Salome is a tragedy by Oscar Wilde. The original 1891 versionwas in French. Three years later an English translation was published. Thisplay is based on the story of John the Baptist’s beheading, which can be foundin the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, making it a Biblical drama. And althoughWilde changes the story significantly, he remains true to its roots.
He doesn’ttry to turn what is a serious episode in the story of Jesus into a comedy or afarce. Instead he turns what is already a tragic story into something waydarker. While the Gospel’s Salome is an innocent girl manipulated by hermother, Wilde’s Salome decides the fate of Jokanaan without any prompting orconsultation. The end moment in the play, where Salome is quickly executedafter kissing Jokanaan’s lips, only reinforces the creepy gloominess of Wilde’svision.The play begins with a group of soldiers watching the Tetrarchbanqueting. One of the soldiers, a young Syrian, shows a fancy for Salome. Wealso get to know that Jokanaan, a prophet has been held captive in a cistern.
When the prophet cries out, the soldiers begin discussing his authority andreligion in general. I noticed that the local citizens in the play are quitecontentious. In the play we hear from Jews, Nazarenes, Pharisees, Sadducees, andSamarians. All are nominally Jews or have some connection to Jewish beliefsbut, but we see in the play that their beliefs actually differ a lot.The level of happiness of the protagonist i.e.
Salome was thehighest in the beginning of the play and it gradually kept decreasing fromthere on. The setting of the play is in the palace of Herod Antipas, Tetrarchof Judaea. But even though it’s a palace, Wilde’s description of the set ispretty simple. I feel that the king in this play was a little different thenwhat is generally seen in other plays. A character like king is usually full ofpride and praises himself irrespective of whether those praises are true ornot.
Here we got to see that the King was a coward as he was afraid of the prophetso much that he had hidden his face behind a cloak when the head of the prophetwas brought to him.The prophet in this play reminded me of a character ‘TheJoker’ from the movie ‘Batman.’ In the movie the joker was a psychopath, insensitiveto human emotions, said absurd things and did not show any fear of death. Wecould see all these qualities in the prophet as well. The prophet wasinsensitive to Herodias, made absurd predictions and did not utter a single crywhen his throat was being slit.We come across the conflict of the play when Salome insiststhe young Syrian to let her see the prophet. On meeting Jokanaan Salome lustsfor him but jokanaan hates her. Salome is a confused girl, to put it mildly.
Shecan’t seem to decide whether she loves him or hates him. Even when she declaresthat she will kiss him, her motives aren’t very clear. Her lust is mixed withsomething more violent and forceful. This combination of the really dark andthe really sensual defines Salome. I noticed that the women in this play hadquite strong roles. Both Salome and Herodias would easily defy King’s ordersand would without any hesitance put forth their opinion to the King. Quotingfrom the text Herodias had said to Herod, “My daughter and I come of a royalrace.
As for thee, thy father was a camel driver! He was a thief and a robberto boot!” Also when the servant brought the head to Salome she held it in herhands without showing any expression of fright, guilt, remorse or disgust whilethe King had hid himself behind his cloak on seeing the head. This play waspublished 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.The play comes at its climax when Herod decides he’d like tosee Salome dance when Salome has no interest in even seeing her stepfather, letalone dancing for him. The suspense starts to build up when Salome afterperforming the dance then asks for Jokanaan’s head on a silver platter.Herodias feels delighted while Herod is horrified. He tries to get Salome tochange her mind, but she won’t budge.
So he has to call for Jokanaan to be beheaded.The scenes where the Herod sees all the Omens and keepsgetting more and more scared reminded me of ‘Julius Caesar’ by WilliamShakespeare. In ‘Julius Caesar’ Caesar had also seen the omens for his deathbut in spite of getting scared he showed bravery and was determined to fightdeath 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 hiswife 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. Sheaddresses it, getting angry at him for rejecting her. Still, she shows fancyfor 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 similarwriting style in some other works of Oscar Wilde like ‘A Florentine tragedy’where Simone slits Guido’s throat at the end.If we see how the play stood at the end then all the maincharacters i.e. Salome, Herod, and Herodias had gotten what they wanted. Salomehad kissed Jokanaan’s mouth.
Herod had seen Salome dance. Herodias had seenJokanaan get killed. So, all their wishes were fulfilled.Critical reaction to OscarWilde’s effort has been mixed.
Mallarme, in a letter full of praise, commended Wilde for his portrayal of theprincess as did Maurice Maeterlinck. Other critics were less favourablyimpressed. William Butler Yeats, though often an admirer of Wilde’s works,considered Salome’s dialogue “empty, sluggish, and pretentious”