Follow TV Tropes

Following

Foil

Go To

https://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/QuijoteYSancho.jpg

"I’ll be your foil, Laertes. In mine ignorance
Your skill shall, like a star i' th' darkest night,
Stick fiery off indeed."
Hamlet, Act V, scene ii
Advertisement:

Jewelers often put shiny metal foil underneath a gem to make the stone shine brighter. A literary foil serves a similar purpose. This character highlights someone else's trait, usually by contrast.

Sidekicks often serve as foils to the hero by being something the hero himself is not. A calm and pragmatic sidekick when the hero is hotheaded, for example. In the classic good-guy versus bad guy scenario, both the hero and villain can each be considered the other's foil, in that each acts to show how the other behaves in certain situations.

These are far from the only possible pairings, however, as virtually any story with multiple characters can contrast the characters to show greater depths to them, regardless of what side they are on in the good versus evil equation. Good versus evil doesn't have to come into the picture at all.

Advertisement:

Sometimes a foil is a flat or Bit Character, a secondary character that comes on stage, sparks a response, then fades from the story. More often, though, the foil is a recurring character that has a personality, or an opinion of things, that is different from another recurring character. This character can be the opposite of the character in many ways — or perhaps very, very, very similar, except for a crucial difference.

Many intentional foils are depicted as physical contrasts to the main character. Thin vs. fat and tall vs. short are among the most common ways of setting up a contrast. Similarly, when the heroine's hair is blonde or white, the villain tends to have dark or red hair; when the villain is blond or white haired, the hero tends to be dark or red haired. Opposing genders and races are common even in modern media, but often tend to be handled more delicately due to these types of differences being an Unfortunate Implications minefield.

Advertisement:

As implied earlier, virtually any two characters or character types can serve as foils to each other if they're put together properly and a little good writing goes into them. However, there is a surprisingly large number of character types that exist primarily for the purpose of being a foil, usually to the main character, or in the case of a set of characters, to each other.

If you're feeling a little poetic and look around at your surroundings enough, you'll probably discover that this trope is a bit of Truth in Television.

Nothing to do with fencing or the preferred headgear of (or preferred insult against) a Conspiracy Theorist. See also Duo Tropes.

    Common Foils 

Standalone Characters who foil others:

Pairs of Foils:

Feeling & Thought foils:

Gender foils:

Situations that can arise from pitting foils against each other:

Compare Shadowland, which applies to settings, and Spiritual Antithesis, which applies to works.


Examples Subpages:

Other Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Podcasts 
  • The Adventure Zone: Balance: Edward and Lydia are foils to Taako and Lup. They're all very and tight-knit fashionable twins with a tendency to screw over others for personal entertainment or pragmatic heroism. Lup, like Edward and Lydia, is also a lich. For both Taako and Lydia, losing a sibling is a Despair Event Horizon. Unlike Taako and Lup, however, Edward and Lydia are willing to Take a Third Option and explicitly kill others to gain power.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • A recipe for many a tag team. Either there is very little to differentiate the two, sometimes not even that much or there is some immediate difference everyone with sight can see.
  • Jacqueline served to show how reserved Ivory had become in Right To Censor, how much more of the boys she was with the Kat, who was a Girly Girl and how much more fun she was to be around compared to snobbish tease Traci Brooks. In the latter case, James Storm and Bobby Roode were also foils as Slobs Vs Snobs, only they worked together as "Beer Money".
  • In Ring of Honor, The Carnage Crew were given the rich, disrespectful burnouts Special K to feud with, in order to better get the blue collar audience to identify with them. This backfired as the ROHbots hated both groups.
  • This trope was basically the angle of the Wrestlemania XXV match between The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels. The Heartbreak Kid cast himself as the "Light" that is fated to defeat the "Darkness" embodied by the evil Deadman, and consequently end the latter's legendary winning streak.
  • Matt Sydal to ANX, The All Nights Kenny King and Rhett Titus. All three entered Ring Of Honor as cocky upstarts but while Sydal matured into a wise veteran who imparted his knowledge to other cocky upstarts like KUSHIDA and ACH, King and Titus became bitter veterans out to hold new wrestlers to ROH down.
  • As ANX expanded into The Cabinet their foils became Search And Destroy. Both groups have similar beliefs and goals, wanting to take things back to way they used to be, when times were better, but their philosophy and methodology are completely different. The former taunt and shout at those the supposed brainwashed masses about while the latter wait for down time and breakdown their view points in respectful manners. As The Cabinet frustrations changed them into The Riot, out to destroy all contrary to themselves with reckless abandoned, Search And Destroy are lead by social Darwinists who believe their core approach is right but continually analyze their opposition in order to adapt their strategies, especially after setbacks.

