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Seventeenth Century

Eighteenth Century


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The Friar's Portrait
The Friar
From the Ellesmere Manuscript

A FRERE ther was, a wantowne and a merye,
A lymytour, a ful solempne man,
In alle the ordres foure is noon that kan
So muchel of daliaunce and fair langage;
He hadde maad ful many a marïage
Of yonge wommen at his owene cost:
Unto his ordre he was a noble post,
Ful wel biloved and famulier was he
With frankeleyns over al in his contree,
And eek with worthy wommen of the toun,
For he hadde power of confessïoun,
As seyde hym-self, moore than a curát,
For of his ordre he was licenciat.
Ful swetely herde he confessioun,
And plesaunt was his absolucioun.
He was an esy man to geve penaunce
Ther as he wiste to have a good pitaunce;
For unto a poure ordre for to give
Is signe that a man is wel y-shryve;
For, if he gaf, he dorste make avaunt
He wiste that a man was répentaunt:
For many a man so harde is of his herte
He may nat wepe al thogh hym soore smerte,
Therfore in stede of wepynge and preyeres
Men moote geve silver to the poure freres.
His typet was ay farsed full of knyves
And pynnes, for to geven yonge wyves;
And certeinly he hadde a murye note;
Wel koude he synge and pleyen on a rote:
Of yeddynges he baar outrely the pris;
His nekke whit was as the flour-de-lys,
Ther-to he strong was as a champioun.
He knew the tavernes wel in al the toun
And everich hostiler and tappestere
Bet than a lazar or a beggestere;
For unto swich a worthy man as he
Acorded nat, as by his facultee,
To have with sike lazars aqueyntaunce;
It is nat honest, it may nat avaunce,
Fór to deelen with no swich poraille;
But al with riche and selleres of vitaille.
And over al, ther as profit sholde arise,
Curteis he was and lowely of servyse,
Ther nas no man nowher so vertuous.
He was the beste beggere in his hous,*
For thogh a wydwe hadde noght a sho,
So plesaunt was his In principio,
Yet wolde he have a ferthyng er he wente:
His purchas was wel bettre than his rente.
And rage he koude, as it were right a whelp.
In love dayes ther koude he muchel help,
For ther he was nat lyk a cloysterer
With a thredbare cope, as is a povre scolér,
But he was lyk a maister, or a pope;
Of double worstede was his semycope,
That rounded as a belle out of the presse.
Somwhat he lipsed, for his wantownesse,
To make his englissh sweete upon his tonge;
And in his harpyng, whan that he hadde songe,
Hise eyen twynkled in his heed aryght
As doon the sterres in the frosty nyght.
This worthy lymytour was cleped Huberd.













[AJ Notes:]

208. a wantowne and a merye, a lusty and merry one; (with a double entendre on wanton,
        for one lusty (full of life), and lustful).
209. lymytour, a limiter; one licensed to beg within a certain, defined geographical area.
        ful solempne, very solemn.
210. ordres foure, the four orders of friars:
        Dominicans, Franciscans, Carmelites, and Augustinians.
211. kan so muchel of, is so good at.
        daliaunce and fair langage, exhange of pleasantries and refined conversation in polite company;
        (with an overt double entendre of "dalliance and sweet talk" in seducing women).
212-213. maad ful many a mariage... at his owene cost, he had arranged husbands for a great number
        of young women, paying for the weddings himself (the implication being that he had seduced
        these women himself).
214. ordre... noble post, he was a pillar of his order.
215. famulier, familiar.
216. frankeleyns, franklins; freeholders not of noble birth, with extensive lands.
217. over al in his contree, throughout his district.
218. eek, also.
219. As seyde hym-self, as he himself said.
        curát, curate; parish priest.
220. licenciat, i.e. he had license to hear confession without requiring the parish priest's permission.
223. esy, lenient.
224. There as he wiste, where he knew.
         pitaunce, pittance; donation.
225. poure, poor.
226. wel y-shryve well shriven; has completed confession well.
227. he gaf, he (the one confessing) gave a donation.
        he dorste, he (the friar) dared.
        make avaunt, boast.
228. wiste, knew.
230. al thogh hym soorely smerte, although he is in great pain.
231. wepynge and preyeres, weeping and prayers.
232. moote, may.
233. typet, tippet; hood.
        ay, always.
        farsed, stuffed.
234. pynnes, pins.
235. a murye note, a merry note; i.e., a nice singing voice.
236. rote, a Medieval stringed instrument, similar to a harp or lyre. Example and sound clip.
237. yeddynges, ballads.
        he baar outrely the pris, he utterly took the prize.
238. flour-de-lys, fleur de lys; lily flower.
239. Therto, thereto; in addition to which.
241. everich, every (from "ever each").
        hostiler, innkeeper.
        tappestere, barmaid (feminine form of tapster).
242. Bet than, better than.
        lazar, leper.
        beggestere, beggarwoman.
243. swich, such.
244. Acorded nat, it was not fitting.
        as by his facultee, considering his position.
245. sike, sick.
246. honeste, respectable.
        may nat avaunce, cannot be advantageous.
247. Fór to deelen with, to deal with.
        poraille, poor folk; rabble.
248. riche, rich people.
        selleres of vitaille, sellers of victuals.
249. over al, in general; on the whole.
        there as, where.
250. Curteis, courteous.
        lowely of servyse, humbly ready to serve.
251. nas, wasn't (ne was).
252. Hengwrt MS adds two lines:
        "And gaf a certeyne ferme for the graunt;
        Noon of his bretheren cam ther in his haunt;"
253. wydwe, widow.
        hadde noght a sho, didn't even own a shoe.
254. In principio, "In the beginning" — the opening of the Gospel of John.
255. Yet wolde he have, &c., i.e. she would end up giving him her last farthing.
256. His purchase... his rente, his profits far exceeded the fee he paid for his license to the brotherhood.
257. rage, frolic; romp.
        as it were right a whelp, as if he were a puppy (i.e. as if he were a much younger man).
258. love dayes, days of reconciliation when grievances could be brought in front of the friar to arbitrate.
259. cloysterer, a cloistered monk.
260. povre scolér, poor student.
261. maister, Master of Arts (M.A.).
262. double worstede, a medium quality (and medium priced) fabric, though yet better quality than
        friars and monks tended to have. For Chaucer's possible reasons for choosing double worsted, see
        the excellent discussion by Laura F. Hodges in her book Chaucer and Clothing.
263. semycope, literally "half a cloak"; a short cloak.
264. lipsed, lisped.
        for his wantownesse, for an affectation.
266. harpyng, harping (on the rote; l.236).
        hadde song, had sung.
267. aryght, exactly.
268. As doon the sterres, as do the stars.
269. was cleped, was called.


Pollard, Alfred W., ed. Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Vol I.
London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1907. 11-14.

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Created on October 29, 1998 by Anniina Jokinen. Last updated on August 31, 2012.


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