The Frior - Character Analysis

Character Analysis

The Friar-- Humble Shepherd or Crafty Wolf?

Chaucer was known for his ironic descriptions of various sojourners in the Canterbury Tales . The description given to the Friar in the "General Prologue" does not stray from Chaucer’s trademark. The Friar is described as a "limitour" [begs on the behalf of the poor], yet we see that he is a bachelor on a love hunt, a crooked businessman and does complete his duties as a Friar. The Friar knows many beautiful women, many affluent men, and rarely associates with the class of people he should live among.

The Friar’s duties were to live among the poor, to beg on their behalf and to give his earnings to aid their struggle for livelihood. However, Chaucer allows the reader to see the true character of the Friar. He knows: “so muche of daliance and fair language..” (Norton 211). This no doubt is a way to woo women with sweet words and a crafty tongue. This strategy is also in lines 265-266: “somwhat he lipsed for his wantounesse to make his English sweete upon his 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 duties was not supposed to flirt with the women of the town but to beg for poor. The Friar, using what money he has earned “his tipet was ay farsed ful of knives and pinnes for to yiven faire wives..” (233-234). This states that he buys gifts for women as well. 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 in lines 218-219: “For he hadde power of confessioun as saide himself, more than a curat.” This gains him much profit from wealthy men as we see: “he was an esy man to yive penaunce ther as he wiste to have a good pituance;” (223-224). He even has the audacity not associate with the “lower” class because “to have with sike lazars aquaintaunce: it is nat honeste, it may nought avance..” (245-246). The profit he generates is proven because he looked like “a belle out of the presse.” (265). 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 healthy and living large.

This hero of the poor, the Friar apparently is not doing his duties. As Chaucer gives a description of the Friar we see how this can be surmised. In lines 215-216 we see: “Ful wel biloved and familer was he, With frankelains over al in his contree....” The Friar knew all the well to do country men, when he should know the beggars of the region better. Chaucer evens states in lines 240-242: “he knew the tavernes wel in every towne and every hostiler and tappestre bet than a lazar or a beggestere.” This man of God, knew the innkeepers and barmaids better than the poor people of his designated region. This implies he spends much time at bars and inns, rather than living with and aiding the destitute. Another example of the Friar’s friends is in line 248 where it states that he knows “ with riche and selleres of vitaile..” The Friar thought it “improper” to dwell with the poor because of his position, which is the opposite duty of his occupation.

This man of God, hero of the poor and mediator between God and men, turns out to be as fraudulent as his claims of giving penance. This Friar is more consumed with winning the affections of barmaids than winning support to build a shelter for the poor. The limitour is busy scheming to do illegal business rather than to serve the poor. And because of pride the Friar does not accomplish his vow of a life of poverty. His character, dignity and nobility all lack sincerity. This Friar has no burden on his soul to assist the poor, but only to further his distasteful lifestyle. Rather than a shepherd among his flock, the Friar lurks as a hungry wolf.

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James Thannickal Copyright© 1998