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Taming Assignment #5: Pick-your-favorite-foil!

One definition of a “foil” is:  A thin layer of polished metal placed under a displayed gem to lend it brilliance.   It is, in fact, this definition that applies to “foils” in literature.  In literature, a “foil” is a minor character (or minor characters) who is very similar to a main character, but differs in important ways in order to show off the traits and function of the main character.  For example, in Hamlet, there were two foils for Prince Hamlet.  They were Fortinbras and Laertes.  All three characters were young, privileged men whose fathers had recently died through some sort of foul play.  All three characters seek revenge, however, while Fortinbras and Laertes, for example, took action almost immediately, Hamlet stalled and stalled and stalled (and stalled some more).  The impulsiveness of Fortinbras and Laertes is meant to highlight Hamlet’s indecision and thoughfulness.

The Taming of the Shrew uses foils as well.  Here are some to consider once you’ve completed your character bookmarks:

  • Lucentio and Petruchio

  • Hortensio and Petruchio

  • Bianca and Kate

  • Sly/Lord and Kate/Petruchio*

  • Bianca/Lucentio and Kate/Petruchio*

  • Widow/Hortensio and Kate/Petruchio*

*For these, focus on the relationship aspect… i.e., How does the relationship between Sly and the Lord compare to the relationship between Kate and Petruchio?


The assignment:   Pick ONE of the foil pairs above and write a discussion of how the foils work in the play.  Push yourself to talk about function.  What is it that the foil characters (the minor characters) do for Shakespeare in this play?  Write about a page.