What is a foil character? A foil character is used to create contrasts with another character – typically the central character – to bring out their strengths. For example, a subplot serves as a foil to the main plot in some stories.
Foil characters exist to reveal something about a story’s primary character. You may have heard the term in William Shakespeare’s works, but he is not the only one who uses it. So, let’s look at some examples of foil characters in literature, cinema, and television. Are you interested to know what impact a foil character leaves in the story? Read on to learn more.
What is the Purpose of a Foil Character?
A foil character is a fictional figure who helps to reveal something about another character’s personality. Character flaws like fear or greed are frequently exposed. The contrasting personality of a foil character acts as a mirror for their counterpart.
Do Supporting Characters Have a Foil?
The film’s adversary is the main course, and their foils are given significant attention, although supporting characters can also have foils. For example, Captain Phasma is Finn’s foil in Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Admiral Holdo is Poe Dameron’s foil.
Since they both served the First Order, Finn and Captain Phasma had a lot in common. Finn fled and abandoned his stormtrooper methods in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but they faced off as rivals on opposite sides of the fight in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Captain Phasma is on the opposite end of the spectrum from Finn, an upbeat do-gooder trying to end the First Order. Although they do not appear in many scenes together, the two have a history, and Finn kills his old employer in their final encounter.
In Poe’s instance, Admiral Amilyn Holdo describes him as a “trigger-happy flyboy.” The two are each other’s saboteurs. Admiral Holdo thinks before acting, whereas Poe acts before thinking. Poe commits mutiny, feeling his way is better, as Admiral Holdo determines that escaping is better than going toe-to-toe—or wing-to-wing because it is a space battle—with the First Order. Admiral Holdo, on the other hand, pulls off one of the sickest moves in Star Wars history, the Holdo Maneuver, crippling the First Order with her selfless sacrifice.
Admiral Holdo is calm and strategic, first placing those under her command to fight another day, but Poe was impulsive and eager to go to war. While Poe is an incredible pilot in all three films he appears in, Admiral Holdo emphasizes that his desire to do good occasionally conflicts with what is best for the Resistance. Poe is perhaps the best pilot of the galaxy, but his haste often puts his squad and the movement in jeopardy, which gives depth to a character who would otherwise be just another trigger-happy flyboy.
Can Foil Characters Be Friends?
It is perplexing to think of a foil as a companion, but it is typical in movies and television. For example, although they are opposed, Hermione Granger is Harry’s foil in the Harry Potter books. They were both reared in muggle houses, were placed in the same house, and began their lives with no knowledge of magic. They are Ron’s best friends. Hermione is an academic person with a Type A personality who is always ready for everything. Harry, on the other hand, is the polar opposite.
Harry primarily acts on instincts and flies by the seat of his pants, so he is often in dangerous situations. However, where Harry’s instinctive desire to follow his heart lacks foresight, Hermione comes to his rescue with contingency plans.
Hermione is the one who carries an enchanted bag with all of their clothes and supplies in the last film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II, emphasizing Harry’s unpreparedness and naive belief that he could handle everything on his own.
Centering a Screenplay Around a Foil
In the BBC series Sherlock Holmes, Dr. John Watson and Sherlock Holmes rely on one another to survive, but they also impede one another. So let us have a look at how they differ.
Sherlock Holmes and John Watson are close-knit friends, but they also agree to disagree on many occasions. Sherlock is an obnoxious know-it-all with little empathy or regard for decency. He is neurotic, inconsiderate, and egotistical. In contrast, Watson is a practical, sympathetic, and a selfless individual, motivated by feeling rather than cold reasoning.
Despite their differences, Sherlock and Watson work well together to solve crimes. The use of clever wordplay is one approach to foil characters. No character is a finer wordsmith than Sherlock Holmes and watching him and Watson spar verbally captivates us. Although Sherlock and Watson are opposed, they complement each other’s talents.
