer notes the hypocrisy of society, too, in saying sarcastically that people can give money to “poor friars” to atone for their sins instead of “weeping and praying.”
Chaucer’s description only gets worse as it is revealed that the friar keeps trinkets to give pretty wives. He knows all the bars and is more familiar with barmaids and innkeepers than the lepers or beggars he’s supposed to be soliciting for. Ideally, after buying necessities, friars were supposed to donate to the poor and sick any leftover money from begging. To make it more ironic, Chaucer says it’s not right for someone of Hubert’s profession to be acquainted with lepers, since after all there’s no money there but when it comes to the rich and the food sellers, suddenly he’s “courteous” and humble. He couldn’t care less about giving money to charity.
His “holy how-d’ye-do” is so pleasant that he can always get a “farthing from her”. Here it is clear that the Friar gets more money from his illegal takings than his legal calling. He wears clothes better suited to a pope than to the “cloistered scholars with thread bare habit hardly worth a dollar, but much more like a Doctor or a Pope”. He also meddles in civil disputes out of court, “to arbitrate disputes on settling days (for a small fee)”. Friars were allowed to represent the poor, but had strict orders not to interfere in such cases. Hubert even lisps to make his English sound more appealing, presumably to women, “he lisped a little out of wantonness, to make his English sweet upon his tongue.”
Chaucer’s last line of description is the final underlining irony, “This worthy’s name was Hubert” because it is obvious that the friar is not “worthy” in the same way the Knight is worthy. It is clear that Hubert is everything that a friar shouldn’t be: corrupt, rich, greedy, and lecherous.