- While the protagonist or hero is the chief character in the plot on which our interest centres (Abrams), conversely the ANTAGONIST stands against the protagonist in character, values, traits, mentalities etc.
- Therefore the ANTAGONIST can be also referred to as a foil to the chief character (protagonist) of the plot.
- One of the ways this can be seen is when the ANTAGONIST serves to thwart the hopes or designs of the protagonist.
- When the ANTAGONIST acts in this way - that is, he is intentionally evil in his motives against the protagonist - he can be called a villain.
- One example of this is seen in Shakespeare’s Othello, where Iago fits the role of antagonist. Here, Iago, not only deceives Othello (the protagonist) into mistrust of his wife, but he is also the instigator of Othello’s demise (death by suicide).
- The following is an excerpt taken from Othello which serves to show how Iago self-discloses about his hatred toward Othello and also directly confesses his intention to destroy him. This clearly characterizes Iago as antagonist. Here, Iago projects his evil motives on to Roderigo whom he believes shares his interest of destroying Othello in name, character and person…
“I have told thee often, and I re-tell thee again and again, I hate the Moor. My cause is hearted. Thine (Roderigo) hath no less reason. Let us be conjunctive in our revenge against him. If thou canst cuckold him, thou dost thyself a pleasure, me a sport. There are many events in the womb of time, which will be delivered.” - Iago (1.3.366-371)
Abrams, M.H. A Glossary of Literary Terms. Boston: Heinle & Heinle, 1999.
Holderness, Graham. Wuthering Heights. Philadelphia: Open University Press, 1985.
“Literary Terms: Narrative” 2009 SparkNotes: Today’s Most Popular Study Guides 30 Mar 2009 <http://sparkcharts.sparknotes.com/lit/literaryterms/section1.php>.