Deuteragonist

Deuteragonist

[doo-tuh-rag-uh-nist, dyoo-]
In literature, the deuteragonist (from δευτεραγωνιστής, deuteragonistes, second actor) is the second most important character, after the protagonist and before the tritagonist.

History

Greek drama began with simply one actor, the protagonist, and a chorus of dancers. The playwright Aeschylus introduced the deuteragonist; Aristotle says in his Poetics

Καὶ τό τε τῶν ὑποκριτῶν πλῆθος ἐξ ἑνὸς εἰς δύο πρῶτος Αἰσχύλος ἤγαγε καὶ τὰ τοῦ χοροῦ ἠλάττωσε καὶ τὸν λόγον πρωταγωνιστεῖν παρεσκεύασεν (1449a15).

Thus it was Aeschylus who first raised the number of the actors from one to two. He also curtailed the chorus and gave the dialogue the leading part (1449a15).

Aeschylus' efforts brought the dialogue and interaction between characters to the forefront and set the stage for other playwrights of the era, like Sophocles and Euripides, to produce many iconic plays.

Drama

Because Ancient Greek drama involved only three actors (the protagonist, deuteragonist, and tritagonist) plus the chorus, each actor often played several parts. For instance, in Sophocles' Oedipus Rex, the protagonist would be Oedipus, who is on stage in most acts, the deuteragonist would be Jocasta (Oedipus' mother and wife), as well as the Shepherd and Messenger. This would be because Jocasta is certainly a major role—acting opposite Oedipus many times and occupying a central part of the story—and because the Shepherd and Messenger are onstage when Jocasta is offstage.

Literature

Literarily, the deuteragonist assumes the role of "sidekick" to the protagonist. In Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the protagonist is Huck and the deuteragonist, his constant companion, is Jim. In this story the tritagonist would be Tom Sawyer. Conversely, the deuteragonist could also be a particularly visible antagonist.

References

Cuddon, J.A., ed. The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. 3rd ed. Penguin Books: New York, 1991.

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