Intentionality in The Friar’s Tale

In his prologue, the Friar is called a “beggar” with a “scowling face at the Summoner.” In the “General Prologue” the Friar is characterized as a “wantowne” and “merye” man who dwells within an assigned region. He has a white neck like a ‘lily flower,’ and he knows great dalliance and fair speech. He is also a profit-minded beggar (like the begging friars described in the “Wife of Bath’s Tale”), and in traveling the countryside this Friar knows the taverns and innkeepers, as well as the lechers and harlots. He has a slight lisp, dons expensive clothes, and his name is Huberd.

He responds to the Wife of Bath by praising her tale for raising certain “academic” issues, but that these tales on the road to Canterbury should be of ‘pleasant matters’ (or “game”). Ironically, he proceeds to tell an amusing, albeit unpleasant story attacking summoners. In some ways it mirrors Aristophanes’s The Frogs (which portrays Dionysus in disguise). The Friar claims that authoritative texts are best left to the churches and the universities -he condescendingly explains this to the Wife of Bath whom he views as anything but an authority. He endeavors to tell an amusing tale about a summoner, even though he claims that no good may actually be said of a summoner. Therefore his tale will contain nothing good. The Host asks the Friar not to start an argument, but the Summoner interjects and allows for the Friar’s Tale to proceed (the Summoner plans to respond to the Friar later).

The “Friar’s Tale” takes place in his own country (we are unclear where this might be). It is about an archdeacon who deals punishments for transgressions against the law, with a particular focus on lechery. He brings many people to justice, forcing many to pay for their crimes, and he has a summoner -“a slyer boye nas noon in Engelond” (1322). Here, the Friar claims summoners have no jurisdiction over our lives, which causes a brief spat with the Summoner. At any rate, the tale continues: the summoner in the tale is a thief, a briber, and he steals from many people under false pretenses to enrich himself.

One day, the summoner visits an old widow seeking a bribe when he meets a yeoman along the way and they become friends. They swear lifelong friendship and pleasantries with one another, and we soon discover that this yeoman is the devil in disguise. The summoner swears himself to the devil. The two men ride along together, discussing the finer points of their respective trades. They come upon a cart-man whose horses are stuck, he shouts out ‘devil may take them!’ The greedy summoner asks the devil why he does not claim the cart-man’s horses, but the devil says it was not the man’s ‘entente’ or intention. So they depart with the summoner promising to fare better (i.e. gain more profit for himself). The devil comes to light as more of a respectful gentleman than the summoner.

They arrive at the widow’s home and the summoner fabricates judicial claims against her, demanding a bribe, however she swears at him, damning him to hell. The devil notes that her “entente” is true, so he takes the summoner down to hell, thus concluding the brief tale. Ironically, the devil is the hero of the story, bringing the summoner to justice. I suppose even the devil can be good, if only he has the right intentions.

Politically, the “Friar’s Tale” presents one man, an anonymous archdeacon who silently fills the place of Theseus from the “Knight’s Tale.” He is the boss of the summoner in the tale, and a capable judicial officer. The archdeacon represents the church, which is superior to the summoner, thus the friar elevates himself over the summoner. The idea of profit runs deep in “The Friar’s Tale” as is trust, which is an underlying theme worthy of consideration throughout The Canterbury Tales (such as in the “Nun’s Priest’s Tale”). There is no mention of marriage in “The Friar’s Tale,” however the unique partnership between the summoner and the devil forms a friendly compact, such that a bond of trust ensues. The bond of ‘brotherhood’ that occurs in “The Friar’s Tale” beckons us to question whether or not we have found the true and just partnership among the varying tales from Chaucer’s pilgrims thus far.

The word “entente,” or “intent,” occurs frequently throughout the tale, highlighting the importance of a man’s intentions when committing good or evil acts. Whereas the Wife of Bath is something of a hedonist, taking whatever she desires, the Friar brings to light the need to consider her true intentions. Her desire is for power and personal gain, not unlike the summoner in the “Friar’s Tale,” and no just partnership can come about from dishonest intentions. Perhaps the Friar is a beggar, but is his intent for personal gain? His tale would suggest not, for even the devil is more selfless than a summoner in “The Friar’s Tale.”

