A foil is a character that contrasts with another character in order to highlight particular qualities of the other character. Chaucer uses a foil for numerous characters in The Canterbury Tales. Although a foil is mainly used to show important qualities in the protagonist of the story, Chaucer employs it to both bring his characters together and set them apart. Two characters that Chaucer compares and contrasts using this technique are the Knight and the Sea Captain, or Skipper. He depicts them as similar because of their occupations, but ultimately proves them to be two completely different people when he describes their behavior.
Physically the two characters appear extremely different. The knight is dressed in a fustian tunic, “Stained and dark with smudges where his armour had left mark” (Chaucer 5). Although he is a distinguished man, he dresses humbly and does not give the appearance of arrogance. It is also apparent that he carries a sword, which would match his profession as a knight because he is able to fight. The Sea Captain’s attire matches his occupation. He wears a “Woollen gown that [reaches] his knee” (Chaucer 15); he is tan and has a large beard. He carries a dagger, implying that he knows how to fight and defend himself like the Knight.
Considering their occupations, one can find many similarities. They are both very proficient at their jobs. The Sea Captain is described as having no competition: “None from Hull to Carthage was his match” (Chaucer 16). He is experienced and knows the seas better than any captain. He is known for his skill at commanding his ship, the Maudelayne. He frequently travels the sea. Similarly, the knight is a traveler, except on land. He is an experienced fighter, as he has been in many battles. He was present at the battle where Alexandria was taken in 1365 by the King of Cyprus. “In fifteen mortal battles he had been” (Chaucer 5).