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A protagonist (from grc, πρωταγωνιστής, translit=prōtagōnistḗs, lit=one who plays the first part, chief actor) is the main character of a story. The protagonist makes key decisions that affect the plot, primarily influencing the story and propelling it forward and is often the character who faces the most significant obstacles. If a story contains a
subplot In fiction Fiction generally is a narrative form, in any media (communication), medium, consisting of people, events, or places that are imagination, imaginary—in other words, not based strictly on history or fact.William Harmon and C. Hugh Holm ...
, or is a narrative made up of several stories, then each subplot may have its own protagonist. The protagonist is the character whose fate is most closely followed by the reader or audience, and who is opposed by the
antagonist An antagonist is a character in a story who is presented as the chief foe of the protagonist 200px, William Shakespeare, Shakespeare's ''Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.'' William Morris Hunt, oil on canvas, c. 1864 A protagonist (from grc, πρω ...
. The antagonist will provide obstacles and complications and create conflicts that test the protagonist, and revealing the strengths and weaknesses of the protagonist's character.


Etymology

The term ''protagonist'' comes from
Ancient Greek Ancient Greek includes the forms of the Greek language Greek ( el, label=Modern Greek Modern Greek (, , or , ''Kiní Neoellinikí Glóssa''), generally referred to by speakers simply as Greek (, ), refers collectively to the diale ...
(, 'actor who plays the chief or first part'), combined of , 'first') and (, 'actor, competitor'), which stems from (, 'contest') via (, 'I contend for a prize').


Ancient Greece

The earliest known examples of a protagonist are found in
Ancient Greece Ancient Greece ( el, Ἑλλάς, Hellás) was a civilization belonging to a period of History of Greece, Greek history from the Greek Dark Ages of the 12th–9th centuries BC to the end of Classical Antiquity, antiquity ( AD 600). This era wa ...
. At first, dramatic performances involved merely dancing and recitation by the chorus. Then in ''
Poetics Poetics is the theory of literary forms and literary discourse Discourse is a generalization of the notion of a conversation Conversation is interactive communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share") is the ...
'',
Aristotle Aristotle (; grc-gre, Ἀριστοτέλης ''Aristotélēs'', ; 384–322 BC) was a Greek philosopher A philosopher is someone who practices philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questio ...

Aristotle
describes how a poet named
Thespis Thespis (; grc-gre, Θέσπις; fl. 6th century BC) was an Ancient Greek Ancient Greek includes the forms of the Greek language Greek ( el, label=Modern Greek Modern Greek (, , or , ''Kiní Neoellinikí Glóssa''), generall ...
introduced the idea of one actor stepping out and engaging in a dialogue with the chorus. This was the invention of tragedy, and occurred about 536 B.C. Then the poet
Aeschylus Aeschylus (, ; grc-gre, Αἰσχύλος ''Aiskhylos'', ; c. 525/524 – c. 456/455 BC) was an ancient Greek Ancient Greek includes the forms of the Greek language Greek ( el, label=Modern Greek Modern Greek (, , or , ''Kin ...
, in his plays, introduced a second actor, inventing the idea of dialogue between two characters.
Sophocles Sophocles (; grc, Σοφοκλῆς, ; 497/6 – winter 406/5 BC)Sommerstein (2002), p. 41. is one of three ancient Greek Ancient Greek includes the forms of the Greek language Greek ( el, label=Modern Greek Modern Greek (, , ...

Sophocles
then wrote plays that included a third actor. A description of the protagonist's origin cited that during the early period of Greek drama, the protagonist served as the author, the director, and the actor and that these roles were only separated and allocated to different individuals later. There is also a claim that the poet did not assign or create the protagonist as well as other terms for actors such as ''deuteragonist'' and ''tritagonist'' primarily because he only gave actors their appropriate part. However, these actors were assigned their specific areas at the stage with the protagonist always entering from the middle door or that the dwelling of the ''
deuteragonist In literature Literature broadly is any collection of Writing, written work, but it is also used more narrowly for writings specifically considered to be an art form, especially prose fiction, drama, and poetry. In recent centuries, the definit ...
'' (second most important character) should be on the right hand, and the ''
tritagonist In literature Literature broadly is any collection of Writing, written work, but it is also used more narrowly for writings specifically considered to be an art form, especially prose fiction, drama, and poetry. In recent centuries, the defini ...
'' (third most important character), the left. In Ancient Greece, the protagonist is distinguished from the term "hero", which was used to refer to a human who became a semi-divine being in the narrative.


