A foil character contrasts the personalities of another character, which particularly enlightens certain characteristics of the individual. This element portrays these characteristics in an obvious manner, as it benefits the reader or audience. By showing the characteristics of one, it directly heightens the character traits of the other, creating a foil illustration of an individual. Nowhere is this element of literature more prudent than in William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, as he effectively engages the use of foil characters. In the play, two lovers from opposing, and hateful families fall in love, but the hatred between households lead to their downfall. Characters in the immoral city of Verona are set to represent key themes and elements of tragedy, and these features are illuminated by the strong use of foil characters. In William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Romeo’s qualities are emphasized and distinguished through the foil representations of Mercutio, Tybalt, and both households.
Mercutio is an important foil character for Romeo as his realistic mindset amplifies Romeo’s dreamy and romantic thinking. First, Mercutio heightens Romeo’s idealistic mentality, as Mercutio has no belief in true love. For example, as Romeo expresses his love for Rosaline, Mercutio mocks him and points out that love is non-existent. This is represented when Mercutio says, “If love be rough with you, be rough with love. Prick love for pricking and you beat love down,” (Shakespeare, 1.4, 27-28). This quote reveals Mercutio’s sour attitude towards love and highlights Romeo’s childish thinking.
Moreover, Romeo is lost in grief and feels his world has fallen apart while Mercutio realizes the unnecessary gloominess Romeo is bringing upon himself. This in turn makes Mercutio a great foil as his knowledge and maturity contrasts with Romeo’s innocence. Second, Mercutio’s death highlights Romeo’s rashness, his impulsive mentality, and foreshadows further catastrophe in the play. For example, his thoughtless and impetuous actions are the cause of Mercutio’s death.
This is evident when Mercutio curses, “A plague o’both your houses! They have made worms meat of me,” (3.1, 68-69). This quote exemplifies that although Mercutio is neither a Montague nor a Capulet he still dies in a battle fought between the families. This incident heightens Romeo’s fatal flaw, as his reckless act of heroism turned out to be a burden as it caused the death of Mercutio. Moreover, Mercutio’s plague towards the families also foreshadows further tragedy, as Romeo then gets banished from the Verona, along with additional events which later on result to his death. Last, even after his death, Mercutio acts as a foil character to Romeo by causing a shift in Romeo’s gentle character. For example, after Tybalt slays Mercutio, Romeo avenges his friend by killing Tybalt.
This act shows his alteration in character, as he was never seen as a ferocious character in any previous scenes. This is evident in the play when Romeo says, “Away to Heaven, respective lenity, and fire-eyed fury be my conduct now,” (3.1, 125-126). This quote exemplifies Romeo’s new perception, as he claims he is finished with sympathy and gentleness. This change in Romeo’s personality is significant because not only is he going to attack Tybalt, but also he is going to kill him, which then entitles him a murderer. This is significant because it further leads to his banishment, which in all leads to his death. The transition in the persona of Romeo is highlighted by the character Mercutio, which leads to the slaughter of Tybalt who is another important foil character towards Romeo.
Tybalt is an important foil character as his actions ultimately mark a shift in Romeo’s character. First, Tybalt’s killing of Mercutio causes Romeo to retaliate his friend’s death. For example, Romeo avenges Mercutio by killing Tybalt. This is illustrated when Romeo says, “That late thou gavest me for Mercutio’s soul is but a little way above our heads, staying for thine to keep him company. Either thou or I, or both must go with him,” (3.1, 88-91).
This quote illustrates that Romeo has turned violent, and is willing to slay his best friends murderer, an action that would be surprising based on prior scenes of the play. This mindset by Romeo also provokes him into killing Verona’s most notorious fighters, Tybalt, the Prince of Cats, an action which would mark a significant change in Romeo’s persona. Next, Tybalt’s loyalty towards the Capulet family heightens Romeo’s perfidy to the Montagues. For example, at the Capulet ball, Tybalt urges to kill Romeo in the name of the Capulets because he is a Montague.
