Mendicant vs Aristocratic Pedagogy in Chaucer's Summoner's Tale
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“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.