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A protagonist (from the Greek πρωταγωνιστής protagonistes, "one who plays the first part, chief actor"[1]) is the main character (the central or primary personal figure) of a literary, theatrical, cinematic, video game, or musical narrative, around whom the events of the narrative's plot revolve and with whom the audience is intended to share the most empathy. In the theatre of Ancient Greece, three actors played all of the main dramatic roles in a tragedy; the leading role was played by the protagonist, while the other roles were played by deuteragonist and the tritagonist.

The terms protagonist, main character and hero are variously defined and, depending on the source, may denote different concepts. In fiction, the story of the protagonist may be told from the perspective of a different character (who may also, but not necessarily, be the narrator). An example would be a narrator who relates the fate of several protagonists, perhaps as prominent figures recalled in a biographical perspective. Often, the protagonist in a narrative is also the same person as the focal character, though the two terms are distinct. Excitement and intrigue alone is what the audience feels toward a focal character, while a sense of empathy about his/her objectives and emotions is what the audience feels toward the protagonist. He/she is often referred to as the "good guy." However, it is entirely possible for a story's protagonist to clearly be the villain of the piece, as is evident with characters like Vic Mackey (from The Shield) and Tony Soprano (The Sopranos).

The principal opponent of the protagonist is a character known as the antagonist, who represents or creates obstacles that the protagonist(s) must overcome. As with protagonists, there may be more than one antagonist in a story. Also the antagonist can sometimes actually be the hero, such as The Shield's Internal Affairs officers, and FBI agents and police officers from The Sopranos.

Sometimes, a work will offer a particular character as the protagonist, only to dispose of that character unexpectedly, as a dramatic device. Such a character is called a false protagonist. Marion in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) is a famous example.

When the work contains subplots, these may have different protagonists from the main plot. In some novels, the protagonists may be impossible to identify, because multiple plots in the novel do not permit clear identification of one as the main plot, such as in Alexander Solzhenitsyn's The First Circle, depicting a variety of characters imprisoned and living in a gulag camp, or in Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace, depicting 15 major characters involved in or affected by a war.

In psychodrama, the "protagonist" is the person (group member, patient or client) who decides to enact some significant aspect of his life, experiences or relationships on stage with the help of the psychodrama director and other group members, taking supplementary roles as auxiliary egos.

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