Types


Hero/Heroine

In literary terms, a hero (masculine) or heroine (feminine) protagonist is typically admired for their achievements and noble qualities. Heroes are lauded for their strength, courage, virtuousness, and honor, and are considered to be the "good guys" of the narrative. Examples include DC Comics'
Superman Superman is a superhero A superhero or superheroine is a stock character that possesses Superpower (ability), ''superpowers'', abilities beyond those of ordinary people, and fits the role of the hero, typically using his or her powers t ...

Superman
(hero) and
Katniss Everdeen Katniss Everdeen is a Character (arts), fictional character and the protagonist of ''The Hunger Games trilogy, The Hunger Games'' trilogy written by American author Suzanne Collins. Her name comes from a plant with edible tubers called ''Sagittar ...
from ''
The Hunger Games ''The Hunger Games'' is a series of young adult dystopian File:Die Dekonstruktinsmaschine.jpg, 275px, Landscape painting with dystopian atmosphereThe deconstruction machine, 2005Acrylic on canvas, 50 × 300 cmLocation: :de:Aargauer ...
'' (heroine).


Antihero

An antihero (sometimes spelled as anti-hero) or antiheroine is a main character in a story who lacks conventional heroic qualities and attributes such as idealism, courage, and morality. Examples include
Holden Caulfield Holden Morrisey Caulfield is a fictional character in author J. D. Salinger's 1951 novel ''The Catcher in the Rye''. Since the book's publication, Holden has become an icon for teenage rebellion and angst, and is considered among the most import ...
from ''
The Catcher in the Rye ''The Catcher in the Rye'' is a novel by J. D. Salinger, partially published in serial form in 1945–1946 and as a novel in 1951. It was originally intended for adults but is often read by adolescents for its themes of angst, alienation, and ...
'' and Amy Elliott Dunne from '' Gone Girl''.


Tragic hero

A tragic hero is the protagonist of a tragedy. Examples include
Oedipus Oedipus (, ; grc-gre, Οἰδίπους "swollen foot") was a mythical Greek king of Thebes. A tragic hero #REDIRECT Tragic hero#REDIRECT Tragic hero A tragic hero is the protagonist 200px, Shakespeare's '' Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.'' ...

Oedipus
from ''
Oedipus Rex ''Oedipus Rex'', also known by its Greek title, ''Oedipus Tyrannus'' ( grc, Οἰδίπους Τύραννος, ), or ''Oedipus the King'', is an Athenian , image_skyline = File:Athens Montage L.png, center, 275px, alt ...
'' and
Prince Hamlet Prince Hamlet is the title role The title character in a Narrative, narrative work is one who is named or referred to in the title of the work. In a performed work such as a play or film, the performer who plays the title character is said to h ...
from Shakespeare's ''
Hamlet ''The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark'', often shortened to ''Hamlet'' (), is a tragedy written by William Shakespeare William Shakespeare (baptism, bapt. 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English playwright, poet and acto ...

Hamlet
''.


Villain protagonist

The protagonist is not always conventionally good. Contrasting the hero protagonist, a villain protagonist is a protagonist who is a villain, driving the story forward regardless of the evil qualities the main character has. These traits can include being cruel, malicious, and wicked. Examples include Humbert Humbert in Vladimir Nabokov's ''
Lolita ''Lolita'' is a 1955 novel written by Russian American, Russian-American novelist Vladimir Nabokov. The novel is notable for its controversial subject: the protagonist and unreliable narrator, a French middle-aged literature professor under the ...
'' and Richard III in
William Shakespeare's William Shakespeare (bapt. 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English playwright, poet, and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and one of the world's greatest dramatists. He is often called England' ...

William Shakespeare's
eponymous play.


Supporting protagonist

When a supporting protagonist appears, the story is told from the perspective of a character who appears to be minor. This character may be more peripheral from the events of the story and are not as involved within the "main action" of the plot. The supporting protagonist may be telling the story while viewing another character as the main influence of the plot. Examples include Nick from ''
The Great Gatsby ''The Great Gatsby'' is a 1925 novel by American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald. Set in the Jazz Age on Long Island Long Island is a densely populated island in the southeast part of the U.S. state of New York, in the northeastern United ...
'' and
Bilbo Baggins Bilbo Baggins is the title character and protagonist of J. R. R. Tolkien's 1937 novel ''The Hobbit'', a supporting character in ''The Lord of the Rings'', and the fictional narrator of all Tolkien's Middle-earth writings. The Hobbit is sel ...
from ''
The Hobbit ''The Hobbit, or There and Back Again'' is a Juvenile fantasy, children's fantasy novel by English author J. R. R. Tolkien. It was published in 1937 to wide critical acclaim, being nominated for the Carnegie Medal (literary award), Carnegie ...
''.


