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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 actor playing the title role is not always the lead; 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. It can be even more complicated when the title role and the lead are in different genders; for example, in the recent revival of August Wilson's Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Whoopi Goldberg had the title role, but the lead was Charles S. Dutton.
The character in fiction is the fictional character whose name is contained in the title, as in Marjorie Morningstar, by Herman Wouk, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain, Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling, Kim Possible, by Mark McCorkle & Bob Schooley, Michael Clayton, by Tony Gilroy, Sailor Moon by Naoko Takeuchi and Dracula, by Bram Stoker. The title character need not be directly named in the title, but may be the fictional character that the title refers to, such as Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit or Simba in Disney's The Lion King. 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) may be the apparently perfect Sir Robert Chiltern, or it may be the enigmatic Lord Goring, supposedly a confirmed bachelor. Wilde's deliberately ambiguous title creates dramatic irony in this case, as it is difficult to say which character has the title role.
Title characters are distinguished from real people, living or dead, as a fictional character is a construct of fiction. For example, US President John F. Kennedy is not the title character of a biography entitled John F. Kennedy, as he was a real person. In Oliver Stone's fictional film JFK, Kennedy is a MacGuffin rather than a title character.
Like title roles in film and theater, the title character need not be the protagonist. In The Lord of the Rings, for instance, Sauron, the title character, is the primary antagonist; in Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein, the title character is Valentine Michael Smith but the character accepted as being the main character in that novel is Jubal Harshaw. In The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gatsby is a major character, but his story is told by narrator and protagonist Nick Carraway. Another example is the classic tale The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Although Oz the Wizard is the title character, Dorothy Gale is the main character. Other examples include Beetlejuice, where the title character is the antagonist and the 1999 film The Mummy where the title character is the main antagonist, Imhotep. This concept also applies to video games. Perhaps the most well-known example in games is The Legend of Zelda, in which the title character, Princess Zelda, is the damsel in distress, but the protagonist is Link. Another known example is the Duke Nukem franchise in which the title character Duke Nukem, is the protagonist.