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"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

Jewelers often put shiny metal foil underneath a gem to make the stone shine brighter, or display them on dark velvet to bring attention to their brightness. A literary foil serves a similar purpose. This character appears in close proximity to another to highlight their character traits, usually by contrast.

Sidekicks often serve as the hero's foil: a calm and pragmatic sidekick will accompany a hot-headed hero, for example, or a conventionally-brave hero will drag a Lovable Coward. In the classic story of Good vs. Evil, the hero and villain play the other's foil, in that each acts to show how the other behaves in certain situations. But virtually any story with multiple characters can use contrast to show greater depths to them; two persons do not have to be on opposite ends of the moral spectrum to be foils.


Foils need to be seen together; the interaction between the contrasting characters is what makes this trope work. A pair of foils may be strangers when the story begins, but they need to come together at some point in the story and let their opposed personalities shine through. Otherwise, we just have a pair of characters with different personalities.

If you've got a series where a hero from a later installment is the opposite of a hero from earlier on, they've got to interact with each other somewhere in the series for them to count as foils. Otherwise, you've got a Contrasting Sequel Main Character. The same goes for the baddies: Unless the contrasting villain from the earlier installment interacts with the villain from the later installment, you're looking at a Contrasting Sequel Antagonist.


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, though a contrasting appearance alone isn't sufficient for a character to be a foil. 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.

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.


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    Multiple Media 
  • A very common thing for Batman and his Rogues Gallery in both the comics and many media adaptions, with many, many individual variations; for a rough overview, see here.

  • 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.
  • In The Hidden Almanac, the main characters are Mord, a calm, scholarly fellow, and Drom, an ebullient ditz. The only thing they appear to have in common is a fondness for gardening, though her interest seems to be primarily pharmacological.

    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.
  • Taeler Hendrix to Seleziya Sparx in House Of Truth's ROH branch. Sparx is a nice girl from a Friendless Background who really just wants attention and fell in with a bad crowd. Hendrix is a formerly impoverished snob who resents pretty much anyone who has anything that is not immediately benefiting her. Sparx does not get angry too easily and though her job calls her to be very violent, she rarely displays more than Tranquil Fury. Hendrix has a Hair-Trigger Temper and even when she's not angry she takes great pleasure in hurting people. Sparx is a tease and a Femme Fatale who certainly knows the power of sex appeal but doesn't use sex itself as a weapon. Hendrix is The Vamp, pure and simple. Unfortunately, Sparx being banned from working in the US prevented the two from directly interacting before the fall of the HOT's ROH branch. Still, the two show the Darker and Edgier turn the HOT took from it's hedonistic party beginnings very well. While Sparx was the Butt-Monkey who suffered trying to help Jay Lethal, Hendrix was worse than he was and the only HOT member not to undergo a Heel–Face Turn.
  • 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.

  • The Bible has plenty of examples, which is unsurprising, given the prevalence of parallelism in ancient Hebrew writing.
    • All the patriarchs of the Book of Genesis has a family member to stand as a contrast against their mark of faith, and the contrast is often re-iterated in later books (especially in the book of Hebrews).
      • First, of course, we have Cain and Abel who respectively represent sin and rebellion vs. righteousness and obedience.
      • Abraham's title as the man of faith is contrasted against his nephew Lot, who in his attachment to material wealth, chose to dwell in Sodom, which would eventually lead to his family's downfall when the entire city is obliterated.
      • Jacob and Esau. The former is a rough and manly hunter who is unfortunately not too bright, and seems incapable of thinking long-term. The latter is a meek Momma's Boy who prefers to stay indoors, but is extremely cunning, and was able to cheat his older brother of his birthright and blessing.
      • Joseph is one of the few characters in the Bible who has no apparent flaws in his character, and remains upright even when he is unfairly mistreated by others. Halfway through his story, the narrative moves to focus on his brother Judah, who is at his least virtuous when he had sex with a prostitute who turned out to be his disguised daughter-in-law, and the placement of this appalling subplot simply highlights Joseph's virtues all the more.
    • The Four Gospels has Jesus and Peter. Jesus is calm, collected, and singularly focused on his mission. Peter is impulsive and Hot-Blooded, and abandons the cause for a little while. Frequently, Peter's actions give Jesus an opportunity to teach a lesson to the disciples.

  • 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 Supersoldier, 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.
  • Cyberpunk: Johnny Silverhand to Saburo Arasaka, believe it or not. Both men are veterans who came home from the war with crippling injuries and new ideas about what the world should be like. However, Arasaka doubled down on his Japanese-supremacist nationalism, founded the Arasaka corporation and became a cornerstone of the reactionary establishment, while Johnny ended up mistrusting authority in general, the military-industrial complex in particular and the Arasaka corporation specifically, and took to the chromatic rock scene to incite rebellion and preach anarchism.

    Web Original 
  • In Alien Abduction Role Play, the two human abductees serve as foils to each other. The unnamed human is an Unfazed Everyman who was depressed and unhappy with his life before being abducted by aliens, and has no desire to return to Earth. Tori is a frightened teen girl who had a normal, almost idyllic life with her family on Earth, and wants desperately to return home. The unnamed human is a xenophile who finds Acktreal attractive, and doesn't seem bothered by the appearance of the other aliens, whereas Tori does not shy away from showing her discomfort with the other aliens, including the one who is trying to console her. The unnamed human is a Nightmare Fetishist who takes Acktreal's taste-testing and threats to eat them in stride, whereas Tori found it traumatizing and refused to forgive Ackt for what she did.
  • 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.
  • SCP Foundation: While most likely unintentional SCP-049 and SCP-590 could possibly be viewed as foils to each other. Their powers both involve touching someone to cure them, but 049 kills whoever he touches and brings them back as mindless zombies under the belief that he’s curing an unknown pestilence while 590 actually can heal people by touching them but receives whatever he’s healing as a result. 049 is also highly intelligent and initially treated well by the Foundation while 590 has the mind of a toddler and is treated extremely harshly by the Foundation.

    Real Life 
  • Frequently invoked by Presidents in the American Political System, who have been known to choose running mates (and future Vice Presidents) who are as different from them as possible—increasing the chances that voters can personally identify with at least one of them. To name a few notable examples:
    • Fiery Carolinian populist orator and former war hero Andrew Jackson chose (for his second term) crafty, mild-mannered New York-born political organizer Martin Van Buren.
    • Fatherly, buzzcut-sporting military man Dwight D. Eisenhower chose slick, cynical career politician Richard Nixon.
    • Youthful, handsome, idealistic New Englander John F. Kennedy chose rotund, middle-aged, veteran Texan lawmaker Lyndon Johnson.
    • Affable, easy-going, religious George W. Bush chose terse, frequently grumpy ex-CEO Dick Cheney.
    • Young, worldly, idealistic ex-professor Barack Obama chose middle-aged Washington insider and lifelong politician Joe Biden.
    • Brash, flamboyant, tough-talking New York billionaire Donald Trump chose soft-spoken, religious Midwesterner Mike Pence.
    • Elderly, politically seasoned Midwesterner Joe Biden chose the middle-aged, up-and-coming Californian Kamala Harris.


Video Example(s):


Nazbol and Pink Capitalism

While Nazbol is an Authoritarian ideology who sees himself as economically far-left and culturally far-right, Pink Capitalism is a libertarian ideology who considers himself economically far-right and culturally far-left (basically like Neo-Liberalism). Nazbol therefore declares Pink Capitalism the worst thing ever.

How well does it match the trope?

4.6 (5 votes)

Example of:

Main / Foil

Media sources:

Main / Foil