How are Benvolio and Mercutio dramatic foils for Romeo?

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In literature, a dramatic foil is a character who either has major contradictions or similarities when compared to the main character in either character traits or circumstance. The purpose of a foil is to highlight the main character's traits or circumstances so that the reader can better understand the main...

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In literature, a dramatic foil is a character who either has major contradictions or similarities when compared to the main character in either character traits or circumstance. The purpose of a foil is to highlight the main character's traits or circumstances so that the reader can better understand the main character.

In Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, both Mercutio and Benvolio are character foils for Romeo. Romeo and Mercutio are opposites. Mercutio is really a skeptic and doubts many things, while Romeo is a romantic and is very serious. Mercutio often pokes fun at his friend and is light-hearted, while Romeo is easily upset.

Benvolio and Romeo are also opposites in the fact that Benvolio is much more level-headed about love and often looks out for his cousin, Romeo, by telling him that there are many women to love. He also makes sure that his cousin is safe and is frequently telling Romeo's parents about his whereabouts. Benvolio is a foil because his level-headedness in contrast Romeo's self-absorbedness.

Shakespeare uses a many foils in his plays, not just Romeo and Juliet. Another example is that of Hamlet and Laertes in the play Hamlet.

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A foil character is one with opposite traits from a main character. A very careful and cautious character, for example, might be a foil to an impulsive, happy-go-lucky lead, warning him against jumping into trouble.

In Romeo and Juliet, Romeo is in love with love. At the opening of the play, he moons around heartsick over his unrequited love for Rosaline, and later he very quickly falls head over heels into love with Juliet. 

The quick-witted, mercurial Mercutio acts as foil to Romeo by being as cynical about romantic love as Romeo is enamored of it. Mercutio scoffs at true love, advising Romeo not to let it control him. He tells Romeo in Act I, scene 4 that if love is rough with you, you should be rough to love and "beat it down." In Act II, he mocks Rosaline's "bright eyes" and "scarlet lips," and in the story of Queen Mab as they walk to the party at the Capulets', he frames love as lust. 

Likewise, Benvolio is as level-headed and concerned for others as Romeo is the drooping and self-absorbed lovebird. He basically tells Romeo that there are a lot of beautiful women in Verona and urges Romeo to look around and find someone else since Rosaline won't respond. Unfortunately, the replacement Romeo chooses embroils him in a whole host of more tragic problems than mere unrequited love.

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Romeo is the ultimate "head in the clouds" lover.  He moons over Rosaline, then he completely loses it over Juliet.  He is the incurable romantic.

Benvolio is the voice of reason.  He's the one who tries to remind Romeo that there are other fish in the sea when Romeo is depressed over Rosaline.  He's also the one who tries to calm down violent situations, like the fights between the Capulets and the Montagues.

Mercutio is the hot-blooded cynic toward romance.  He uses bawdier (sexual) humor in discussing females, almost as if that is his only use for women.  He is markedly different from Romeo, who has a romantic ideal in his head concerning love.

Check the links below for information about these characters!  Good luck!

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