Salome is a
tragedy by Oscar Wilde. The original 1891 version was in French. Three years
later an English translation was published. Salome is based on the story of
John the Baptist’s beheading, which can be found in the Gospels of Matthew and
Mark, making it a Biblical drama. And although Wilde changes the story
significantly, he remains true to its roots: he doesn’t attempt to turn what is
a serious episode in the story of Jesus into a comedy or a farce. Instead he
turns what is already a tragic story into something way darker. While the
Gospel’s Salome is an innocent girl manipulated by her mother, Wilde’s Salome
decides the fate of Jokanaan without any prompting or consultation. The end
moment in the play, where Salome is quickly executed after kissing Jokanaan’s lips,
only reinforces the creepy gloominess of Wilde’s vision.
begins with a group of soldiers watching the Tetrarch banqueting; one of the
soldiers, a young Syrian, shows a fancy for Salome. We also get to know that
Jokanaan, a prophet is being held captive in a cistern. When the prophet cries
out, the soldiers begin discussing his authority and religion in general.
that the local citizens in the play are quite contentious. In the play we hear
from Jews, Nazarenes, Pharisees, Sadducees, and Samarians. All are nominally
jews or have some connection to Jewish beliefs but, as we learn in the play,
their beliefs differ a lot.
The level of
happiness of the protagonist i.e. Salome was the highest in the beginning of
the play and it gradually kept decreasing from there on.
of the play is in the palace of Herod Antipas, Tetrarch of Judaea. But even
though it’s a palace, Wilde’s description of the set is pretty simple.
I feel that
the king in this play was a little different then what is generally seen in
other plays. A character like king is usually full of pride and praises himself
irrespective of whether those praises are true or not. Here we got to see that
the King was a coward as he was afraid of the prophet so much that he had hidden
his face behind a cloak when the head of the prophet was brought to him.
The prophet in
this play reminded me of a character ‘The Joker’ from the movie ‘Batman.’ In
the movie the joker was a psychopath, unsensitive to human emotions, said
absurd things and did not show any fear of death. We could see all these
qualities in the fortune teller as well. The fortune teller was insensitive to
the King’s wife, made absurd predictions and did not utter a single cry when
his head was being slit.
across the conflict of the play when Salome insists the young Syrian to let her
see the prophet. On meeting Jokanaan Salome lusts for him but jokanaan hates
her. Salome is a confused girl, to put it mildly. She can’t seem to decide
whether she loves him or hates him. Even when she declares that she will kiss
his mouth, her motives aren’t exactly clear; her lust is mixed with something
more violent and forceful. This combination of the really dark and the really
sensual defines Salome.
that the women in this play had quite strong roles. Both Salome and Herodias
would easily defy King’s orders and would unhesitantly put forth their opinion
to the King. Quoting from the text Herodias had said to Herod, “My daughter and
I come of a royal race. As for thee, thy father was a camel driver! He was a
thief and a robber to boot!” Also when the servant brought the head to Salome
she held it in her hands without showing any expression of fright, guilt,
remorse or disgust while the King had hid himself behind his cloalk on seeing
the head. This play was published in 1891 and women were not given equal rights
to men at that time. So, we can conclude from this that Oscar Wilde was trying
to break the stereotype.
comes at its climax when Herod decides he’d like to see Salome dance when Salome
has no interest in even seeing her stepfather, let alone dancing for him. The
suspense starts to build up when Salome after performing the dance then asks
for Jokanaan’s head on a silver platter. Herodias is delighted. Herod is
horrified. He tries to get Salome to change her mind, but she won’t budge. So he
calls for Jokanaan to be beheaded.
where the King sees all the Omens and keeps getting more and more scared reminded
me of ‘Julius Ceaser’ by William Shakespeare. In ‘Julius Ceaser’ Ceaser had
also seen the omens for his death but inspite of getting scared he showed
bravery and was determined to fight death while his scared wife was pleading him
to take the bad Omens seriously. Opposite to this here in this play the king
was scared of the Omens and his wife tried to give him some strength by saying
not to take the omens seriously.
At the end
of the play Salome is given Jokanaan’s head. She addresses him/it, getting mad
at him for rejecting her. Still, she shows fancy for him. When the stage goes
dark, Salome kisses Jokanaan. Herod, disgusted, orders Salome to be put to
death. The soldiers crush her beneath their shields. I found this ending very
abrupt and unexpected. We get to see this similar writing style in some other
works of Oscar Wilde like ‘A Florentine tragedy’
If we see
how the play stood at the end then all the main characters i.e. Salome, Herod,
and Herodias had gotten what they wanted. Salome had kissed Jokanaan’s mouth.
Herod had seen Salome dance. Herodias had seen Jokanaan get killed. So, all
their wishes have been fulfilled.
reaction to Wilde’s effort has been mixed. Mallarme, in a letter full of praise,
commended Wilde for his portrayal of the princess as did Maurice Maeterlinck.
Other critics were less favourably impressed. William Butler Yeats, though
often an admirer of Wilde’s works, considered Salome’s dialogue “empty,
sluggish, and pretentious”