For this reading I used the Broadview Canterbury Tales edition which is based on the famous Ellesmere Manuscript. The Broadview edition closely matches the work of Chaucer’s scribe, Adam Pinkhurst.

A Woman of Paris (1923) Review

A Woman of Paris (1923) Director: Charlie Chaplin


Unlike Charlie Chaplin’s other films, A Woman of Paris, is a serious, somber story that does not feature the Little Tramp character at all. Likely for this reason, A Woman of Paris was a box office failure, as many audiences were hoping to see another classic Chaplin comedy picture. Its financial failings caused great pain to Chaplin at the time. In some ways, A Woman of Paris may be considered his first feature production, as it was released through the newly formed United Artists production company, though in truth his first true feature-length film was The Kid (1921).  

The beginning of the film displays a title warning the audience that Chaplin does not actually appear in the film (though he makes a minor cameo during the train station scene). A Woman of Paris tells the story of Marie St. Clair, a woman of Paris, who plans a romantic rendezvous with her lover, Jean Millet. Upon learning of the trist, both her father and Jean’s family reject Marie. Nevertheless Jean and Marie plan to meet at the train station to elope in Paris. In actuality the film was shot in Los Angeles, CA. However, Jean’s father suddenly dies causing Jean to call Marie and cancel their escapade but no one answers.

Years later, Marie is living a lavish life in Paris as the mistress of Pierre Revel. By accident, she bumps into Jean who is now living in a flat with his mother. They rekindle their romance, but Jean’s mother does not approve of their love. Marie overhears their squabble and she runs back to Pierre. In a frenzy, Jean attacks Pierre and in the ensuing fight he mortally wounds himself. In anger, Jean’s mother goes to find Marie to kill her, but she finds her weeping over Jean’s lifeless body. Only now is she able to see Marie’s true love. The two women embrace and leave Paris together to start an orphanage in the country for children. One day they catch a ride back and pass a chauffeured coach, and inside is Pierre. A man asks him whatever happened to Marie, and he says he does not know.

The story for A Woman of Paris was loosely based on Chaplin’s romance with Peggy Hopkins Joyce, a notorious and lavish socialite of the ’20s and ’30s known for having numerous affairs in France and the United States. Upon its release, A Woman of Paris was not well received by audiences, however it has since been reappraised and has received critical acclaim for the complexity of its characters and orchestration of its plot –somewhat of a novelty at the time of its release. Mary Pickford gave notable praise for the film.

I found A Woman of Paris to be rather bland and forgettable, but certainly not a poor film. The plot and character development are both unique novelties for the time, however the film is greatly overshadowed by Chaplin’s other, grander works. If not for Chaplin’s involvement, A Woman of Paris would likely be wholly forgotten.

Susanna: An Apocryphal Fable

The Story of Susanna is a beautiful but brief tale of a virtuous woman, Susanna, who is wrongly accused of infidelity by two lustful men. She has been raised in a family that follows the laws of Moses. She is reportedly very beautiful, which is why two old men spy on her each day. One day, she goes to bathe in her garden, and the old judges spring out of their hiding place and blackmail her. They demand that Susanna have sex with them, or else they will accuse her of lying with another man, and the council will trust their opinion as judges. Susanna rejects them, trusting that the Lord will watch over her.

“Susanna and the Elders” by Guido Reni (1620-1625)

At her trial, Susanna is condemned to death by the council at the recommendation of the lecherous, old judges, however the Lord hears her cries. Why does God hear Susanna? Perhaps because she is virtuous and was raised in a God-fearing household. If so, then virtue is the catalyst which allows God to hear some people, and not others. In response, God raises up a young Daniel in Susanna’s defense. He separates the two old men, and when separately questioned, they give differing accounts of a tree under which the alleged activities took place (there is a clever Greek pun on the different trees in the Septuagint). Thus their accusation is ruined, and they are put to death, while Susanna and her family praise the Lord.

