In The Canterbury Tales, written by Geoffrey Chaucer, 30 pilgrims went on a pilgrimage to Canterbury. They would go to visit the late Thomas Beckett, and say their thanks to God. The characters Chaucer introduces on this pilgrimage however, are from many different walks of life and have a plethora of ranging stories and views. With the many religious characters included in the tales, one would think that all of them would uphold their values and virtues. Chaucer shows the reader that in this time period there are corrupt people, and how the church at the time has a very negative, manipulative side this is especially true in the story of the Friar.
The Friar is one of the many characters that are on this pilgrimage, and one of the supposedly religious ones also. A Friar in these days are supposed to administer to beggars and lepers, but this Friar cultivates relationships with the rich and steals their money to make a profit. This is shown throughout the Friar’s story and sums him up to just be a terrible person, despite him having some redeeming qualities such as being “a very festive fellow.” (Chaucer 213). Chaucer uses descriptive language such as “Of wretched lepers nothing good can come Of commerce with such slum-and-gutter dwellers,” which shows how the Friar thinks of the lower class and how he wants nothing to do with them (Chaucer 251). For a man that is supposed to abide and live by the three vows, chastity, poverty, and obedience, he is not described in that way at all. A very ironic description is given about the Friar, most likely to highlight the church corruption that was very common in these times. If people wanted to absolve their sins the Friar wouldn’t care if “For though a widow mightn’t have a shoe, So pleasant was his holy how-d’ye-d He got his farthing from her just the same” he forced the people to give him a reward for what he did, no matter if they “mightn’t have a shoe” (Chaucer 259-261). Another way that Chaucer describes the Friar in an ironic manner is how he was “Highly beloved and intimate…With County folk within his boundary, And city dames of honor and possessions ” (Chaucer 219-220). Chaucer uses the words “highly beloved” and “intimate” to describe the Friar, but if he was stealing from everyone then would he really be loved by all the women and people that he ‘helped’. These words were used to show that the attention the Friar is given is not genuine, just as the sins he absolves the people from are not genuine either. Chaucer points out many times how the Friar is not what he should be through irony and descriptive language. Both of these devices stand to prove the facts of how he is not a genuine person, how he doesn’t live by the three vows he pledged, and how he discriminates on who he thinks deserves to have their sins absolved by him.
Chaucer also uses descriptions of how the Friar acts and what he wears to demonstrate how the Friar lives. Expanding on the idea of the Friar not obeying his three vows, the Friar does not live a life of poverty whatsoever. He flaunts his wealth by “Not then appearing as your cloistered scholar With threadbare habit hardly worth a dollar, But much more like a Doctor or a Pope.” the Friar doesn’t appear to be a normal Friar he is not dressed plainly in “threadbare” clothing (Chaucer 266-269). Instead he looks more like a pope or a doctor, as it is said in the quote. This proves how the Friar does not wish to live in poverty as he should, but would rather live luxuriously and chooses to express that through his dressing in extravagant clothing. This is again shown later when Chaucer uses a simile to describe the extravagant cape the Friar is wearing and how it is “like a bell about its mould When it is casting, rounded out his dress.”, by using a bell to describe the cape it conveys to the reader how big and luxurious the Friar’s clothes are (Chaucer 271-272). By flaunting his clothing and wealth, he breaks his vow of poverty. This further proves how the Friar is one of the harshest perspectives of corruption in the church considering the way he obtains the wealth. He is also described as having a “neck [that] was whiter than a lily-flower”, Chaucer may have used this phrase to describe how pale the Friar was, but in this time period a white neck was used to describe someone who was immoral or lecherous (Chaucer 242). Lecherous meaning someone who is lustful and having an excessive sexual desire. This goes against his vow of chastity and shows how the Friar doesn’t intend to live anything like what a Friar is intended to be. This is not the only time his desire for women is highlighted, “He lisped a little out of wantonness To make his English sweet upon his tongue.” which demonstrates how he made his voice sound sweeter and prettier to women so they would find him more attractive (Chaucer 274-275).
Proving how he wanted to be perceived in life, not only did he not want to be seen as poor, he didn’t want to be seen as ugly or unlikeable. Which again, breaks his vow of chastity because by making himself seem more appealing, they would trust him and he could then trick them. Therefore they would give him what he wanted to absolve them of their sins. Last of the three vows that the Friar does not follow, obedience, the Friar is not obedient to his religion or especially to the vows that he is supposed to abide by. The Friar neglects the church and corrupts it for his own private gain. This, in turn destroys and disrupts the basis of the faith through the people that the Friar is supposed to be helping. Chaucer explains that “He had a special license from the Pope.”, which gave the Friar permission so to speak to forgive the people of their penitents easily (Chaucer 224). The Friar only does this however, with the hope of receiving money and gifts from them. Chaucer is again, portraying the negative side of the Church, which with this holy act should be seen as a positive thing to society. This ties back into the main idea of The Canterbury Tales, the 30 pilgrims going on a religious journey to gain religious freedom. Despite not wanting anything to do with the lower class, the Friar is the best beggar in his order. Chaucer states, “He was the finest beggar of his batch, And, for his begging-district, paid a rent His brethren did no poaching where he went” (Chaucer 256-258). The Friar would beg for money from the people he absolved the sins of and use it for himself so he can pay his rent. He would beg in the area and then not even let the other Friars beg in that area. Chaucer portrays the Friar as selfish, and even inconsiderate of the other Friars that he works with.
On the whole, the Friar is not a good example of someone who follows the church’s rules to a tee. However is is the perfect example of the stereotype that was put on religious figures in this time period. Although a Friar is sworn to a life of poverty, Chaucer has shown that the Friar knows how to manipulate others religious beliefs for his own gain, such as having power or riches. Rather than living amongst the poor, he avoids them and does not want to absolve their sins because they don’t have anything to give him as a reward. The Friar ignores his vow of chastity to get what he wants from women.