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‘The Friar’ in Canterbury Tales


The Friar, one of Chaucer’s portraits of what he perceived as a corrupt clergy, can simply be described as a fraud. At a glance The Friar is a religious and pious figure. But a close scrutiny reveals a character different from what he presents to the naked eye. Infact, ‘The Friar’ is the opposite of what he should stand for.

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That he is not pious is not strange. But it is more notable considering that Friars are religious figures who vow to live in poverty in their services for the poor. The Friars were, in medieval England, licensed to beg in selected sections of the town. Besides begging, they also got money by staging instant confessions and administering sacraments. Moreover, The Friars never owned private property, using only their licenses as a means of livelihood. It is upon this backdrop that Chaucer’s ‘The Friar’ becomes a notable figure, and his character becomes a matter of focus.


From Chauser’s physical description of him, one sees the symbols of The Friar’s true nature. His throat is described to be “white as a lily of the May” (28). According to medieval interpretation, this imagery represents a lecherous heart (Thannickal). Equally, The Friar’s ‘worldliness’, characterized by a general aversion to acceptable codes of ethics is also reflected in the way that Chaucer describes him. Instead of doing his job, he actually values other things, e.g. wealth, women, power and status more. More than the money and perhaps the privilege of interacting with the rich, The Friar is also an immoral figure in search of sexual satisfaction and a cunning businessman ever scheming for ways to earn money.

Although, by virtue of his duties, the Friar is supposed to live among and interact with the poor, and distribute his earnings so as to aid their livelihoods, it is soon clear what the Friar really is beneath the cloak of piety. Thannickal notes The Friar’s knowledge of ‘so much dalliance and fair language’, with which he seduces women. We witness these aspects of him in the book. Chauser writes: ‘he somewhat lipsed… so as to make his English sweet upon his tongue’, (265) and ‘he was well beloved and familiar… with the town’s worthy women’ (266). A Friar is not supposed- neither known- to flirt with women. But more than this, he uses the money he earns to buy gifts for the women. For instance, his hood is said to be filled with pocket knives and pins with which he bribes his way into the favors of young wives. Even more, he pays dowries for many marriages. But it is not for his good heart. Instead, he is probably paying for their virginities that he stole. In other words, far from begging for money to distribute to the poor, the Friar is out to please women and meet his sexual desires.

Also, beneath the façade of a humanitarian, the Friar is a crooked businessman who uses his influence in the church to get even richer. For example, he preaches that he has more power to grant forgiveness for committed sins than even a priest. As such the wealthy men who visit him for confession pay hefty prices: ‘he was easy to give penance so as to get good pittance’ (223-224). He is rich, as seen in the things he buys that obviously cost more than what he gets from begging. Rather than being in the same level with the people he serves- perhaps even poorer, he eats healthy and lives large, so he feels he does not belong with them. He finds it improper. He thinks interacting with the “sick and lazy’ people is ‘not honest’ and against his status (245-246).

He knows all the wealthy men, taverns, hostels, and the innkeepers and barmaids than he knows the beggars. In other words, instead of spending in his job, he actually spends more time in inns and bars.

Ultimately, the Friar, meant to be a servant of God, a hero of the poor, and one who should mediate between God and men is no more than a fraud just as his claims of offering penance are (Thannickal). He is more concerned with the approval of the town’s womenfolk and the affluent men, the barmaids and innkeepers, as well as setting up crooked means of making money instead of serving the poor. He does not live by his vow to live in poverty for the good of the poor. He lacks both dignity and nobility. Thus, the shepherd of his flock becomes a hungry wolf (Thannickal).

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The Friar’s hood in the end becomes more than a mere physical dress-code. It represents The Friar’s ‘unknown’. The cloak hides so much beneath. For example, it keeps inside it gifts with which The Friar seduces women; gifts which, amongst other things, become a symbol of what he really is inside.

Works Cited

Thannickal, James. The Friar-Humble Shepherd or Crafty Wolf?, 1998. Web.

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"‘The Friar’ in Canterbury Tales." StudyCorgi, 27 Dec. 2021,

1. StudyCorgi. "‘The Friar’ in Canterbury Tales." December 27, 2021.


StudyCorgi. "‘The Friar’ in Canterbury Tales." December 27, 2021.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "‘The Friar’ in Canterbury Tales." December 27, 2021.


StudyCorgi. (2021) '‘The Friar’ in Canterbury Tales'. 27 December.

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