Protagonist

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Shakespeare's Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. William Morris Hunt, oil on canvas, circa 1864

A protagonist (from Ancient Greek πρωταγωνιστής (protagonistes), meaning 'player of the first part, (chief actor') is the main character in any story, such as a literary work or drama.[1]

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 actor propelling the story forward. If a story contains a subplot, or is a narrative made up of several stories, then the character who is interpreted as the protagonist of each subplot or individual story.[2]

The word protagonist is used notably in stories and forms of literature and culture that contain stories, which would include dramas, novels, operas and films; in those forms the protagonist may simply be the leading actor, or the principal character in the story. 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.[3]

Ancient Greece[edit]

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.[4] 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.[5][6][7][8]

Examples[edit]

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.[9]

In Ibsen’s play The Master Builder, the protagonist is the architect Halvard Solness, the young woman, Hilda Wangel, whose actions lead to the death of Solness, is the antagonist.[10]

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.[11]

In Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, Prince Hamlet, who seeks revenge for the murder of his father, is the protagonist, the antagonist would be the character who most opposes Hamlet, Claudius.[12]

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.[13]

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.[14] Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace, depicts fifteen major characters involved in or affected by a war.[15]

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.[16]

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 classismsexualityreligion, and proto-feminism during the early 1800s.[17]

Sometimes the protagonist will not even be 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.[18]

The protagonists mentioned in these examples are mainly men, the one example in the play The Master Builder, a woman in the first half of the play takes on the role of the protagonist, then her step-son takes over the other half. This relates to the assumptions that women cannot sustain a role of a protagonist because of the existing equality gap between men and women especially today, this relates to the structure in Rositters "women's work"[19] which portrays the gender gap between men and women in science. Also this relates to the structure in Wikipedia’s gender gap issue that exposes the importance for men to keep their dominant role instead of having women take on that role.

References[edit]

  1. ^ πρωταγωνιστής, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus Digital Library.
  2. ^ Duncan, Stephen. A Guide to Screenwriting Success: Writing for Film and Television. Rowman & Littlefield (2006) ISBN 9780742553019
  3. ^ Online Etymology Dictionary
  4. ^ Müller, K.O. History of the literature of Ancient Greece. [Library of Useful Knowledge.] Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. London (1840) page 306
  5. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica online
  6. ^ Aristotle. Poetics. Oxford University Press (January 20, 2013) ISBN 978-0199608362
  7. ^ Packard, William. The Art of the Playwright. Thunder’s Mouth Press. 1997 ISBN 1-56025-117-4
  8. ^ Storey, Ian. Allan, Arlene. A Guide to Ancient Greek Drama. John Wiley & Sons (2008) ISBN 9781405137638. page 84
  9. ^ Euripides. Hippolytos. Oxford University Press (October 29, 1992) ISBN 978-0195072907
  10. ^ Ibsen, Henrik. Meyer, Michael Leverson. editor. Ibsen Plays: 1: Ghosts; The Wild Duck; The Master Builder. Dramatists Play Service Inc. (1980) ISBN 9780413463302. page 241
  11. ^ Shakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet. Bloomsbury Arden Shakespeare; Third edition (July 15, 2012) ISBN 9781903436912
  12. ^ Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Simon & Schuster (July 1, 1992) ISBN 978-0743477123
  13. ^ Kolker, Robert Phillip. Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho: A Casebook. Oxford University Press (2004) ISBN 9780195169195
  14. ^ The Solzhenitsyn Reader: New and Essential Writings, 1947–2005: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Edward E. Ericson, Jr., Daniel J. Mahoney.
  15. ^ Moser, Charles. 1992. Encyclopedia of Russian Literature. Cambridge University Press. pp. 298–300.
  16. ^ Sarah., Elbert, (1987). A hunger for home : Louisa May Alcott's place in American culture. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press. ISBN 0813511992. OCLC 14932247. 
  17. ^ Martin, Robert B (1996). Charlotte Brontë's Novels: The Accents of Persuasion. NY: Norton. 
  18. ^ Adams, Richard, 1920-2016. Watership Down. London :Rex Collings Ltd, 1972. Print.
  19. ^ Rossiter, Margaret (September 1980). "Womens Work". Isis, No. 3. 71: 381–398.