The Summoner’s Tale in the Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer is a tale about a friar who goes in seeking out contributions to the people – specifically the parishioners of the church, and in return promises to pray for their souls to salvation. The tale was intended to pay back the Friar for the insult he inflicted to the Summoner on his tale. It talked about how an unshameful friar attempted to take money from a sick person to increase his own treasury using the name of the church. Judging by how the Summoner reacted and insulted the Friar, it was evident that the Summoner was guilty to the accusations made by the friar that he has a nasty job, extorting and blackmailing alleged criminals. Taking into account the negative characterizations the Friar laid which insulted the Summoner and for the people to disdain him, it is a must to take into account the significant and critical situation in that time which created the Summoner.
The Summoner is a man who delivers summons to prompt alleged offenders to present themselves before the court for judgement. He has a disgusting physical appearance: his fire-red cherubin face is covered with boils and lumps that no ointment can cure and has scaly black eyebrows and bushy beard that makes children afraid of him. Furthermore, he also eats garlic, onion, and leeks, vegetables with pungent odor causing his bad breath.
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With the little knowledge he has with Latin which he always yell off when he is drunk like “Questio quid juris” (General Prologue, 646) and “Significavit” (General Prologue, 662), it can be said that the Summoner has a low educational attainment having the fact that he only learned these words because of his work. And judging from his favorite food, the summoners in that time might not be a prestigious job because the food mentioned in the prologue are not a descent food for a man with a prestigious job. Furthermore, since it is his favorite, it can be said that he always eat that food even before he became a summoner. Taking into account the evidences presented, it is evident that the critical situation that created the Summoner is the lack of compensation to alleviate himself from a dreary situation. In order for him to resolve his current predicament, brilliantly, he took his job as an opportunity to blackmail and extort money from the alleged offenders in a form of bribe to benefit his own pocket. Realizing that his methods were effective, these unethical behaviors then accumulated and made him the summoner that disgusted, and hated by, the Friar. The Friar described him by this lines: “This false thief, this Summoner,” quod the Frere, “Had always bawdes ready to his hand, As any hawk to lure in Engeland, That told him all the secrets that they knew, For their acquaintance was not come of new.” (The Friar’s Tale, 1338 – 1342), a thief who uses whores as informer to lure any person to become his next victim of extortion.
This was how the said event affected the personality and behavior in the story. The Summoner, after that critical event happened, became not the typical golden-hearted person inside a hideous clothing; instead, his disgusting physical appearance suggests his lecherous attitude, dishonesty, and wretched spiritual condition. He takes bribes from the alleged offenders who wants to get out from their crimes, and extort money from innocent individuals. For the reason that he have enough money to enjoy himself, he drink excessively, and when he is already drunk, he is unpleasant to be around with. He would speak and cry as he were wood crazy (General Prologue, 636), trying to demonstrate his learning by yelling some of the Latin phrases he knew from his work (General Prologue, 637 – 640). Aside from this disgusting behavior, he also had prostitutes in his pay who told him who their clients were, titled or common (The Friar’s Tale, 1355 – 1359).
Most people will change when pushed away to the corners. When faced with a very critical condition that might decide your fate, like the Summoner, people would adapt and do necessary action to counter it. It is not a matter of what you are doing is bad or good, it is a matter of preserving yourself to fight next day.
The transformation of the Summoner in the story was due to the societal inequality of his time where corruption is very evident. Like the Friar, the Summoner engaged into unethical standards to save their own skin at the end of the day. The Summoner became the representation of people in the current society who became unsatisfied with their lives to the extent that they indulge themselves to lecherous activities. In the end, the Summoner would not cease to exist in the society as long as the same critical situation he faced would not be taken care off.