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Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/2149/3083

Title: Mendicant vs Aristocratic Pedagogy in Chaucer's Summoner's Tale
Authors: Cels, Marc
Keywords: Hypocrisy of mendicant friars
Friar John
Ineffective preaching about wrath
Aristocratic elites
Issue Date: 29-Jun-2011
Series/Report no.: 83.R020.1203;
Abstract: “The Summoner’s Tale” (1390s) in Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales satirizes the hypocrisy of mendicant friars. Previous criticism has either focused on the portrait of the hypocritical character of Friar John in the first half of the tale and his bumbling sermon against wrath delivered to a local villager, or it has searched for allegorical meanings behind the tale’s scatological jokes. Less attention has been paid to the interaction between Friar John and the lord’s household in the second half. This paper argues that Chaucer not only lampoons the friars’ ineffective preaching about wrath, but also presents aristocratic elites as temperate wielders of righteous wrath and guardians of the social order. Chaucer inverts the relationship between priest and penitent as the household members interrogate the enraged friar and seek to assuage his wrath. Their arguments and conduct provide a lesson in anger management that resonates with the advice of moral theologians. They are shown as calm and rational, and they succeed in justly and temperately punishing the corrupt friar and restoring peace and order to the manor community. This portrait of aristocratic temperance would likely have appealed to Chaucer’s elite audience at the end of the fourteenth-century, in the wake of the Peasants’ Revolt, when England’s elites, including Chaucer and his readers, were zealously suppressing social unrest and competing economically with friars and clergy.
Description: This paper was grouped with two others in a panel called “Pedagogies, some perverse.” To better reflect its theme, I adjusted the focus of my talk and modified its original title, “The Staleness of mendicant Preaching in Chaucer’s Summoner’s Tale.” My reading of the “Summoner’s Tale” was offered from my perspective as historian and reader of mendicant sermons and medieval discourse about wrath and conflict resolution. Most of the audience consisted of specialists in Middle English literature (including eminent Chaucer specialists) and their questions and critiques were very gracious and helpful. Some recalled other passages in the C.T. in which aristocrats correct clergy or even impose peace between the quarrelling Friar Hubert and Summoner. This stimulated discussion about the thread of wrath throughout the C.T. Another colleague raised questions about animal imagery in the S.T. Another wondered about the role of a parson in the imaginary manor of the S.T. which raised the issue of parochial clergy as community peace-makers. My talk stressed the aristocratic ideal of the lord as the local arbitrator and guardian of social harmony—especially against interference from ecclesiastical outsiders, namely friars, but also, by implication, summoners.
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/2149/3083
Appears in Collections:Academic and Professional Development Fund Report 2011-2012

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