The Opposite of a Foil Character
There are different types of characters in literature; the foil character is a type sometimes disregarded and misunderstood. They are the polar opposite of another significant character or protagonist in most cases. In other words, they contrast with and emphasize the primary character’s unique qualities.
In fiction, foil characters are frequently utilized to give contrast and balance. They are commonly used as the protagonist’s antagonist or a dramatic point. They are the character who stands in stark contrast to another character or protagonist to draw attention to particular characteristics, usually negative ones.
The polar opposite of this type of personality would emphasize the other person’s positive qualities. Unlike a foil, a “complement character” can either accentuate or diminish what might otherwise appear to be flaws in one’s presentation.
Foil Characters in the World of Literature
Foil characters are primarily credited to William Shakespeare for popularizing them. Majority of his works, including histories, tragedies, and comedies, are based on specific concepts of character conflict.
Mercutio is Romeo’s foil in William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. This is demonstrated when Mercutio mocks Tybalt for being “too much of a coward” for refusing to fight Benvolio over Rosaline, whom Tybalt had courted before she chose Romeo instead.
A foil character is a literary technique that serves as a counterbalance to the protagonist. They are most commonly found in Shakespearean plays, and they are generally used to provide a detailed illustration of what not to do.
Further Examples of Foil Characters
1. Clarice and Hannibal: Silence of the Lambs(1991)
Although there have been numerous interpretations of their connection, most critics agree that Clarice and Lecter are each other’s foils.
2. Woody and Buzz: Toy Story(1995)
Let’s begin with their physical look. Buzz is short and stocky, but Woody is tall and long. Buzz is dressed in a white space suit with primary color accents. Woody, a cowboy, dresses in earth tones such as tan and brown.
Let’s examine their personalities and points of view. Buzz feels confident in his skin, his unique identity as a space ranger. He is a natural explorer. Woody is a basic toy who has lived a simple life. He does not want to leave the comfort of his house. Of course, Buzz is crazy, but he is also confident and brave. On the other hand, Woody is insecure but compassionate and a natural leader.
3. Brutus – Caesar and Antonio: Julius Caesar(1953)
The play by Shakespeare demonstrates his grasp of literary methods in Julius Caesar. Brutus has not one but two foils: Antony and Caesar.
While Brutus and Cassius both plot to assassinate Caesar, Cassius is more likely to use deception and rely on ambition. Brutus is motivated by his devotion to the state. Also, we see how Antony’s ambition, cunning, and betrayal contrast with Brutus’ honesty and naiveté in the foil figure Antony.
4. Lizzie and Lydia Bennett, Pride and Prejudice(2005)
The Longbourn Estate’s two sisters are opposed to one another. Lydia is the Bennett family’s spoiled youngest daughter. She is obnoxious and flirty. She is unconcerned with her image or how her actions affect her family, and she makes significant decisions, such as her marriage, without considering the consequences.
Lizzie is a bright and astute young lady. She takes great pride in her judgment and is highly conscious of how others view her. Her main flaws are her pride and bigotry against others. These two characteristics are at the center of the novel’s conflict.
5. Macbeth and Banquo: Macbeth(1971)
Macbeth is blinded by ambition and murders his way to the throne, then continues his massacre to maintain his position. Banquo wishes for his heirs to govern Scotland, but unlike Macbeth, he does not go on a murderous rampage to achieve this goal. In the process, he paints Macbeth in a bad light.
The fundamental function of a foil character is to bring the character being foiled into limelight. A foil character can shape the narrative of the opposing character simply by making his presence felt in the story and making different moves in a given scenario. How the foil character behaves in contrast to their counterpart, whether they do something or not, is a valuable element in character development and storytelling.
We rarely accept our flaws as humans. Having a foil character is a terrific approach to naturally expose such flaws, allowing for more profound character development. We can enjoy foils in literature, theater, cinema, and television better, if we grasp how writers utilize them.