Out of the Wings

You are here:

El otro (1926), Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo

English title: The Other
Notable variations on Spanish title: El otro: misterio en tres jornadas y un epílogo
Date written: 1926
First publication date: 1930
First production date: 1930
Keywords: violence, violence > murder, violence > suicide, family > brothers/sisters, identity, history > memory, morality > judgement, morality > crime
Genre and type: tragedy

There’s a body in the cellar. It’s a secret between brothers. Twin brothers: one murdered; the other his murderer. But which one is dead, and which one still lives? Through the gradual deterioration of Cosme’s sanity, El otro (The Other) explores the mystery of identity and madness. What’s it like never to be unique? What’s it like to believe you are not you, but 'The Other'?


El otro (The Other) is a mystery that takes place over three days. Divided into three acts and an epilogue, it is set in a house occupied by Ernesto, his Housekeeper, the family doctor Don Juan, Ernesto’s sister Laura and her husband Cosme. At the beginning of act 1 we learn that Cosme has been psychologically disturbed for some time. Ernesto discusses his brother-in-law’s strange behavior with the doctor, Don Juan. Cosme is shutting himself away. On his orders all mirrors in the house must remain covered up and everyone must call him ‘The Other’. In an effort to find out what is troubling Cosme (referred to in the play text as ‘The Other’), Ernesto engages him in a conversation during which Cosme confesses that he is haunted by the presence of a mirror-image of himself. He also reveals, shockingly, that there is a corpse rotting in the cellar of the house.

In act 2 the members of the household try to discover the identity of the dead man in the cellar. Ernesto discovers from the Housekeeper that Cosme has a twin brother, Damian. Surprised at this information, Ernesto questions his sister Laura about how she first met Cosme. Laura explains that she was courted by both brothers and that, because she was unable to choose one over the other, Damian and Cosme decided between themselves which of them would marry her. This prompts Ernesto to doubt whether Cosme is indeed Cosme. Is he, in fact, Damian? The confusion over the identity of Laura’s husband is further compounded when Damiana, Damian’s wife, arrives demanding to know the whereabouts of her husband, who is missing. As it becomes clear that the body in the cellar is that of either Cosme or Damian, the two women fight over which one of them is in fact married to the living twin. The mysteries of the house multiply. In an echo of the biblical Cain and Abel story, one of the brothers murdered the other. But who murdered whom? Which brother is dead? Is Damiana’s husband still living, or is Laura’s? Even the Housekeeper, the twins’ nursemaid from infancy, could never tell the brothers apart.

In act 3, Laura and Damiana continue to fight over the identity of the living twin calling himself ‘The Other’. Laura believes that she was loved by both Damian and Cosme, prompting one to murder the other. In contrast, Damiana claims that she actively seduced both men. Damiana reveals that she is pregnant, and insists that it is the child of ‘The Other’, the living twin. Feeling pulled in two directions, haunted by his fratricide and unable to identify himself as either Cosme or Damian, ‘The Other’ kills himself. In despair, Laura flees. Damiana rejoices: even though ‘The Other’ has died, she can feel a new set of twins fighting in her womb. To her perverse delight, the cycle of brotherly conflict will continue.

The epilogue fails to resolve the riddle of ‘The Other’. While Don Juan is still keen to uncover which twin was which, the Housekeeper acknowledges that the mystery will never be solved; its solution dies with Cosme and Damian. With no hope of learning the truth (even the playwright himself, the Housekeeper claims, does not know), Ernesto leaves the house for good. Don Juan and the Housekeeper remain behind, fated to live with the dead twins and their terrible secrets.


Saints Cosmas and Damian

The twins in the play are named after two fourth-century Christian martyrs, Cosmas and Damian, who were also twins.

Cain and Abel

The fratricide in El otro (The Other) echoes the story of Cain and Abel. Both Cosme (‘The Other’) and the Housekeeper explicitly refer to the similarity of the situation in the house and this biblical tale. In the Bible the story is found in the book of Genesis 4: 1-16. God asks the brothers Cain and Abel, the first two sons of Adam and Eve, for an offering. He is pleased with Abel’s animal sacrifices, but rejects Cain’s food offerings. In jealousy and anger, Cain murders his brother.

Esau and Jacob

In act 2 scene 4 Cosme, now calling himself ‘The Other’, refers to Esau and Jacob fighting in the womb. Similarly, in act 3 scene 9 Damiana refers to the twins she is to give birth to as Esau and Jacob. She is happy to feel them fighting in her womb. According to the Bible, Esau and Jacob fought in the womb of their mother Rebecca and continued their rivalry once born. Their story is found in Genesis 25.

The Judgement of Solomon

In act 3 scene 5 Damiana and Laura fight over the identity of the remaining living twin who calls himself ‘The Other’. In the end, Laura relinquishes her claim over him. Damiana calls attention to the similarity between Laura’s decision and the story of the Judgement of Solomon. In this story two women ask King Solomon to resolve a dispute over which one of them is the mother of a new-born baby. Solomon decrees that the baby be split in half to allow the women to share the child. In order to save the baby’s life, the real mother offers it to the other woman. In this way, Solomon discovers the true identity of the actual mother. In El otro (The Other), no such resolution takes place. Instead, Damiana merely mocks her love rival’s recourse to such a Solomon-like trick and claims that Laura is being disingenuous. The story of the Judgement of Solomon is found in 1 Kings 3: 16-28.

