Foil (literature)

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Don Quixote and his sidekick Sancho Panza, as illustrated by Gustave Dore: the characters' contrasting qualities are reflected here even in their physical appearances Quixo-panza.jpg
Don Quixote and his sidekick Sancho Panza, as illustrated by Gustave Doré: the characters' contrasting qualities are reflected here even in their physical appearances

In fiction, a foil is a character who contrasts with another character, usually the protagonist, to highlight qualities of the other character. [2] [3] [4] In some cases, a subplot can be used as a foil to the main plot. This is especially true in the case of metafiction and the "story within a story" motif. [5] The word foil comes from the old practice of backing gems with foil to make them shine more brightly. [6]

Protagonist the main character of a creative work

A protagonist is the leading character of a story.

Metafiction is a form of literature that emphasizes its own constructedness in a way that continually reminds the reader to be aware that they are reading or viewing a fictional work. Metafiction is self-conscious about language, literary form, storytelling, and directly or indirectly draw attention to their status as artifacts. Metafiction is frequently used as a form of parody or a tool to undermine literary conventions and explore the relationship between literature and reality, life, and art. Although metafiction is most commonly associated with postmodern literature, its use can be traced back to much earlier works of fiction, such as Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (1387), Miguel de Cervantes's Don Quixote (1605), William Shakespeare's Pericles, Prince of Tyre (c.1608), Laurence Sterne's The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759), William Makepeace Thackeray's Vanity Fair (1847), as well as more recent works such as Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1979) and Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves. Metafiction, however, became particularly prominent in the 1960s, with authors and works such as John Barth's Lost in the Funhouse, Robert Coover's "The Babysitter" and "The Magic Poker", Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five, John Fowles' The French Lieutenant's Woman, Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49 and William H. Gass's Willie Master's Lonesome Wife.

A story within a story is a literary device in which one character within a narrative narrates. Mise en abyme is the French term for a similar literary device. A story within a story can be used in all types of narration: novels, short stories, plays, television programs, films, poems, songs, and philosophical essays. The inner stories are told either simply to entertain or more usually to act as an example to the other characters. In either case the story often has symbolic and psychological significance for the characters in the outer story. There is often some parallel between the two stories, and the fiction of the inner story is used to reveal the truth in the outer story. Often the stories within a story are used to satirize views, not only in the outer story, but also in the real world. When a story is told within another instead of being told as part of the plot, it allows the author to play on the reader's perceptions of the characters—the motives and the reliability of the storyteller are automatically in question. Stories within a story may disclose the background of characters or events, tell of myths and legends that influence the plot, or even seem to be extraneous diversions from the plot. In some cases, the story within a story is involved in the action of the plot of the outer story. In others, the inner story is independent, so that it can either be skipped over or be read separately, although many subtle connections may be lost. Sometimes, the inner story serves as an outlet for discarded ideas that the author deemed to be of too much merit to leave out completely, something that is somewhat analogous to the inclusion of deleted scenes with DVD releases of films. Often, there is more than one level of internal stories, leading to deeply-nested fiction.

Contents

A foil usually either differs dramatically or is extremely similar but with a key difference setting them apart. The concept of a foil is also more widely applied to any comparison that is made to contrast a difference between two things. [7] Thomas F. Gieryn places these uses of literary foils into three categories, which Tamara A. P. Metze explains as: those that emphasize the heightened contrast (this is different because ...), those that operate by exclusion (this is not X because...), and those that assign blame ("due to the slow decision-making procedures of government..."). [8]

Thomas F. Gieryn is Rudy Professor of Sociology at Indiana University. He is also the Vice Provost of Faculty and Academic Affairs. In his research, he focuses on philosophy and sociology of science from a cultural, social, historical, and humanistic perspective. He is known for developing the concept of "boundary-work," that is, instances in which boundaries, demarcations, or other divisions between fields of knowledge are created, advocated, attacked, or reinforced. He has served on many councils and boards, including the Advisory Board of the exhibition on "Science in American Life" by the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.

Examples from literature

In Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights , Edgar Linton is described as opposite to main character Heathcliff, in looks, money, inheritance and morals, however similar in their love for Catherine.

Emily Brontë English novelist and poet

Emily Jane Brontë was an English novelist and poet who is best known for her only novel, Wuthering Heights, now considered a classic of English literature. Emily was the third-eldest of the four surviving Brontë siblings, between the youngest Anne and her brother Branwell. She published under the pen name Ellis Bell.

<i>Wuthering Heights</i> 1847 novel by Emily Brontë

Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë's only novel, was published in 1847 under the pseudonym "Ellis Bell". It was written between October 1845 and June 1846. Wuthering Heights and Anne Brontë's Agnes Grey were accepted by publisher Thomas Newby before the success of their sister Charlotte's novel Jane Eyre. After Emily's death, Charlotte edited the manuscript of Wuthering Heights and arranged for the edited version to be published as a posthumous second edition in 1850.

