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Free Study Guide-The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer-Free BookNotes
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CHARACTER ANALYSIS

The Friar

The Friar, Brother Hubert, is among Chaucerís portraits of the corrupt clergy. The Friar is a gay, merry, wanton man. He is a seeker of pleasure. He is a limiter; i.e. he is licensed to solicit alms within certain assigned limits. He is a grand imposing man and the only member in all the four orders of the Dominicans, Franciscans, Carmelites, and Augustinians, who was so well- versed in the language of dalliance and flattery. In contrast to the Monks, Friars had the liberty to preach outside the monastery walls and they followed the ideal of active as opposed to contemplative service. The prime objective of the Friars however was to attack evil and sinners by preaching among the people. However this mendicant life soon degenerated into a pleasurable way of life. Friars transformed begging into an extremely profitable business proposition. Moreover Friars who were supposed to guard people against evil themselves committed venal sins like seducing village girls and married women by their sweet talk and gifts. Chaucerís lecherous Friar too has arranged marriages of many young girls whom he had seduced. He is thoroughly familiar with the tricks of the trade and his hood is always stuffed with trinkets cherished by gullible women. Chaucer ironically commends the Friar as a strong pillar of the church. The Friar is very familiar with the rich and powerful men of his town. He claims to have more power to hear a confession than a parson does and his absolution is pleasant since he easily grants pardon whenever he is certain of a good offering. He argues that many hard-hearted men could not weep even if they are truly repentant for their sins. In such cases charity to friars is equivalent to tears and prayers.


The Friar has a merry voice and could sing well to the accompaniment of a rote (a stringed instrument). He always won the best prize in ballad singing competitions. His musical ability helps in his seduction of women. He has a lily-white neck although he has an athletic constitution. This corrupt Friar is well acquainted with all the innkeepers and barmaids but avoids the poor beggars and lepers like the plague. Chaucer sarcastically comments that it is neither fitting nor profitable for the Friar to associate himself with such poor people. Chaucer then commends the Friar for his humility, virtuousness, and courtesy. He is indeed the best beggar of his order and has the ability to extract money from even the poorest of the poor. For even if a poor widow did not have a shoe / sou (French coin), the Friarís recitation of "In principio" was so pleasant that he would extort a farthing from her before he left. The proceeds of his begging were far greater than the rent that he paid to the church. Moreover the Friar was actively involved in settling secular matters on love-days. Love days were days appointed for out of court settlement of disputes under the arbitration of the clergy. Gradually the practice degenerated and the church forbade the clergy to arbitrate except in case of the poor. Chaucerís comment that the Friar actively participated on love days is an indirect criticism since the readers know that the Friar does not associate with the poor. The Friar is not like an ascetic wearing threadbare clothes. Rather he is wearing a well pressed double worsted coat. Hubert lisps in order to make his speech sound sweet. His eyes twinkle in his head like stars in a frosty night. Chaucerís ironic portrait of the merry, sweet, pleasant and worthy Friar is an excellent satire against the corrupt clergy.

The Merchant

The Merchant with his forked beard is a representative of the rising middle classes. He is well dressed with fashionable motley colored clothes, stylish Flemish beaver hat and expensive boots. He gives his opinion on English trade policies in a pompous manner and always bases it on what would be favorable to his own trade. He manages his financial affairs so cleverly that nobody knows that he is actually in debt. He never loses any money in his bargains and is extremely knowledgeable about the business of borrowing and lending money. Chaucer says that the Merchant is a worthy man but declines knowing his name.

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