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A protagonist [from Ancient Greek πρωταγωνιστής (protagonistes), meaning 'is player of the first part.(chief actor)']  In modern usage, a protagonist is the main character of any story (in any medium, including prose, poetry, film, opera and so on).
The protagonist is at the center of the story, makes the key decisions, and experiences the consequences of those decisions. The protagonist affects the main characters' circumstances as well, as they are often the primary agent propelling the story forward. They are often the character who faces the most obstacles and normally the one who the audience sees the most of. If a story contains a subplot, or is a narrative made up of several stories, then each subplot may have its own protagonist.
More formally, the protagonist, while still defined as a leading character, may also be defined as the character whose fate is most closely followed by the reader or audience, and who is opposed by the antagonist. The antagonist will provide obstacles and complications and create conflict that test the protagonist, thus revealing the strengths and weaknesses of their character.
The earliest known examples of protagonist are dated back to Ancient Greece. At first dramatic performances involved merely dancing and recitation by the chorus. But then in Poetics, Aristotle describes how a poet named Thespis introduced the idea of having one actor step out and engage in a dialogue with the chorus. This invention of tragedy occurred about 536 B.C. Then the poet Aeschylus, in his plays, introduced a second actor, inventing the idea of dialogue between two characters. Sophocles then wrote plays that required a third actor.
Euripides' play Hippolytus may be considered to have two protagonists. 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 Shakespeare’s play 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.
Sometimes, a work will have a false protagonist, who may seem to be the protagonist, but then may disappear unexpectedly. The character Marion in Alfred Hitchcock's film Psycho (1960) is an example.
A novel that contains a number of narratives may have a number of protagonists. Alexander Solzhenitsyn's The First Circle, for example, depicts a variety of characters imprisoned and living in a gulag camp. Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace, depicts fifteen major characters involved in or affected by a war.
In more contemporary times, protagonists can also be primarily female: Little Women boasts a cast of over five diverse females struggling with the inevitability of the crossing between childhood and womenhood.
In Charlotte Brontë's novel Jane Eyre, Jane's spiritual and emotional growth captivate the social criticism of its day, exploring heavy subjects such as classism, sexuality, religion, and proto-feminism during the early 1800s.
In some cases, the protagonist is not a human: in Richard Adams' novel Watership Down, a group of anthropomorphised 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.
- πρωταγωνιστής, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus Digital Library.
- "protagonist". Dictionary.com, Random House. Retrieved November 17, 2017.
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