Heathcliff (<i>Wuthering Heights</i>) fictional character in the novel Wuthering Heights

Heathcliff is a fictional character in Emily Brontë's novel Wuthering Heights. Owing to the novel's enduring fame and popularity, he is often regarded as an archetype of the tortured anti hero whose all-consuming rage, jealousy and anger destroy both him and those around him.

In Frankenstein , by Mary Shelley, the two main characters—Dr. Frankenstein and his "creature"—are both together literary foils, functioning to compare one to the other.

<i>Frankenstein</i> 1818 novel by Mary Shelley

Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus is a novel written by English author Mary Shelley (1797–1851) that tells the story of Victor Frankenstein, a young scientist who creates a hideous, sapient creature in an unorthodox scientific experiment. Shelley started writing the story when she was 18, and the first edition of the novel was published anonymously in London on 1 January 1818, when she was 20. Her name first appeared on the second edition, published in 1823.

Mary Shelley English novelist, short story writer, dramatist, essayist, biographer, and travel writer

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley was an English novelist who wrote the Gothic novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818). She also edited and promoted the works of her husband, the Romantic poet and philosopher Percy Bysshe Shelley. Her father was the political philosopher William Godwin, and her mother was the philosopher and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft.

Victor Frankenstein character originally of Mary Shelleys 1818 novel Frankenstein

Victor Frankenstein is the main character in Mary Shelley's 1818 novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. He is an Italian-Swiss scientist who, after studying chemical processes and the decay of living beings, gains an insight into the creation of life and gives life to his own creature, often referred to as Frankenstein's monster, or often colloquially referred to as simply "Frankenstein". Victor later regrets meddling with nature through his creation, as he inadvertently endangers his own life, as well as the lives of his family and friends, when the creature seeks revenge against him. Some aspects of the character are believed to have been inspired by 17th century alchemist Johann Conrad Dippel.

In Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice , Mary's absorption in her studies places her as a foil to her sister Lydia Bennet's lively and distracted nature. [9]

Jane Austen English novelist

Jane Austen was an English novelist known primarily for her six major novels, which interpret, critique and comment upon the British landed gentry at the end of the 18th century. Austen's plots often explore the dependence of women on marriage in the pursuit of favourable social standing and economic security. Her works critique the novels of sensibility of the second half of the 18th century and are part of the transition to 19th-century literary realism. Her use of biting irony, along with her realism, humour, and social commentary, have long earned her acclaim among critics, scholars, and popular audiences alike.

<i>Pride and Prejudice</i> novel by Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice is an 1813 romantic novel by Jane Austen. It charts the emotional development of the protagonist Elizabeth Bennet, who learns the error of making hasty judgments and comes to appreciate the difference between the superficial and the essential. The comedy of the writing lies in the depiction of manners, education, marriage and money during the Regency era in Britain.

Similarly, in Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar , the character Brutus has foils in the two characters, Cassius and Mark Antony. [10] In the play Romeo and Juliet , Romeo and Mercutio serve as character foils for one another, as well as Macbeth and Banquo in his play Macbeth .

<i>Julius Caesar</i> (play) play by William Shakespeare

The Tragedy of Julius Caesar is a history play and tragedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written in 1599. It is one of several plays written by Shakespeare based on true events from Roman history, which also include Coriolanus and Antony and Cleopatra.

<i>Romeo and Juliet</i> tragedy by William Shakespeare

Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy written by William Shakespeare early in his career about two young star-crossed lovers whose deaths ultimately reconcile their feuding families. It was among Shakespeare's most popular plays during his lifetime and along with Hamlet, is one of his most frequently performed plays. Today, the title characters are regarded as archetypal young lovers.

Mercutio Shakespeare character

Mercutio is a fictional character in William Shakespeare's 1597 tragedy, Romeo and Juliet. He is a close friend to Romeo and a blood relative to Prince Escalus and Count Paris. As such, being neither a Montague nor a Capulet, Mercutio is one of the named characters in the play with the ability to mingle around those of both houses. The invitation to Capulet's party states that he has a brother named Valentine.

In William Shakespeare's tragedy Hamlet , a foil is created between Laertes and Prince Hamlet to elaborate the differences between the two men. [11] In Act V Scene 2, Prince Hamlet tells Laertes that he will fence with him and states, "I'll be your foil, Laertes" (5.2.272). [12] This word play reveals the foil between Hamlet and Laertes, that was developed throughout the play.

