The Canterbury Tales
Notes to the Friar's Tale
NOTES TO THE PROLOGUE
1. On the Tale of the Friar, and that of the Sompnour which follows, Tyrwhitt has remarked that
they "are well engrafted upon that of the Wife of Bath. The ill-humour which shows itself
between these two characters is quite natural, as no two professions at that time were at more
constant variance. The regular clergy, and particularly the mendicant friars, affected a total
exemption from all ecclesiastical jurisdiction, except that of the Pope, which made them
exceedingly obnoxious to the bishops and of course to all the inferior officers of the national
hierarchy." Both tales, whatever their origin, are bitter satires on the greed and worldliness of
the Romish clergy.
NOTES TO THE TALE
1. Small tithers: people who did not pay their full tithes. Mr Wright remarks that "the sermons of
the friars in the fourteenth century were most frequently designed to impress the ahsolute duty
of paying full tithes and offerings".
2. There might astert them no pecunial pain: they got off with no mere pecuniary punishment.
(Transcriber's note: "Astert" means "escape". An alternative reading of this line is "there might
astert him no pecunial pain" i.e. no fine ever escaped him (the archdeacon))
3. A dog for the bow: a dog attending a huntsman with bow and arrow.
4. Ribibe: the name of a musical instrument; applied to an old woman because of the shrillness
of her voice.
5. De par dieux: by the gods.
6. See note 12 to the Knight's Tale.
7. Wariangles: butcher-birds; which are very noisy and ravenous, and tear in pieces the birds on
which they prey; the thorn on which they do this was said to become poisonous.
8. Medieval legends located hell in the North.
9. The Pythoness: the witch, or woman, possesed with a prophesying spirit; from the Greek,
"Pythia." Chaucer of course refers to the raising of Samuel's spirit by the witch of Endor.
10. Dante and Virgil were both poets who had in fancy visited Hell.
11. Tholed: suffered, endured; "thole" is still used in Scotland in the same sense.
12. Capels: horses. See note 14 to the Reeve's Tale.