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The title role in the performing arts is the performance part that gives the title to the piece, as in Aida, Giselle, Michael Collins, or Othello. The actor, singer, or dancer who performs that part is also said to have the title role.
The performer playing the title role is not always the lead and the title role may or may not be the protagonist. In the television miniseries Shogun, for example, Toshirō Mifune had the title role, but the lead was played by Richard Chamberlain. In the James Bond film and novel The Man with the Golden Gun, the title character is the primary antagonist. The title role and the lead can be different genders; for example, in the 2003 revival of August Wilson's Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Whoopi Goldberg had the title role, but the lead was Charles S. Dutton.
The title character in fiction is a character who is named or referred to in the title, such as The Doctor in the TV series Doctor Who, Harry Potter in the series of novels and films, Romeo and Juliet in the Shakespeare play or Annie Oakley in the musical Annie Get Your Gun
Although the term title character is only used in fiction or Semi fiction, the character itself need not be fictional, such as Erin Brockovich in the film of that name or Thomas More in the play A Man for All Seasons by Robert Bolt.
The title character need not be named in the title, but may be referred to, such as Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit, Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland., or Doctor Griffin in The Invisible Man. A title character may only be indirectly described in the title, as in An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde, where the 'ideal husband' (the title role) is the apparently perfect Sir Robert Chiltern.
The title character need not be the subject of the whole title in a strict grammatical sense: Uncle Tom is the title character of Uncle Tom's Cabin and Lee Marvin is often attributed with playing the title character in the film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance as his character (Liberty Valance) is named in the title, even though the subject of the title is the person who shot him.
A title character may be the main antagonist, for example, Sauron in The Lord of the Rings or Bram Stoker's Dracula. In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz the wizard is the title character but Dorothy Gale is the main character. In the video game The Legend of Zelda, the title character, Princess Zelda, is the damsel in distress, but the protagonist is Link. The title character may be unseen, for example Godot in Waiting for Godot or Jason Bourne in the 2012 film The Bourne Legacy.
The phrase "title character" can be replaced with a more descriptive one, identifying what type of character it is. For example, the title character of Dracula can be referred to as "the titular vampire", or the title character of Hamlet can be called "the titular prince of Denmark".
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