In the Harry Potter series, Draco Malfoy can be seen as a foil to the Harry Potter character; Professor Snape enables both characters "to experience the essential adventures of self-determination" [13] but they make different choices; Harry chooses to oppose Lord Voldemort and the Death Eaters, whereas Draco eventually joins them.

George and Lennie are foils to each other in John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men . Lennie is huge and strong as a bull but is also mentally slow, while on the other hand George is small, skinny and very smart.

See also

Related Research Articles

Banquo character in Macbeth

Lord Banquo, the Thane of Lochaber, is a character in William Shakespeare's 1606 play Macbeth. In the play, he is at first an ally to Macbeth and they meet the Three Witches together. After prophesising that Macbeth will become king, the witches tell Banquo that he will not be king himself, but that his descendants will be. Later, Macbeth in his lust for power sees Banquo as a threat and has him murdered by two hired assassins; Banquo's son, Fleance, escapes. Banquo's ghost returns in a later scene, causing Macbeth to react with alarm during a public feast.

<i>Hamlet</i> tragedy by William Shakespeare

The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, often shortened to Hamlet, is a tragedy written by William Shakespeare sometime between 1599 and 1602. Set in Denmark, the play depicts Prince Hamlet and his revenge against his uncle, Claudius, who has murdered Hamlet's father in order to seize his throne and marry Hamlet's mother.

<i>Macbeth</i> play by William Shakespeare

Macbeth is a tragedy by William Shakespeare; it is thought to have been first performed in 1606. It dramatises the damaging physical and psychological effects of political ambition on those who seek power for its own sake. Of all the plays that Shakespeare wrote during the reign of James I, who was patron of Shakespeare's acting company, Macbeth most clearly reflects the playwright's relationship with his sovereign. It was first published in the Folio of 1623, possibly from a prompt book, and is Shakespeare's shortest tragedy.

Draco Malfoy fictional character of the Harry Potter series

Draco Lucius Malfoy is a character in J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series. He is a student in Harry Potter's year belonging in the Slytherin house. He is frequently accompanied by his two cronies, Vincent Crabbe and Gregory Goyle, who act as henchmen. Draco is characterised as a cowardly bully who manipulates and hurts people to get what he wants; nevertheless, he is a cunning user of magic. He was played by Tom Felton in the Harry Potter film series.

<i>Hamlet</i> (1996 film) 1996 film by Kenneth Branagh

Hamlet is a 1996 film adaptation of William Shakespeare's play Hamlet, adapted and directed by Kenneth Branagh, who also stars as Prince Hamlet. The film also features Derek Jacobi as King Claudius, Julie Christie as Queen Gertrude, Kate Winslet as Ophelia, Michael Maloney as Laertes, Richard Briers as Polonius, and Nicholas Farrell as Horatio. Other cast members include Robin Williams, Gérard Depardieu, Jack Lemmon, Billy Crystal, Rufus Sewell, Charlton Heston, Richard Attenborough, Judi Dench, John Gielgud and Ken Dodd.

<i>Hamlet</i> (1990 film) 1990 film by Franco Zeffirelli

Hamlet is a 1990 drama film based on the Shakespearean tragedy of the same name, directed by Franco Zeffirelli and starring Mel Gibson as the eponymous character. The film also features Glenn Close, Alan Bates, Paul Scofield, Ian Holm, Helena Bonham Carter, Stephen Dillane, and Nathaniel Parker. An international co-production between the United States, the United Kingdom, and France, the film was the first produced by Icon Productions, a company co-founded by Gibson.

<i>Hamlet</i> (2000 film) 2000 film by Michael Almereyda

Hamlet, also known as Hamlet 2000, is a 2000 American drama film written and directed by Michael Almereyda, set in contemporary New York City, and based on the Shakespeare play of the same name. Ethan Hawke plays Hamlet as a film student, Kyle MacLachlan co-stars as Uncle Claudius, with Diane Venora as Gertrude, Liev Schreiber as Laertes, Julia Stiles as Ophelia, Steve Zahn as Rosencrantz, Bill Murray as Polonius, and Sam Shepard as Hamlet's father.

Polonius character in Hamlet

Polonius is a character in William Shakespeare's Hamlet. He is chief counsellor of the king, and the father of Laertes and Ophelia. Generally regarded as wrong in every judgment he makes over the course of the play, Polonius is described by William Hazlitt as a "sincere" father, but also "a busy-body, [who] is accordingly officious, garrulous, and impertinent". In Act II Hamlet refers to Polonius as a "tedious old fool" and taunts him as a latter day "Jeptha".

King Claudius character in "Hamlet"

King Claudius is a fictional character and the primary antagonist of William Shakespeare's tragedy Hamlet. He is the brother to King Hamlet, second husband to Gertrude and uncle and later stepfather to Prince Hamlet. He obtained the throne of Denmark by murdering his brother with poison and then marrying the late king's widow. He is loosely based on the Jutish chieftain Feng who appears in Chronicon Lethrense and in Saxo Grammaticus' Gesta Danorum. There had never been an actual Danish King of that name.

