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[proh-tag-uh-nist] /proʊˈtæg ə nɪst/
the leading character, hero, or heroine of a drama or other literary work.
a proponent for or advocate of a political cause, social program, etc.
the leader or principal person in a movement, cause, etc.
the first actor in ancient Greek drama, who played not only the main role, but also other roles when the main character was offstage.
Physiology, agonist.
Origin of protagonist
1665-75; < Greek prōtagōnistḗs actor who plays the first part, literally, first combatant, equivalent to prôt(os) first + agōnistḗs one who contends for a prize, combatant, actor. See proto-, antagonist
Related forms
protagonism, noun
Can be confused
antagonist, proponent, protagonist. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for protagonist
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • The protagonist of virtuous respectability sat there triumphantly enshrined.

    The Prodigal Father J. Storer Clouston
  • He is still the Great Erastian, the protagonist of laity against clergy.

    Henry VIII. A. F. Pollard
  • This was the Catharine of Elizabeth's court, and protagonist of that revolution which first made her known to Europe.

  • And contradiction demands a "for" and an "against," a protagonist and an antagonist.

    The Complex Vision John Cowper Powys
  • The Divine Comedy is his matchless monument to her who is the protagonist and muse of his poem and the love of his heart.

British Dictionary definitions for protagonist


the principal character in a play, story, etc
a supporter, esp when important or respected, of a cause, political party, etc
Derived Forms
protagonism, noun
Word Origin
C17: from Greek prōtagōnistēs, from prōtos first + agōnistēs actor
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for protagonist

1670s, "principal character in a story, drama, etc.," from Greek protagonistes "actor who plays the chief or first part," from protos "first" (see proto-) + agonistes "actor, competitor," from agon "contest" (see act (n.)). Meaning "leading person in any cause or contest" is from 1889. Mistaken sense of "advocate, supporter" (1935) is from misreading of Greek protos as Latin pro- "for."

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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protagonist in Culture
protagonist [(proh-tag-uh-nist)]

The principal character in a literary work. Hamlet, for example, is the protagonist of the play by William Shakespeare that bears his name.

The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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