Further examples

Euripides Euripides (; grc, Εὐριπίδης ''Eurīpídēs'', ; ) was a tragedian Tragedy (from the grc-gre, τραγῳδία, ''tragōidia'', ''tragōidia'') is a form of drama based on human suffering and, mainly, the terrible or sorrowfu ...

Euripides
' play '' Hippolytus'' may be considered to have two protagonists, though one at a time. Phaedra is the protagonist of the first half, who dies partway through the play. Her stepson, the titular Hippolytus, assumes the dominant role in the second half of the play. In
Henrik Ibsen Henrik Johan Ibsen (; ; 20 March 1828 – 23 May 1906) was a Norwegian playwright and theatre director. As one of the founders of modernism Modernism is both a philosophical movement A philosophical movement refers to the phenomenon de ...

Henrik Ibsen
's play ''
The Master Builder ''The Master Builder'' ( no, Bygmester Solness) is a play by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen Henrik Johan Ibsen (; ; 20 March 1828 – 23 May 1906) was a Norwegian playwright and theatre director. As one of the founders of in theatre, I ...
'', the protagonist is the architect Halvard Solness. The young woman, Hilda Wangel, whose actions lead to the death of Solness, is the antagonist. In Shakespeare's play ''
Romeo and Juliet ''Romeo and Juliet'' is a tragedy Tragedy (from the grc-gre, τραγῳδία, ''tragōidia'', ''tragōidia'') is a genre of drama Drama is the specific Mode (literature), mode of fiction Mimesis, represented in performanc ...

Romeo and Juliet
'', Romeo is the protagonist. He is actively in pursuit of his relationship with Juliet, and the audience is invested in that story. Tybalt, as an antagonist, opposes Romeo and attempts to thwart the relationship. In Shakespeare's play ''
Hamlet ''The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark'', often shortened to ''Hamlet'' (), is a tragedy written by William Shakespeare William Shakespeare (baptism, bapt. 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English playwright, poet and acto ...

Hamlet
'', Prince Hamlet, who seeks revenge for the murder of his father, is the protagonist. The antagonist is the character who most opposes Hamlet, Claudius (though, in many ways, Hamlet is his own antagonist). Sometimes, a work will have a
false protagonistIn fiction Fiction generally is a narrative form, in any media (communication), medium, consisting of people, events, or places that are imagination, imaginary—in other words, not based strictly on history or fact.William Harmon and C. Hugh Holma ...
, who may seem to be the protagonist, but then may disappear unexpectedly. The character Marion in
Alfred Hitchcock Sir Alfred Joseph Hitchcock (13 August 1899 – 29 April 1980) was an English film director, producer, and screenwriter. He is one of the most influential and widely studied filmmakers in the history of cinema. Known as the "Master of S ...
's film '' Psycho'' (1960) is an example. A novel may contain a number of narratives, each with its own protagonist.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn. (11 December 1918 – 3 August 2008) was a Russian novelist, philosopher, historian, short story writer and political prisoner. One of the most famous Soviet dissidents, Solzhenitsyn was an outspoken critic of ...
's ''
The First Circle ''In the First Circle'' (russian: link=no, В кру́ге пе́рвом, ''V kruge pervom''; also published as ''The First Circle'') is a novel by Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, released in 1968. A more complete version of the book was ...

The First Circle
'', for example, depicts a variety of characters imprisoned and living in a
gulag The Gulag, GULAG, or GULag (russian: ГУЛАГ, ГУЛаг, an acronym An acronym is a word In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication used by h ...

gulag
camp.
Leo Tolstoy Count Lev Nikolayevich TolstoyTolstoy pronounced his first name as , which corresponds to the romanization ''Lyov''. () (; russian: link=no, Лев Николаевич Толстой,In Tolstoy's day, his name was written as in pre-reform ...

Leo Tolstoy
's ''
War and Peace ''War and Peace'' (russian: Война и мир, translit=Voyna i mir; Reforms of Russian orthography, pre-reform Russian: ; ) is a literary work mixed with chapters on history and philosophy by the Russian author Leo Tolstoy, first published se ...

