A protagonist is the main character (the central or main figure) of a drama or story. The word "protagonist" derives from the Greek πρωταγωνιστής (protagonistes), "one who plays the first part, chief actor." In the theatre of Ancient Greece, three actors played all of the main dramatic roles in a tragedy; the leading role was played by the protagonist, while the other roles were played by deuteragonist and the tritagonist.
The terms protagonist, main character and hero are variously (and rarely well) defined and, depending on the source, may denote different concepts. In fiction, the story of the protagonist may be told from the perspective of a different character (who may also, but not necessarily, be the narrator). An example would be a narrator who relates the fate of several protagonists, perhaps as prominent figures recalled in a biographical perspective.
The principal opponent of the protagonist is a character known as the antagonist, who represents or creates obstacles that the protagonist(s) must overcome. As with protagonists, there may be more than one antagonist in a story.
Sometimes, a work will offer a particular character as the protagonist, only to dispose of that character unexpectedly, as a dramatic device. Such a character is called a false protagonist. Marion in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) is a famous example.
When the work contains subplots, these may have different protagonists from the main plot. In some novels, the protagonists may be impossible to identify, because multiple plots in the novel do not permit clear identification of one as the main plot, such as in Alexander Solzhenitsyn's The First Circle, depicting a variety of characters imprisoned and living in a gulag camp, or in Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace, depicting 15 major characters involved or affected by a war.