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

A protagonist (from Ancient Greek πρωταγωνιστής, prōtagōnistḗs, meaning 'one who plays the first part, chief actor') [1][2] is a main character of a story.

The protagonist is at the center of the story, makes the key decisions, and experiences the consequences of those decisions. The protagonist is the primary agent propelling the story forward, and is often the character who faces the most significant obstacles. If a story contains a subplot, or is a narrative made up of several stories, then each subplot may have its own protagonist.[3]

The protagonist is 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 conflicts that test the protagonist, thus revealing the strengths and weaknesses of the protagonist's character.[4]

Ancient Greece

The earliest known examples of a protagonist are found in Ancient Greece. At first, dramatic performances involved merely dancing and recitation by the chorus. Then in Poetics, Aristotle describes how a poet named Thespis introduced the idea of one actor stepping out and engaging in a dialogue with the chorus. This was the invention of tragedy, and occurred about 536 B.C.[5] Then the poet Aeschylus, in his plays, introduced a second actor, inventing the idea of dialogue between two characters. Sophocles then wrote plays that included a third actor.[6][7][8][9]

A description of the protagonist's origin cited that during the early period of Greek drama, the protagonist served as the author, the director, and the actor and that these roles were only separated and allocated to different individuals later.[10] There is also a claim that the poet did not assign or create the protagonist as well as other terms for actors such as deuteragonist and tritagonist primarily because he only gave actors their appropriate part.[11] However, these actors were assigned their specific areas at the stage with the protagonist always entering from the middle door or that the dwelling of the deuteragonist (second most important character) should be on the right hand, and the tritagonist (third most important character), the left.[11]

In Ancient Greece, the protagonist is distinguished from the term "hero", which was used to refer to a human who became a semi-divine being in the narrative.[9]

Other Languages
Afrikaans: Hoofkarakter
العربية: بطل الرواية
azərbaycanca: Protaqonist
български: Протагонист
čeština: Protagonista
Deutsch: Protagonist
español: Protagonista
Esperanto: Ĉefrolulo
euskara: Protagonista
français: Protagoniste
한국어: 주동인물
հայերեն: Պրոտագոնիստ
hrvatski: Protagonist
Bahasa Indonesia: Protagonis
íslenska: Aðalpersóna
italiano: Protagonista
lietuvių: Protagonistas
македонски: Протагонист
Bahasa Melayu: Protagonis
Nederlands: Protagonist
日本語: 主人公
ਪੰਜਾਬੀ: ਮੁੱਖ ਪਾਤਰ
português: Protagonista
română: Protagonist
русиньскый: Протагониста
русский: Протагонист
Simple English: Protagonist
slovenčina: Protagonista
slovenščina: Protagonist
svenska: Huvudperson
Türkçe: Protagonist
українська: Протагоніст
Tiếng Việt: Nhân vật chính
中文: 主人公