Foil Characters in Romeo and Juliet

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  • 0:01 What Is a Foil Character?
  • 0:21 Foil Characters in…
  • 3:52 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Meredith Spies

Meredith has studied literature and literary analysis, holding a master's degree in liberal arts with a focus on depictions of femininity vs masculinity in literature and art.

This lesson is a brief look at foil characters in ''Romeo and Juliet''. There are several notable foil characters in the play and we will look at how their contrast with the protagonists provides insight into different situations within ''Romeo and Juliet''.

What is a Foil Character?

A foil character is one that has traits that are opposite of another character - being melancholy to the other's happiness, for example, or extroverted to the other's introverted nature. Foil characters are sometimes used as comic relief, especially in tragedies such as Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.

Foil Characters in Romeo and Juliet

The first foil character that appears in Romeo and Juliet never actually appears at all. She is mentioned, talked about, and bemoaned, but never sets foot on stage. Rosaline, the girl Romeo is in love with before he sees Juliet, is a foil for Juliet's character. Rosaline is aloof, quiet, and has sworn off marriage and pleasures of the flesh. She is uninterested in Romeo and his adoration. Contrast this with Juliet, who is neither quiet and remote, nor disinterested and chaste.

Similarly, Paris is a foil for Romeo. Paris is nobility and exemplifies the traits the Capulets find desirable in a husband for their daughter and an ally for their family. He is already a friend of Lord Capulet and is, in all ways, the opposite of Romeo. Paris is very proper and follows the rules of society, while Romeo is impetuous, effusive with his romantic proclamations, and ignores convention by approaching Juliet directly, rather than through family.

Juliet's nurse, who also appears early in the play, is often portrayed as a foil for Lady Capulet. While Nurse is strict, she is also loving and warm with Juliet and dotes on her. She encourages her to make her own choices and helps when Juliet experiences parental censure for refusing to marry Paris. Conversely, Juliet's mother is stiff and cool towards Juliet, seeming to care only about how Juliet will make the family look to others, treating her as a tool rather than a beloved daughter.

Tybalt, kinsman to Juliet, is a foil for Benvolio, who is kinsman to Romeo. Tybalt is 'king of cats,' quick to anger and act without thought, prone to act fast and violently if he feels insulted or dishonored. Benvolio is called a peacemaker (even his name is from the root of 'benevolent' or kind), and tries many times to soothe frayed tempers and hurt feelings. Benvolio is also asked by Romeo's parents to keep an eye on Romeo, and he is the one the Prince approaches to get to the bottom of the street fight between Romeo's friends and Capulet's supporters. Tybalt is the opposite in character, being unfriendly and self-serving.

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