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The protagonist is Henry Drummond, the lawyer for the defense of Bert Cates. He represents independent thinking and freedom from censorship.
The antagonist is Matthew Harrison Brady, the lawyer for the prosecution. He represents censorship and lack of independent thinking.
The climax occurs when Drummond puts Brady on the witness stand and proves the narrow-mindedness of the state and Brady's thinking. When Brady is made to look ridiculous, Drummond gains the support of the audience in the courtroom. Brady is visibly upset over the turn of events and can barely speak.
The play ends as a comedy. Drummond wins a moral battle over Brady and proves that everyone should have a right to independent thought, for censorship of ideas is wrong. Although Cates is proven guilty by the narrow minded Hillsboro jury, the judge only fines him $100, and Drummond promises to appeal the verdict.