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This article is about the literary term. For the pharmacological term, see receptor antagonist. For other uses, see Antagonist (disambiguation).

An antagonist (from Greek ἀνταγωνιστής - antagonistēs , "opponent, competitor, enemy, rival", from anti- "against" + agonizesthai "to contend for a prize,")[1] is a character, group of characters, institution, or concept that stands in, or represents, opposition against which the protagonist(s) must contend. In other words, an antagonist is a person or a group of people who oppose the main character(s).[2]

In the classic style of stories where in the action consists of a hero fighting a villain/enemy, the two can be regarded as protagonist and antagonist, respectively. Of course, some narratives cast the villain in the protagonist role, with the opposing hero as the antagonist.[3]

The antagonists may also represent a major threat or obstacle to the main character by their very existence, without necessarily deliberately targeting him or her.

Examples in both film and theatre include Sauron, the main antagonist in The Lord of the Rings, who constantly battles the series' protagonists, and Tybalt, an antagonist in Romeo and Juliet, who slays Mercutio and whose later death results in the exiling of one of the play's protagonists, Romeo. A convention of the antagonist in a story is that their moral choices are less savoury than those of the protagonist. This is often used by an author to create conflict within a story. However, this is merely a convention and the reversal of this can be seen in the character Macduff from Macbeth, who is arguably morally correct in his desire to fight the tyrant Macbeth.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Antagonist". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 28 November 2010. 
  2. ^, Literature: Contemporary "Antagonist." Online. October 18, 2007.
  3. ^ The antagonist may not always be a person or persons. In some cases an antagonist may be a force, such as a tidal wave that destroyed a city, or a storm that is causing havoc, or even the conditions in a certain area that are causing a problem. An antagonist also may or may not create obstacles for the protagonist. See "The Elements of Literature".