Antagonist (literature)

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The antagonist ( ancient Greek ανταγωνιστής - "opponent") in drama and prose is the main opponent of the protagonist and the force of the narrative that hinders his actions. The role of the antagonist is generally to thwart the protagonist's intentions to act.


In the Greek tragedy of the first two generations ( Aeschylus , Sophocles ) there were at most two actors on stage who played all the roles, which was commented on by a choir . This suggested that the actions were based on a tense, dramatic constellation of main character and opponent (for example Oedipus and Creon in King Oedipus ).

In late medieval theater , the devil or antichrist often appeared as an antagonist of saints or of Christ. Death as an opponent of the living also appeared in the dance of death . Since the Renaissance , such allegorical figures have been humanized into villains, as in the English Vice .


Traditionally, he embodies the opposite of the protagonist in more than one respect, for example on an ethical level: If the protagonist is a hero with positive ethical attributes, his antagonist is usually an immoral villain . However, this classification is not mandatory: protagonists who are themselves evil or antiheroes can have an antagonist in morally superior characters. Heroes can meet “false” heroes who seem to be pursuing morally valuable goals, but in reality cause damage.

Protagonist and antagonist can often be clearly distinguished from one another by external dualistic features, such as gender, age, class and ethnicity. On the other hand, they can be characterized by the fact that the two hardly differ at all, for example in the topos of the " bad twin brother ".

The antagonist is not necessarily a person either: a group of people, an organization, nature, an abstract principle (the zeitgeist , the political situation, an ideal, religious and magical forces), even the protagonist's own biography and past can hinder him in his advancement and thus assume an antagonistic function.

In mythology , the antagonists usually take on the role of guards and inspectors, they are often only personifications of thresholds that the mythological protagonist has to cross: they do not harm him directly, but must be overcome so that the hero can continue on his way.

Courses of action

The antagonist does not necessarily have to act in order to hinder the protagonist. If the antagonist is the wild, untamed landscape (such as in many adventure novels ), the fact of its existence is sufficient to be considered an obstacle.

When the antagonist takes action, his typical action repertoire includes:

  • Trial of the protagonist
  • Deception of the protagonist
  • Pursuit of the protagonist
  • harm the family or friends of the protagonist
  • to challenge the protagonist in direct duel
  • to be defeated by the protagonist
  • otherwise punished


  1. Vladimir Propp : Morphology du conte . Paris 1970. p. 77
  2. Joseph Campbell : The Hero in a Thousand Forms . Frankfurt am Main and Leipzig 1999. pp. 79ff.
  3. after Propp, ibid.