    Theater 
  • The Phantom of the Opera: Erik portrays dark and passion, Raoul light and clear thinking.
  • In Wicked, Galinda and Elphaba. Galinda acts like a stereotypical blonde, pretty, popular, and not much going on in her head. Elphaba is (viewed as) ugly and a bookworm. Elphaba is also much more responsible and mature, and when faced with a discovery that turns their world upside-down, one spreads the word, reputation be damned, and one uses it to her advantage.
  • William Shakespeare has many, many foils in his plays (appropriate since he's going for dramatic effect):
    • In Hamlet, Fortinbras, the Prince of Norway is a foil to Hamlet, having none of the latter's introspection when it comes to avenging his father's death. Another classic example of Hamlet's foil is his friend, Horatio, whose level-headedness clearly serves as foil to Hamlet's rash nature.
    • Several other characters serve as a foil to Hamlet as well. Before they engage in the climactic swordfight, Hamlet describes himself as a foil to Laertes ("I'll be your foil, Laertes: in mine ignorance your skill shall, like a star i' the darkest night,stick fiery off indeed."). Of course, it is in fact the other way around, and Laertes can tell that Hamlet is mocking him. This passage may be the Trope Namer.
    • Hamlet is also making a play on words, since "foil" is the term for the flexible sword-like weapons used in fencing practice.
    • Macbeth has Macbeth and Macduff, and (more obviously) Lady Macbeth and Lady Macduff.
    • Falstaff is the foil to either Prince Hal's father, Henry IV, in the King Henry plays. And oh, what a foil he is.
    • In Henry IV, Part 1 Hal has a foil in the form of Henry Hotspur, who's everything Hal's supposed to be but isn't.
    • Mercutio is Romeo's foil: he's brash, upbeat and joking while Romeo is always moping and mooning around.
    • Arguably, Caliban and Ariel are foils for each other, or they're both foils for different sides of Prospero (id and superego, respectively). Caliban is ugly, crude, hated by Prospero, not too smart, and an unwilling slave; Ariel is airy, graceful, beloved by Prospero, and serves with his best efforts (at least until his contract is up).
  • In Antony and Cleopatra, the two nations of Rome and Egypt play foil to each other, with Rome with a superego, duty before self set of ideals while Egypt is far more hedonistic and leans towards the id.
  • In Sweeney Todd, Anthony Hope is clearly meant as a foil to Todd.. Also, to a lesser degree, Johanna and Mrs. Lovett. Both are madwomen, but have entirely different ways of expressing their issues.
  • In Dorothy L. Sayers' The Emperor Constantine, Helena awaits the arrival of the ex-husband who divorced her for a political match, and then took her son away when he was eleven, with calm and dignity, while her elderly servant fumes over the indignities she was subjected to. (Thus also making clear what it takes for her to be calm and dignified.)
  • Ariel and Tupolski from The Pillowman are constantly at odds. Even when Tupolski starts getting aggressive with executing Katurian, it's immediately after Katurian is revealed to have never murdered any children. Ariel, originally being depicted as ready to kill Katurian at the word, backs down completely at that point.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Tau Empire of Warhammer 40,000 serves as one to the Imperium of Man. While the Imperium is ancient, impossibly vast and slowly decaying, the Tau Empire is comparatively young, small and on a meteoric rise. They also serve as a foil to every other established race to a lesser extent: while other races use traditional, Fantasy Counterpart Culture inspired weapons and tactics, the Tau use modern military tactics and futuristic weapons in modern ways; they have Mini-Mecha with jump-packs and foot soldiers with plasma rifles, rather than, say, guys with chainsaw-swords and Powered Armor, or massive bayonet charges supported with artillery fire. Most notably, though, is that they inject a sense of hope and optimism in the otherwise deeply cynical Black And Gray Crapsack World that is the setting.
    • According to Word of God, the Kroot were conceptualised as a standalone army before being integrated into the Tau as auxiliaries. Their "savage" tribal appearance and up-close fighting style along with their healthy scepticism of the Greater Good ideology contrasts with the high-tech, mechanistic appearance and modern combat doctrine of the Tau.
    • The Orks and the Eldar are also this to each other, as the wise and cultured but hugely xenophobic and elitist Eldar with their sleek and shiny Magitek weapons and vehicles contrast sharply with the thuggish and universally-violent-to-just-about-everyone Orks with their low-tech firearms and wagons cobbled together from scrap.
    • The Ultramarines and the Alpha Legion were vicious rivals during the Great Crusade and eventually the Horus Heresy because they used doctrines which were similar but also antagonised each other. The Ultramarines' creed was "Information is victory", the idea that no matter how daunting the foe seemed, you could beat them if you knew everything about them. The Alpha Legion went one further and said "Why only focus on the intel you have? An enemy that knows nothing about you, or better still only has carefully-crafted disinformation about you that you allowed them to have, is doomed to defeat." They both were different takes on the Super Soldier, highly elite Jack of All Trades with different approaches: the Ultramarines used a rigid and centralised command structure, the Alpha Legion was decentralised and preferred relying on personal initiative; the Ultramarines followed a highly complex Codex to dictate their actions, the Alpha Legion relied on simple tricks and plans with multiple contingencies, all well-executed; the Ultramarines avoided collateral, while the Alpha Legion actively sought it to sow chaos.
  • The Zefra archetype in the Yu-Gi-Oh! TCG is a foil to the Qliphort. Both archetypes are named after concepts from Judaism and focus on Pendulum Monsters. However, the Qliphort uses Pendulum Summon alongside Tribute summon while the Zefra uses it with Ritual, Fusion, Synchro, and Xyz summon.