This is the story of how Daniel rose up to become a spiritual and ethical leader among the Israelites, prior to his captivity in Babylon and his famous story of interpreting the King’s dreams. It is a story of justice as vengeance. Exoterically, the plot is a fable, reaffirming the moral teaching that faith can provide, even in the most dire circumstances. Faith is rewarding to those who decide to act in a virtuous way, and in fact, faith can even punish enemies. What would have happened had Susanna decided to sleep with the two old judges? In the eyes of God she would have sinned, or disobeyed a divine law, while following the law of her particular nation (at least in the eyes of the judges). Thus, the true theological devotee is in a perpetual conflict between the laws of man and the laws of God. Virtue, as taught in the writings of theology, is reserved for those who follow divine laws. But surely humans would not follow the laws of God unless there were strong incentives to do so, such as the promise of life without death in heaven (as Christianity teaches) or the chance that the Lord will listen in times of suffering and save you -a deux ex machina, or perhaps ‘God out of the machine.’ What would happen if the Susanna fable ended in Susanna being wrongly condemned to death? There would be no redemption, and thus little incentive for readers and listeners to follow the teachings of God and Moses. It would simply be a tragedy, not a fable. Only in the promise of potential redemption (or freedom from injustice and suffering) can we see and hear the theological teaching of Susanna.

The Susanna story is considered apocryphal since it was not found in the Hebrew Tanakh. It is also absent of the Septuagint (though apparently included in early versions) and Jerome removed it from the Latin Vulgate. Today, Catholic and Eastern Orthodox bibles have included Susanna with the book of Daniel.

For this reading I used an internet-based Project Gutenberg translation.

Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Großstadt (1927) Review

Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Großstadt (1927) Director: Walter Ruttman


Some may call it avant-garde and excessive, while others hail it as a marvel, Berlin is the quintessential “city symphony” film, of which there were a variety of other minor films made in Paris and Manhattan. In my view, Berlin is a brilliant movie offering a striking panorama of daily life in Berlin in the 1920s. The ethos of this film is to holistically capture a city, as much as possible, the goal is to leave an impression of daily life in a city. In some ways it hearkens back to Soviet montage theory. The film serves as a kind of time capsule which allows us to glimpse daily life in in Weimar Germany, between the wars and shortly before the terror of Nazism. Walter Ruttman was an experimental German filmmaker who made several avant-garde movies, before completing his magnum opus. After the rise of the Nazis, he went to the frontline as a photographer, but he sustained injuries that eventually killed him. He is best remembered today for Berlin.

In Act I of this plotless film, we find ourselves boarding a train, experiencing motion, as we rush by open fields and small suburban homes. Gradually we approach our station. It is early morning and very few people are out in the streets of Berlin. The director lets us see beauty (architecture, water, quiet and empty streets) and also grit (birds chewing on a dead rodent, sewage water, garbage and so on). Gradually we start to see people emerge, cars and trains, and factories as the machinery of the city comes to life.

In Act II, windows open and daily life takes hold -businessmen walk about the streets checking the time, schoolgirls walk to school, shops open along the streets. Typists move quickly, feet scatter over stairs, phones ring and operators answer.

In Act III, we move further along on the metro to find construction sites. Traffic stops slow the pace of business, yet make the streets seems congested and busy. We see shots of electrical grids, vagrants and police officers.

In Act IV, the clock signals it’s time to stop work. Men go to drink beer. Horses eat their meals. Restaurants begin to fill. A boatsman pushes his boat along the river. Children play in the streets and in the park. Older gentlemen sit for coffee, and newspapers begin to print and distribute. The tempo grows chaotic as someone’s hat blows away and people ride a rollercoaster. The winds come in and it starts to rain.

In Act V, citizens enjoy entertainment and leisurely activities -the circus acrobats, a marching band, roller skating, dancing, Far off in the distance lights flash, what appears to be fireworks, and a lighthouse circulates. This concludes the film.