A foil character is one who enhances unique characteristics of another character. This is accomplished by a strong contrast between the two characters. The famous play writer, William Shakespeare uses numerous foil characters throughout his plays. One of these famous plays is Romeo and Juliet. This play has many foil characters which magnify qualities in other characters. Specifically Romeo, who is the main character of the play and has three main foil characters. Each one of these characters brings out a specific quality in Romeo’s character.
With his belief in loveless love, physical attraction, and no romantic actions, Mercutio brings out passionate love, emotional attraction, and romantic actions in Romeo’s character. First, Mercutio magnifies passionate love in Romeo. Mercutio is a wild man who lives on the edge. He dose not believe in serious relationships. He only meets women for pleasure. On the other hand, Romeo is interested in a meaningful relationship with passionate love. As a result Mercutio’s belief in loveless love magnifies passionate love in Romeo’s character. Similarly, Mercutio strives on physical attraction only; this makes Romeo’s emotional attraction stand out even more. Mercutio is attracted to beautiful women only.
While, Romeo is attracted to intelligent, nice, and beautiful women. Hence, Romeo’s attraction is brought out. Finally, Romeo’s romantic side is brought out by a lack of a romantic side in Mercutio. Mercutio is only interested in the act of love. Yet, Romeo is interested in Romantic actions more than anything. Because of this, Romeo’s romantic qualities are emphasized by Mercutio’s lack of them. Thus, Mercutio, who lacks them, stresses Romeo’s love characteristics.
Tybalt, a main character and Juliet’s cousin, experiences moments of anger, rage, and lust for revenge. Romeo benefits from this because it shows his calm, peaceful, and forgiving qualities. All through the play Tybalt shows that he is angry at something or someone. For example, in the following quote: “It fits when such a villain is a guest; I’ll not endure him.” (I, v, 74-5) Tybalt is angry with Lord Capulet for not doing anything about Romeo’s presence during the party. This underlines Romeo’s calm quality because he ignores Tybalt and Lord Capulet’s presence and calmly talks to them as if they were unknown people. Similarly, Tybalt’s Rage is noticeable throughout the play.
A good example of this is when Tybalt recognizes Romeo’s voice at the party. He immediately calls for his sward. Yet, Romeo once again ignores Tybalt’s presence and handles things peacefully. Furthermore, Tybalt shows lust for revenge. After he was told by Lord Capulet to leave Romeo alone, Tybalt comes looking for Romeo. Once he finds Romeo he challenges him to a fight. However, Romeo does not accept because he can not fight a family member even though a Capulet. Hence, Romeo shows he can forgive even his greatest enemies. Thus, Tybalt’s anger, rage, and lust for revenge highlight Romeo’s calm, peaceful, and forgiving qualities.
Benvolio, a Montague, is a unique character. Unlike Mercutio and Tybalt, Benvolio extracts Romeo’s bad side. Although Romeo is peaceful, calm, and lawful, Benvolio proves Romeo is still capable of rage, anger, and ignores the law. He dose this by giving emphasis to Romeo’s bad characteristics through his extra peaceful, extra calm, and law obedient character. First, Benvolio accents Romeo’s rage through his extra peaceful character. For instance, Mercutio was an equal friend to Romeo as he was to Benvolio; Although, Benvolio did not fill with rage towards Tybalt, when he killed Mercutio, as Romeo did. By this Benvolio highlights Romeo’s rage with his extremely peaceful character. Likewise, Benvolio’s calm character brings out Romeo’s anger filled character. After killing Mercutio and disappearing, Tybalt comes back. In the time he was gone Romeo built up anger towards Tybalt. Upon seeing Tybalt he says: “Alive in triumph, and Mercutio slain!
Away to heaven, respective lenity, And fire-ey’d fury be my conduct now!” (III, i, 122-4) This would be considered a normal reaction; however, Benvolio did not react so strongly. By this he magnifies Romeo’s anger. Finally, Benvolio’s lawful character amplifies Romeo’s law breaking character. An example of this is when Benvolio says: “We talk here in public haunt of men: Either with draw unto some private place, Or reason coldly of your grievances, Or else depart. Here all eyes gaze on us.” (III, i, 49-52) Benvolio remembers the prince’s words and warns that they should not fight in public. Even though he knows and was reminded of the new law, Romeo fights Tybalt anyway. Consequently Romeo’s action is magnified because Benvolio warned and obeyed the law. Hence, through his peaceful, calm, and lawful character, Benvolio magnifies rage, anger, and ignorance of law in Romeo’s character.
Mercutio stresses Romeo’s love characteristics; Tybalt stresses Romeo’s good qualities; Benvolio stresses Romeo’s bad qualities. Thus, Mercutio, Tybalt and Benvolio are Romeo’s foil characters. Each one emphasizes a different side of Romeo’s character. With foil characters Shakespeare can play with the audience’s emotions by making them think what he want’s them to think.
1. Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare, Oxford University Press 1982