The Canterbury Tales Project (see also Geoffrey Chaucer)
Back to the Monk/The Friar/The Merchant
208: A frere ther was, a wantowne and a merye,
209: A lymytour, a ful solempne man.
210: In alle the ordres foure is noon that kan
211: So muchel of daliaunce and fair langage.
212: He hadde maad ful many a mariage
213: Of yonge wommen at his owene cost.
214: Unto his ordre he was a noble post.
215: Ful wel biloved and famulier was he
216: With frankeleyns over al in his contree,
217: And eek with worthy wommen of the toun;
218: For he hadde power of confessioun,
219: As seyde hymself, moore than a curat,
220: For of his ordre he was licenciat.
221: Ful swetely herde he confessioun,
222: And plesaunt was his absolucioun:
223: He was an esy man to yeve penaunce,
224: Ther as he wiste to have a good pitaunce.
225: For unto a povre ordre for to yive
226: Is signe that a man is wel yshryve;
227: For if he yaf, he dorste make avaunt,
228: He wiste that a man was repentaunt;
229: For many a man so hard is of his herte,
230: He may nat wepe, althogh hym soore smerte.
231: Therfore in stede of wepynge and preyeres
232: Men moote yeve silver to the povre freres.
233: His typet was ay farsed ful of knyves
234: And pynnes, for to yeven faire wyves.
235: And certeinly he hadde a murye note:
236: Wel koude he synge and pleyen on a rote;
237: Of yeddynges he baar outrely the pris.
238: His nekke whit was as the flour-de-lys;
239: Therto he strong was as a champioun.
240: He knew the tavernes wel in every toun
241: And everich hostiler and tappestere
242: Bet than a lazar or a beggestere;
243: For unto swich a worthy man as he
244: Acorded nat, as by his facultee,
245: To have with sike lazars aqueyntaunce.
246: It is nat honest, it may nat avaunce,
247: For to deelen with no swich poraille,
248: But al with riche and selleres of vitaille.
249: And over al, ther as profit sholde arise,
250: Curteis he was and lowely of servyse.
251: Ther nas no man nowher so vertuous.
252: He was the beste beggere in his hous;
(and yaf a certeyne ferme for the graunt;
Noon of his bretheren cam ther in his haunt;)
253: For thogh a wydwe hadde noght a sho,
254: So plesaunt was his in principio,
255: Yet wolde he have a ferthyng, er he wente.
256: His purchas was wel bettre than his rente.
257: And rage he koude, as it were right a whelp.
258: In love-dayes ther koude he muchel help,
259: For ther he was nat lyk a cloysterer
260: With a thredbare cope, as is a povre scoler,
261: But he was lyk a maister or a pope.
262: Of double worstede was his semycope,
263: That rounded as a belle out of the presse.
264: Somwhat he lipsed, for his wantownesse,
265: To make his englissh sweete upon his tonge;
266: And in his harpyng, whan that he hadde songe,
267: His eyen twynkled in his heed aryght,
268: As doon the sterres in the frosty nyght.
269: This worthy lymytour was cleped huberd.
By this stage, Chaucer is becoming increasingly ironic in his descriptions of various the sojourners in the Canterbury Tales . The description given to the Friar here is a prime example. The Friar is described as a "limitour" (he begs on the behalf of the poor), yet we see that he is in fact a bachelor on a love hunt.
The Friar’s duties should be to live among the poor, to beg on their behalf and to give his earnings to aid their struggle for livelihood. However, Chaucer show us the true character of the Friar. He knows 'so muche of daliance and fair language', wooing women with sweet words and a crafty tongue. This was repeated in lines 215-217: “Ful wel biloved and familer was he..... with the worthy wommen of the town-" A Friar’s duty was not to flirt with the women of the town but to beg for poor. The Friar, using what money he has earned buys little trinkets to give to the women he is seducing. The Friar, as it turns out, is not begging for money to appease his goal to feed the poor, but rather is wooing women to appease his flesh!
The Friar is not just a ladies' man under the guise of a humanitarian, he is also a crooked businessman. He uses his position in the church to get money. He spreads the word that he had the power to forgive sins more than a priest or curate. This gains him much profit from wealthy men who wished to be absolved with a minimum of penance. In return for this, he could expect a 'pitaunce', or gift of some kind. He even has the audacity not associate with the 'lower' class because to associate with beggars and lepers 'does not advance'. That it is good enough for Jesus seems to escape him! The profit he generates is proven because he was able to dress exceedingly well. His cloak is well shaped 'like a bell out of the press', and of top-quality material. This point is reinforced in lines 257-258: “ yit wolde he have a ferthing er he wente; his purchas was wel bettre than his rente..” His purchases far exceeds his expected income from begging. The Friar should have been very poor, perhaps worse off than the people he helped, however this Friar was eating well and living large.
Modern English translation from www.fordham.edu:
A friar there was, a wanton and a merry,
A limiter, a very festive man.
In all the Orders Four is none that can
Equal his gossip and his fair language.
He had arranged full many a marriage
Of women young, and this at his own cost.
Unto his order he was a noble post.
Well liked by all and intimate was he
With franklins everywhere in his country,
And with the worthy women of the town:
For at confessing he'd more power in gown
(As he himself said) than it good curate,
For of his order he was licentiate.
He heard confession gently, it was said,
Gently absolved too, leaving naught of dread.
He was an easy man to give penance
When knowing he should gain a good pittance;
For to a begging friar, money given
Is sign that any man has been well shriven.
For if one gave (he dared to boast of this),
He took the man's repentance not amiss.
For many a man there is so hard of heart
He cannot weep however pains may smart.
Therefore, instead of weeping and of prayer,
Men should give silver to poor friars all bare.
His tippet was stuck always full of knives
And pins, to give to young and pleasing wives.
And certainly he kept a merry note:
Well could he sing and play upon the rote.
At balladry he bore the prize away.
His throat was white as lily of the May;
Yet strong he was as ever champion.
In towns he knew the taverns, every one,
And every good host and each barmaid too-
Better than begging lepers, these he knew.
For unto no such solid man as he
Accorded it, as far as he could see,
To have sick lepers for acquaintances.
There is no honest advantageousness
In dealing with such poverty-stricken curs;
It's with the rich and with big victuallers.
And so, wherever profit might arise,
Courteous he was and humble in men's eyes.
There was no other man so virtuous.
He was the finest beggar of his house;
A certain district being farmed to him,
None of his brethren dared approach its rim;
For though a widow had no shoes to show,
So pleasant was his In principio,
He always got a farthing ere he went.
He lived by pickings, it is evident.
And he could romp as well as any whelp.
On love days could he be of mickle help.
For there he was not like a cloisterer,
With threadbare cope as is the poor scholar,
But he was like a lord or like a pope.
Of double worsted was his semi-cope,
That rounded like a bell, as you may guess.
He lisped a little, out of wantonness,
To make his English soft upon his tongue;
And in his harping, after he had sung,
His two eyes twinkled in his head as bright
As do the stars within the frosty night.
This worthy limiter was named Hubert.