War and Peace
'' depicts fifteen major characters involved in or affected by a war. Though many people equate protagonists with the term
hero File:Wilhelm Tell Denkmal Altdorf um 1900.jpeg, upWilliam Tell, a popular folk hero of Switzerland. A hero (heroine in its feminine form) is a real person or a main fictional character who, in the face of danger, combats adversity through f ...
and possessing heroic qualities, it is not necessary, as even villainous characters can be protagonists. Examples include
Michael Corleone Michael Corleone is a fictional character In fiction, a character (sometimes known as a fictional character) is a person or other being in a narrative (such as a novel, Play (theatre), play, television series, film, or video game). The character m ...
from ''
The Godfather ''The Godfather'' is a 1972 American Epic film, epic crime film directed by Francis Ford Coppola, who co-wrote the screenplay with Mario Puzo, based on Puzo's best-selling 1969 The Godfather (novel), novel of the same name. The film stars Marl ...
'' (1972–1990) film series (1978–1983),
Tony Montana Antonio "Tony" Montana is a fictional character In fiction, a character (sometimes known as a fictional character) is a person or other being in a narrative (such as a novel, Play (theatre), play, television series, film, or video game). The char ...
from '' Scarface'' (1983),
Light Yagami is the main protagonist 200px, Shakespeare's '' Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.'' William Morris Hunt, oil on canvas, c. 1864 A protagonist () is the main character of a story. The protagonist is at the center of the story, makes the key decisions ...

Light Yagami
from the ''
Death Note ''Death Note'' is a Japanese manga Manga (Japanese: 漫画 ) are comics a Media (communication), medium used to express ideas with images, often combined with text or other visual information. It typically the form of ...
''
manga Manga (Japanese Japanese may refer to: * Something from or related to Japan , image_flag = Flag of Japan.svg , alt_flag = Centered deep red circle on a white rectangle , image_coat ...

manga
series, Gabriel Belmont from Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, Patrick Bateman from ''
American Psycho ''American Psycho'' is a novel by Bret Easton Ellis, published in 1991. The story is told in the first person by Patrick Bateman, a serial killer A serial killer is typically a person who murders three or more people,A serial killer is most ...
'' (2000),
Anakin Skywalker Darth Vader is a fictional character in the ''Star Wars'' franchise. The character is the primary antagonist in the Star Wars Trilogy, original trilogy and, as Anakin Skywalker, is a primary protagonist in the Star Wars prequel trilogy, prequel ...

Anakin Skywalker
from '' Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith'' (2005),
Dexter Morgan {{More citations needed, date=August 2016 {{Infobox character , color = lavender , name = Dexter Morgan , series = Dexter , image = Dexter Morgan.jpg , image_size = 200px , caption = Michael C. Hall as Dexter Mo ...
from the TV series ''Dexter'', and
Arthur Fleck/Joker Arthur is a very common Welsh language, Welsh masculine given name. Its etymology is disputed, but its popularity derives from it being the name of the legendary hero King Arthur. Diminutive forms of the name include Art and Artie. A common spell ...
from
Joker Joker, The Joker or The Jokers may refer to: * Joker (playing card) * Jester, a person employed to tell jokes and provide entertainment Fictional characters Print * Joker (character), a DC comics character ** The Joker (comic book), ''The Joker'' ...
(2019). In some cases, the protagonist is not a human: in
Richard Adams Richard George Adams (9 May 1920 – 24 December 2016) was an English novelist and writer of the books ''Watership Down'', ''Maia (novel), Maia'', ''Shardik'' and ''The Plague Dogs''. He studied modern history at university before serving in th ...
' novel ''
Watership Down ''Watership Down'' is an adventure novel by English author Richard Adams, published by Rex Collings Ltd of London in 1972. Set in southern England, around Hampshire, the story features a small group of rabbits. Although they live in their ...

Watership Down
,'' a group of
anthropomorphised Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human traits, emotions, or intentions to non-human entities. It is considered to be an innate tendency of human psychology. Personification is the related attribution of human form and characteristics to ...
rabbits, led by the protagonist Hazel, escape their warren after seeing a vision of its destruction, starting a perilous journey to find a new home.Adams, Richard, 1920–2016. Watership Down. London: Rex Collings Ltd, 1972. Print.


References

{{Authority control
Ancient Greek theatre {{Cat main, Ancient Greek theatre Ancient Greek leisure, Theatre History of theatre Theatre in Greece Arts in ancient Greece, Theatre Religion and the arts Plays by date Culture in Classical Athens Ancient inventions ...
Psychodrama