This is revealed when Tybalt explains to Lord Capulet that “by [Romeo’s] voice, [he is] a Montague. Fetch me my rapier, boy. What dares the slave come hither…[Romeo] [is] [a] foe [and] a villain, that is hither come in spite,” (1.5, 55-57, 63-64). This quote reveals that Tybalt has pure hatred towards the Montagues as he considers Romeo an adversary only because he is a Montague. Also, he calls Romeo a slave, showing absolute disrespect towards him. Tybalt’s outright disgust towards the Montagues emphasizes Romeo’s disloyalty towards his own family the Montagues, as he falls in love with Juliet who is a Capulet.
Finally, Tybalt’s violent character trait magnifies Romeo’s sensitive nature. For example, this is evident when Romeo proposes peace while Tybalt declines the offer. Nowhere is this stated stronger than in the encounter of them both while Romeo persuades, “Villain am I none…I do protest I never injured thee, but love thee better than thou canst devise,” (3.1, 65, 69-70). This quote portrays Romeo as a peaceful character, meaning no harm towards the violent Tybalt who then demands Romeo to “Turn and draw [his sword],” (3.1, 68). This shows Tybalt is a fierce and aggressive character, as he seems to impose vicious and cruel actions even though peace is offered.
This indeed highlights Romeo’s serenity, due to the violent reply by Tybalt. Although he is the son of a Montague, Romeo seems to want no part in the family feud, yet Tybalt and other family members appear to generate the fight, and by doing so they act as foil characters towards Romeo. The families act as key foil characters to Romeo by enlarging his lack for interest in the feud. First, Romeo wants no part in their ancient feud though both households want it to continue. For example, Romeo understands that after marrying Juliet, he must treat the Capulet family as his own, meanwhile individuals such as Tybalt seems to want no part in resolving the conflict. This is distinct when Romeo expresses to Tybalt that “[he] [tenders] [the] [name] Capulet as dearly as [his] own,” (3.1, 72-73).
This quote explains that Romeo is willing to accept the Capulets although they are sworn enemies, to which Tybalt responds by attacking Mercutio and Romeo. This act by Tybalt heightens Romeo’s form of consent, as his violent reaction overthrows Romeo’s kindness. Furthermore, Romeo does not seem to want part in any wealth or abundance whereas the families do. For example, he feels money is the reason for all his troubles, implying it being the cause for the family feud. This is clear when Romeo tells the Apothecary “[Here] is [your] [money]…doing more murder in this loathsome world than [poison] that thou mayst not sell,” (5.1, 81-82). This quote exemplifies that Romeo realizes how ironic it is that money itself creates more problems in the world than actual poison.
If it were not for the money and the dispute between the families, tragic events that would lead to Romeo’s death such as his banishment would not have occurred. Also, Juliet’s, Tybalt’s, and Mercutio’s death have all been caused by the feud. The families are thus meaningful foils for Romeo, as they emphasize and stress his understanding of the problems of wealth while they, themselves are lost in it. Finally, Romeo’s love for Juliet is enhanced by the Capulet household’s ignorance towards her. For example, Lady Capulet does not maintain a good relationship with her daughter, and is unable to support and understand Juliet’s distresses. This is evident when Lady Capulet says, “Talk not to me, for I’ll not speak a word. Do as thou wilt, for I have done with thee,” (3.5, 204-205).
This quote exemplifies that Juliet is not cared for by her own mother. As Lord Capulet fixes the date of his daughters wedding to man she does not love, Lady Capulet has no intentions of supporting her daughter in the situation. Juliet is not receiving the love from her own family, which highlights Romeo’s fondness towards her. In all, the families act as major foils towards Romeo as they are able to emphasize his personality traits. In summary, in William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Mercutio, Tybalt, and both the households act as foils towards Romeo as they brighten his qualities.
Mercutio’s realistic mindset amplifies Romeo’s dreamy and romantic thinking, while Tybalt ultimately marks a shift in Romeo’s character. Likewise, both the families amplify Romeo’s lack for interest in the feud. Altogether, these individuals juxtapose Romeo in order to revitalize his main persona, which embrace the character he is in the play. All in all, one may wonder to what extent would Romeo’s character be affected given that Shakespeare decided to include more characters, or remove several of the three samples discussed.