Lord Byron, Cain

El otro (The Other) is in some respects a reconsideration of the biblical Cain and Abel story from Cain’s perspective. In this, it is reminiscent of the play Cain by Lord Byron.

The Eumenides (The Furies)

The character calling himself ‘The Other’ refers to Damiana and Laura as ‘furies’. This is the Roman name for the Greek ‘Eumenides’ who were deities of vengeance, embodying the revenge of the dead.

Pedro Calderón de la Barca, La vida es sueño (Life’s a Dream)

In act 3 scene 8 Damiana and Laura argue over the suicide of the twin calling himself ‘The Other’. Damiana, being pregnant, reflects on the connection between life and dreams, and life and death. Her words recall the play La vida es sueño (Life’s a Dream) by the Spanish Golden Age playwright, Pedro Calderón de la Barca (1600-81). Damiana claims that the ‘the grave is the cradle and the cradle grave’. This perspective is reminiscent of the comment by Calderón’s character Sigismund about his imprisonment: ‘for this tower is both my cradle and my grave’ (2004: 95). Again, in act 3 scene 8 Damiana notes that life is merely a dream. In addition, in the epilogue the Housekeeper claims that ‘life is a dream’. These observations echo Sigismund’s famous speech at the end of act 2 of La vida es sueño (Life’s a Dream) in which he states, ‘all life is a dream and even dreams are but dreams’ (2004: 132).

Sophocles, Oedipus Rex/Oedipus the King

In act 2 scene 6 the twin now calling himself ‘The Other’ mentions the tragedy of Oedipus who unwittingly murdered his father and married his mother. This reference reinforces the idea in the play of secrets inevitably coming to light with tragic consequences.

  • Byron, George Gordon. 1986. ‘Cain: A Mystery’. In The Major Works, ed. Jerome J. McGann. Oxford, Oxford University Press. Playtext available online at http://worldlibrary.net/eBooks/WorldeBookLibrary.com/cainbyron.htm [accessed January 2010]

  • Calderón de la Barca, Pedro. 2004. Life’s a Dream, trans. Michael Kidd. Colorado, University of Colorado Press

Critical response

Unamuno’s theatre has received relatively little academic attention compared to the rest of his corpus. El otro (The Other) is considered as a play ‘containing the quintessential of Unamuno’s theatre’ and featuring one of the playwright’s favourite themes – namely the story of Cain and Abel (Ayllón 1963: 52). Julia Biggane observes that the play has been mainly studied in terms of the sources that may have influenced its creation. She provides a detailed summary of previous academic discussions on the possible literary influences on the play (2000: 479-487). Biggane also explores the paradox of the play’s exploration of doubling while at the same time being marked by absences, noting its ‘complex sense of both existential absence and doubling’ (483).

Unamuno provides his own analysis of the play in his ‘Autocrítica’ (‘Self-Criticism’), noting that it explores ‘the intimate, profound truth of the drama of the soul’ (1958: 653).

  • Ayllón, Cándido. 1963. ‘Experiments in the Theatre of Unamuno, Valle-Inclán and Azorín’, Hispania, 46.1, 49-56

  • Biganne, Julia. 2000. ‘Yet Another Other: Unamuno’s El otro and the Anxiety for Influence’, Bulletin of Spanish Studies, 77.5, 479-491

  • Unamuno, Miguel de. 1958. Obras completas, vol. XII, ed. Manuel García Blanco. Madrid, Afrodisio Aguado (in Spanish)

  • Unamuno, Miguel de. 1960. El Otro: Raquel Encadenada, ed. Frank Sedwick. New York, Las Americas Publishing Company

  • Unamuno, Miguel de. 1964. Teatro: Fedra, Soledad, El Otro. Buenos Aires, Editorial Losada

  • Unamuno, Miguel de. 1975. El otro. Madrid, Espasa-Calpe

  • Unamuno, Miguel de. 1976. Unamuno - El otro y Don Juan, ed. Carlos Feal Deibe. Madrid, Cupsa

  • Unamuno, Miguel de. 1993. El otro, ed. Ricardo de la Fuente Ballesteros. Salamanca, Ediciones Colegio de España (in English)

Useful readings and websites
  • Biganne, Julia. 2000. ‘Yet Another Other: Unamuno’s El otro and the Anxiety for Influence’, Bulletin of Spanish Studies, 77.5, 479-491

  • Shaw, D. L. 1977. ‘Three Plays of Unamuno: A Survey of His Dramatic Technique’, Forum for Modern Language Studies, 8.3, 253-264

Entry written by Gwynneth Dowling. Last updated on 6 October 2010.

Tag this play

You must be logged in to add tags. Please log in or sign up for a free account.

Post a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment. Please log in or sign up for a free account.

  • King's College London Logo
  • Queen's University Belfast Logo
  • University of Oxford Logo
  • Arts and Humanities Research Council Logo