Out of the Wings

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El otro William (1994), Jaime Salom Vidal

English title: The Other William
Date written: 1994
First publication date: 1998
First production date: 23 January 1998
Keywords: art, art > theatre, art > theatre > metatheatre, identity > class/social standing, identity, Social > Hierarchy, power, power > use and abuse

Hamlet, Shylock, Prospero, Bottom. These are some of Shakespeare’s best-loved characters, brought to life countless times over the centuries. But what do we really know about the life of their author… or authors?


William Stanley, brother to the Earl of Derby, spends his days bullying his manservant Costrand and enjoying sexual favours from his maidservant Mary. It is the early seventeenth century and – as William himself explains to us – such behaviour is expected of men of his station. But William also engages in a much less reputable pursuit: he writes plays. This is not the kind of activity befitting a man from a noble family, and so William keeps his playwriting a secret from everyone but his servants.

Early on in the play William learns that his brother has died unexpectedly and that he has inherited the title of Earl of Derby. He looks forward to the wealth his new position will bring him. Unfortunately, William quickly learns that he will have to conduct his duties as an Earl – funding armies, feeding villagers – without a vast fortune. William receives a visit from his brother’s widow, who reveals that she got her husband to change his will before he died. William may now have a title, but he is not getting a penny of his brother’s money. Seeing William’s shock at this situation, his sister-in-law offers him a solution. He could always marry her, thus securing his fortune. William’s reaction to this is similar to that of a certain Danish prince – shocked at the idea of one brother marrying his dead brother’s widow before the body is cold in the ground. He sees through his sister-in-law’s cynical attempt to retain through remarriage her title as Countess of Derby. An angry row ensues, during which both vow to go to court to settle their inheritance dispute. In the meantime, William wastes no time formulating a plan to supplement his income. He arranges to marry the daughter of the Earl of Oxford, one of the richest men in the country. Yet, despite his financial problems, his new title and his forthcoming marriage, William’s true focus remains steadfastly on his plays. He desperately wants the public to appreciate his work, but he knows that, as an Earl, he cannot reveal himself as a playwright. And so, William decides to hire someone to pretend that they are the author of his plays. Through his servant Costrand, he meets Shakespeare, a young actor. William takes an instant dislike to Shakespeare, considering him cocky and insubordinate. Nevertheless, he does realise that Shakespeare is bright, and also that he has access to a theatre that might stage his plays. William and Shakespeare make a deal. Shakespeare will be paid for every manuscript he signs his name to. He will have permission to produce and perform in the plays as if they were his own. In this way, William’s work will reach audiences while his reputation as a nobleman will remain intact.

As William had hoped, his plays are well received by the public. However, his other plan – to marry a rich man’s daughter – does not go quite so smoothly. On the day of the wedding, William’s bride is less than impressed with her new home. Compared to her father’s sumptuous abode, William’s castle simply cannot compete. She tells William that her father was offended by the paucity of the dowry he was offered for his daughter. As a consequence, he has not included William in his will, nor will he pay any more money for the upkeep of his daughter. To add insult to injury, when Shakespeare arrives to perform William’s latest play – A Midsummer Night’s Dream – the bride falls fast asleep, announcing that she hates the theatre.

As time goes on, Shakespeare becomes quite well known for ‘his’ theatre. In fact, the Earl of Essex uses the premiere of Richard II to mount a revolt against Queen Elizabeth I. The attempt fails. Essex is arrested, as is one of Shakespeare’s theatre colleagues. Wanting to hide until the political strife dies down, Shakespeare seeks refuge with William. Shakespeare brings with him a handkerchief he claims to have found in the Earl of Essex’s living quarters. The handkerchief belongs to William’s wife. Overcome by the ‘green-ey’d monster’, William accuses his wife of adultery and tries to kill her. At that moment, his sister-in-law arrives and rescues the young woman. She immediately takes advantage of the situation to accuse her brother-in-law of insanity. In front of a judge, William is forced to admit that he writes for the theatre. Yet, since he gives his manuscripts to Shakespeare when they are complete, William is unable to prove that he has written anything at all. His sister-in-law tries her best to convince the judge that William is delusional and that he should be stripped of his title. William realises he will have to get his manuscripts back from Shakespeare in order to prove he is not mad. It is time to tell the world that it is he, the Earl of Derby, who is the author of the plays which are proving so popular with the public. Unfortunately, Shakespeare is enjoying his success and refuses to return William’s manuscripts. Shakespeare claims just as much – if not more - authorship over the plays than William, arguing that he was the one who staged and performed them. In short, if it had not been for Shakespeare, William’s characters would never have seen the light of day. Defeated, William returns to his castle and shuts himself away for months. He eventually emerges with a new play, The Tempest. William wants this play to reach audiences, and so he passes it on to Shakespeare, despite his continuing anger towards the actor. This is the last play William – and Shakespeare – will ever release. Some time later, William learns that Shakespeare has died. For the most part, he is overjoyed at the news. Yet William also feels that he has lost part of himself with the loss of Shakespeare. He consoles himself with the knowledge that his characters will live on, even if no one ever knows that it was he, William Stanley, who created them.


The Other William explores the idea that Shakespeare’s plays might in fact have been written by William Stanley (1561-1642), sixth Earl of Derby. Jaime Salom conducted a lengthy study into the life of Stanley and there are a number of allusions to his life, as well as to actual historical events. For example, Stanley was involved in an inheritance dispute – in reality with his niece – after his brother’s death. Stanley did marry the daughter of the Earl of Oxford. As in the play, this marriage was turbulent and Stanley’s wife was rumoured to have had an affair with the Earl of Essex.

In the play, the Earl of Essex leads a revolt against Queen Elizabeth I using a performance of Richard II to stir up support. This reflects what actually happened – in February 1601 the Earl of Essex financed a performance of Richard II at the Globe theatre as part of his unsuccessful rebellion against Queen Elizabeth I.

In the course of the play, events happen in William’s life which have echoes of Shakespearean plots. For example, his sister-in-law suggests that William marry her after her husband dies. There is also a scurrilous rumour that William might have poisoned his brother to take his place as Earl of Derby. This situation is reminiscent of Hamlet. Similarly, William’s attempt to murder his wife when he suspects her of adultery has echoes of the plot of Othello.

Critical response

The play has been performed many times in Spain and has proven popular with the public. Critics have found the play particularly interesting because of its exploration of authorship. Rafael Borràs Bertriu, in his introduction to the 1998 edition of the play, talks about the duality of the author-actor relationship between William and Shakespeare respectively. He notes how this troubled relationship between ‘two sides of the same coin’ bears a similarity to the relationship between two brothers in the play El otro by Unamuno (Salom 1998: 11).

  • Salom, Jaime. 1998. El otro William. Un hombre en la puerta. Madrid, Fundamentos (in Spanish)

  • Salom, Jaime. 1998. El otro William. Un hombre en la puerta. Madrid, Fundamentos

Entry written by Gwynneth Dowling. Last updated on 16 March 2012.

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