William Cecil Clayton

William Cecil Clayton is a recurring fictional character in Edgar Rice Burroughs's series of Tarzan novels and in adaptations of the saga to other media, particularly comics.

William Cecil Clayton
First appearanceTarzan of the Apes
Last appearanceJungle Tales of Tarzan
Created byEdgar Rice Burroughs
Portrayed by
In-universe information
SpeciesHuman
GenderMale
TitleViscount Greystoke
OccupationEnglish peer
RelativesJohn Clayton II (uncle)
Alice Clayton (aunt)
Tarzan (cousin)
NationalityBritish

In the novelsEdit

William Cecil Clayton is a paternal cousin of John Clayton (Tarzan), whom he much resembles, and holder of the title of Lord Greystoke to which the latter is rightful heir. William serves as contrast to Tarzan, representing what the Ape-Man would likely have become had he led a normal life rather than being raised by apes, and is his rival for the affections of Jane Porter.

He first appeared in the initial Tarzan novel, Tarzan of the Apes (1912) and reappeared in the second book, The Return of Tarzan (1913), and the sixth, Jungle Tales of Tarzan (1916/17).

When Tarzan's parents are lost in Africa and presumed deceased, the older John Clayton's title passes to the line of his younger brother and thence to his nephew William, who holds it at the time we meet him in Tarzan of the Apes. William is portrayed as a well-meaning but ineffectual person with a romantic interest in Jane Porter, a member of the party marooned in Africa together with the Porters. When the castaways encounter Tarzan, William pales in comparison to the Ape Man, who is shown to both the reader and Jane be physically and morally superior. While feeling himself outclassed, the party's subsequent return to civilization leaves William free to pursue his suit with Jane, who ultimately accepts him. When Tarzan later reappears he learns they are engaged, and realizing that William's title, wealth, and culture make him a more appropriate spouse for Jane, accepts the fact. Tarzan's subsequent discovery that he himself is the rightful Lord Greystoke does not alter his assessment, and he conceals the revelation from both William and Jane.

In The Return of Tarzan, William is revealed to have found the discarded document that disclosed Tarzan's true identity and kept the knowledge to himself, fearing it will cost him his status and Jane. He presses her to set a date, which she, still emotionally torn between him and Tarzan, is reluctant to do. A subsequent return to Africa does nothing to improve his standing in her eyes, though his fundamental decency is highlighted in an ordeal in a lifeboat with two other castaways. When the boat finally reaches shore the starving William is abandoned by the other survivor, the villainous Nikolas Rokoff, and subsequently succumbs to fever. Dying, he redeems himself by confessing his selfish concealment of Tarzan's identity and renouncing his claim on her to Tarzan.

In the short story "The Witch Doctor Seeks Vengeance," which appears in the later but chronologically earlier book Jungle Tales of Tarzan, William appears unnamed in a scene contrasting his privileged, civilized existence with the primitive existence of the young Tarzan. William does not shine in the comparison.

In other mediaEdit

The character of William Cecil Clayton has appeared in adaptations of the original novels in the syndicated comic strip Tarzan and in Tarzan comic books, in a portrayal essentially faithful to Burroughs's conception.

William also appeared in such early Tarzan silent films as The Romance of Tarzan (1918) and The Adventures of Tarzan (1921), in which he was played by Colin Kenny and Scott Pembroke, respectively.

Later Tarzan films Tarzan the Ape Man (1932) and Tarzan and His Mate (1934) subsume his role into that of the adventurer Harry Holt, portrayed by Neil Hamilton. (Holt also appears in the 1959 and 1981 remakes of the 1932 film, played by Cesare Danova and John Phillip Law respectively.)

The Disney animated film Tarzan (1999) presents a "Clayton" character who owes little to William Cecil Clayton but his name, being more a conflation of the earlier films' Holt (in his explorer aspect) and the novels' Rokoff (in his villainous aspect).