    Web Original 
  • Hero House Has the Red Hood, who serves to contrasts Nightwing's optimism.
  • Whateley Universe: roommmates and teammates Chaka and Fey are definitely foils for each other. One's black while the other's white, one's hyper and the other's calm, one's human and the other one's mostly Sidhe. Also, Solange is a foil to Phase, since Solange is the Rich Bitch that Phase could have easily been.
  • In We Are Our Avatars, Selim Bradley the Homunculus of Pride from Fullmetal Alchemist and Selim Bradley from the 2003 anime version are polar opposites; the two have bad chemistry together.
  • In The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, both Mr Collins and Darcy are initially disliked by Lizzie due to certain personality traits but eventually make their peace with her. Whereas Darcy knows what to say but not how to say it, Collins talks a lot but says very little.
  • The War Comms have several examples of this:
    • Lucy Bennet and Shannon Blake. Both are starry-eyed teenage girls prone to crushing on fictional characters and writing self-insert fanfiction. But where Lucy is immature, oversensitive and delusional, Shannon is mature, sensible and well-grounded in reality.
    • Trisha Grant and Candy are both preps. Trisha is a classic Alpha Bitch, while Candy is kind and helpful to others.
    • Raye Lynn and Cassie Ironbachs, the former with a strong anti-hero preference and the latter preferring side characters to mains. However, while Cassie bashes mains every chance she gets Raye Lynn prefers to focus her energy on loving her favorites.
    • Heather Foreman and Molly Nevins are a combination of this and Shadow Archetype, both being insecure redheads who get picked on a lot. Molly Apologizes a Lot and genuinely feels responsible for her plights, causing others to want to look out for her even if she deems it unnecessary. But Heather is very vocal in feeling persecuted and unloved, blaming her problems on mean girls at school and her mother, which causes people to be stingier with their sympathy for her.
    • Heather also has another foil in Shannon. Both focus heavily on crushes and characters who have them, but while Heather believes the object of someone's affections is required to return them, Shannon sees crushes becoming true love as pure wish fulfillment (and only supports it when those feelings don't cause someone to do horrible things).
    • Cousins Patrick and James Wells are both slight, brown-haired gay teenagers who favor yaoi. James is a fragile Ill Boy who needs constant care, but hates feeling like a burden and tries to take on as much as he can by himself. Patrick is physically healthy but mentally unstable, tries to appear more delicate than he is for sympathy points.
    • Esmeralda Iceworth and Lily Haverlock. Both are old-fashioned and mainly ship traditional couples, but while Lily is polite about her preferences and a classic Proper Lady, Esmeralda is bossy, entitled and actually a Bitch in Sheep's Clothing.
    • Mark Keller is also this to Esmeralda, both shipping the traditional couples and favoring happy endings. But while Mark actively seeks out and writes what he wants to see and avoids what he doesn't, Esmeralda will read things she dislikes just to complain about them.
    • Marion LeRoy and Josephine Thompson are mothers who will go to great lengths to protect their children. But while Marion does it via smacking down assholes who deserve it, Josephine does it via trying to shut down anything above a G rating.

Top