Wizard rock is a genre of rock music that developed between 2002 and 2004 in the United States. Wizard rock bands are characterized by their performances and humorous novelty songs about the Harry Potter universe. Wizard rock initially started in Massachusetts with Harry and the Potters, though it has grown internationally.

Poignard

A poniard or poignard (Fr.) is a long, lightweight thrusting knife with a continuously tapering, acutely pointed blade and crossguard, historically worn by the upper class, noblemen, or the knighthood. Similar in design to a parrying dagger, the poniard emerged during the Middle Ages and was used during the Renaissance in Western Europe, particularly in France, Switzerland, and Italy.

Shakespeares writing style

William Shakespeare's style of writing was borrowed from the conventions of the day and adapted to his needs.

Over fifty films of William Shakespeare's Hamlet have been made since 1900. Seven post-war Hamlet films have had a theatrical release: Laurence Olivier's Hamlet of 1948; Grigori Kozintsev's 1964 Russian adaptation; a film of the John Gielgud-directed 1964 Broadway production, Richard Burton's Hamlet, which played limited engagements that same year; Tony Richardson's 1969 version featuring Nicol Williamson as Hamlet and Anthony Hopkins as Claudius; Franco Zeffirelli's 1990 version starring Mel Gibson; Kenneth Branagh's full-text 1996 version; and Michael Almereyda's 2000 modernisation, starring Ethan Hawke.

Sources of <i>Hamlet</i>

The sources of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, a tragedy by William Shakespeare believed to have been written between 1599 and 1601, trace back as far as pre-13th century. The generic "hero-as-fool" story is so old and is expressed in the literature of so many cultures that scholars have hypothesized that it may be Indo-European in origin. A Scandinavian version of the story of Hamlet was put into writing around 1200 AD by Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus in his work Gesta Danorum. It is this work Shakespeare borrowed from to create Hamlet. Similar accounts are found in the Icelandic Saga of Hrolf Kraki and the Roman legend of Lucius Junius Brutus, both of which feature heroes who pretend to be insane in order to get revenge. A reasonably accurate version of Saxo's story was translated into French in 1570 by François de Belleforest in his Histoires Tragiques. Belleforest embellished Saxo's text substantially, almost doubling its length, and introduced the hero's melancholy.

Three Witches characters in Macbeth

The Three Witches, also known as the Weird Sisters or Wayward Sisters, are characters in William Shakespeare's play Macbeth. They hold a striking resemblance to the three Fates of classical mythology, and are, perhaps, intended as a twisted version of the white-robed incarnations of destiny. The witches eventually lead Macbeth to his demise. Their origin lies in Holinshed's Chronicles (1587), a history of England, Scotland and Ireland. Other possible sources, aside from Shakespeare's imagination, include British folklore, such contemporary treatises on witchcraft as King James VI of Scotland's Daemonologie, the Norns of Norse mythology, and ancient classical myths of the Fates: the Greek Moirai and the Roman Parcae. Productions of Macbeth began incorporating portions of Thomas Middleton's contemporaneous play The Witchcirca 1618, two years after Shakespeare's death.

Women in Shakespeare is a topic within the especially general discussion of Shakespeare's dramatic and poetic works. Main characters such as Dark Lady of the sonnets have elicited a substantial amount of criticism, which received added impetus during the second-wave feminism of the 1960s. A considerable number of book-length studies and academic articles investigate the topic, and several moons of Uranus are named after women in Shakespeare.

Ophelia character in Hamlet

Ophelia is a character in William Shakespeare's drama Hamlet. She is a young noblewoman of Denmark, the daughter of Polonius, sister of Laertes, and potential wife of Prince Hamlet.

<i>Hamlet</i> (1954 film) 1954 film by Kishore Sahu

Hamlet is a 1954 Hindi tragedy drama film, produced and directed by Kishore Sahu. The film was a free adaptation of Shakespeare's tragedy, with Sahu playing Hamlet as well as writing the screenplay, while the dialogues were by Amanat Hilal and B. D. Verma. It was produced under the "Hindustan Chitra" banner, a production company started by Sahu in 1944. It was Ramesh Naidu's debut film as a music composer. The film starred Mala Sinha, Kishore Sahu, Venus Banerji, Kamaljeet and Jankidas.

References

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  3. "Home : Oxford English Dictionary". Oed.com. Retrieved 18 February 2015.
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  7. "Define Foil at Dictionary.com". Original publisher, Collins World English Dictionary, reprinted at Dictionary.com. Retrieved 3 March 2013.
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