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.

Eight Visions in Zechariah

Zechariah prophesies during the reign of Darius, emperor of Persia (after the Babylon was conquered by Persia). God’s word comes unto Zechariah, and God blames the people of Israel’s fathers for moral transgressions, and He commands the people of Israel to turn back to Him. Zechariah experiences a series of apocalyptic visions from God, with one of His “attendants” or “angels” as the King James translates the term. In each of the visions, a phrase is repeated in the King James translation as Zechariah ‘lifts his eyes’ to see the visions (in total there are eight complete visions). Some have suggested that all the visions take place within a single night (excluding the visions in chapter 7 and 8 which take place two years later), and that they represent a poetic history of Israel. The name Zechariah means something like “God remembered.”

Zechariah recounts speaking with an angel of the Lord, as he experiences a vision at night of a man riding a red horse with other red horses behind him among myrtle trees (1:7-11). God expresses his mercy toward to Israel, and Zechariah sees four horns representing Israel, Judah, and Jerusalem, along with a man measuring the length and breadth of Jerusalem.

Next, he sees the high priest Joshua dressed in filthy cloths beside Satan (“the adversary”) as God rebukes Satan. The angel awakens Zechariah, and Zechariah describes seeing a golden candlestick with a bowl on top of it and seven lamps and seven pipes, beside two olive trees. The vision, according to the Lord, represents the need to complete the temple (recall the plea made by Haggai) to Zerubbabel, the governor of Judah (Chapter 4). He sees the vision of a flying roll, representing the sin of stealing, and a woman representing wickedness (Chapter 5). Then he sees four differently colored charioteers as they make their way throughout the earth (6:1-8) -this image will be later expanded upon in the book of Revelation as the popular image of the ‘four horsemen of the apocalypse.’

He prophesies of God’s jealousy and that His people (Israel) will return in prosperity. Many of his prophecies closely mirror the words in the book of Haggai. Book 1-8 of Zechariah contain a more consistent message, and series of visions, while books 9-14 could easily have been plagiarized directly from Ezekiel or Haggai, considering the similar language. However, unlike Haggai, Zechariah does not write directly to anyone in attempt to persuade them to rebuild the temple, instead his message is to the people. Latter Christian theologians interpret the book as a messianic prophecy. In the “minor prophets” we find increasingly frequent use of the phrase “the Day of the Lord.”

For this reading I used the King James Version.

Haggai: A Plea To Rebuild the Temple

There are four prophecies contained within the two chapters of the book of Haggai (whose named means something akin to “my holiday” though the root word in Hebrew means something like “to make a pilgrimage”). The text is believed to have been written after the Babylonian exile, during the reign of Darius, the Persian emperor, as stated at the outset of the book.

Each of the four prophecies, come from the Lord to Haggai, and in total they are a passionate plea to the people of Israel to stop dragging their feet and rise up to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. Cyrus, a predecessor to Darius, conquered Babylon and freed the Jews. The Persian support for the Jews to practice their own customs and rebuild the temple was instrumental to Haggai’s efforts. According to the text, why does Haggai want the temple to be rebuilt in the first place? Because God will take “pleasure in it” (1:8) and for the “glory” of Judah (2:9). Otherwise, if the people do not rebuild the temple, a great drought will continue to spread across the land from God.

Haggai bookends his text with a praise of the then-governor of Jerusalem, Zerubbabel. He pays deference to the politics of his age, and thereby cloaks his biases from persecution.

For this reading I used the King James Version.

“The Day of the Lord” in Zephaniah

The Book of Zephaniah clearly states its context: during the reign of Josiah, the son of Amon, King of Judah. It is a short book, containing three chapters, and it expounds upon the “word of the Lord” which comes to Zephaniah (his name means something like “YHWH is hidden”). As with other minor prophets, our knowledge of Zephaniah is minimal. Some suggest he was a contemporary of Isaiah, and perhaps a forerunner to Jeremiah.

In the vision to Zephaniah, The Lord brings a series of threats against Israel for their disobedience, culminating in a future day of destruction: “great day of the Lord” (1:14) which will be a day of “wrath”, “trouble and distress”, “wastedness and desolation”, “darkness and gloominess” (1:15). However there is still hope for the people to “gather” themselves and seek a “meek” life so they can be hid when the day of the Lord’s anger comes down upon the nations. God will bring great destruction to everyone, except for a chosen few who can conceal themselves. Contrast this with Jonah’s inability to hide himself from God.

Interestingly, harking back to the Tower of Babel in Genesis, the Lord claims He would like to bring his indignation down upon the nations of the world (particularly nations like Assyria) and bring utter destruction by “sweeping away” the peoples. Recall God’s desire to destroy humankind through a great deluge, and then His covenant made with humans in Genesis.

Curiously, the text ends with a song of hope (3:14-20) as the author instructs the people to shout and rejoice at the Lord, and his love for his chosen people. Perhaps on the “day of the Lord” He will destroy only the enemies of Israel, since He still favors his chosen people, despite their political failings.

For this reading I used the King James Version.