Salome is atragedy by Oscar Wilde. The original 1891 version was in French. Three yearslater an English translation was published.
Salome is based on the story ofJohn the Baptist’s beheading, which can be found in the Gospels of Matthew andMark, making it a Biblical drama. And although Wilde changes the storysignificantly, he remains true to its roots: he doesn’t attempt to turn what isa serious episode in the story of Jesus into a comedy or a farce. Instead heturns what is already a tragic story into something way darker.
While theGospel’s Salome is an innocent girl manipulated by her mother, Wilde’s Salomedecides the fate of Jokanaan without any prompting or consultation. The endmoment in the play, where Salome is quickly executed after kissing Jokanaan’s lips,only reinforces the creepy gloominess of Wilde’s vision.The playbegins with a group of soldiers watching the Tetrarch banqueting; one of thesoldiers, a young Syrian, shows a fancy for Salome. We also get to know thatJokanaan, a prophet is being held captive in a cistern. When the prophet criesout, the soldiers begin discussing his authority and religion in general.I noticedthat the local citizens in the play are quite contentious. In the play we hearfrom Jews, Nazarenes, Pharisees, Sadducees, and Samarians.
All are nominallyjews or have some connection to Jewish beliefs but, as we learn in the play,their beliefs differ a lot.The level ofhappiness of the protagonist i.e. Salome was the highest in the beginning ofthe play and it gradually kept decreasing from there on.The settingof the play is in the palace of Herod Antipas, Tetrarch of Judaea. But eventhough it’s a palace, Wilde’s description of the set is pretty simple.
I feel thatthe king in this play was a little different then what is generally seen inother plays. A character like king is usually full of pride and praises himselfirrespective of whether those praises are true or not. Here we got to see thatthe King was a coward as he was afraid of the prophet so much that he had hiddenhis face behind a cloak when the head of the prophet was brought to him.
The prophet inthis play reminded me of a character ‘The Joker’ from the movie ‘Batman.’ Inthe movie the joker was a psychopath, unsensitive to human emotions, saidabsurd things and did not show any fear of death. We could see all thesequalities in the fortune teller as well. The fortune teller was insensitive tothe King’s wife, made absurd predictions and did not utter a single cry whenhis head was being slit.We comeacross the conflict of the play when Salome insists the young Syrian to let hersee the prophet. On meeting Jokanaan Salome lusts for him but jokanaan hatesher. Salome is a confused girl, to put it mildly.
She can’t seem to decidewhether she loves him or hates him. Even when she declares that she will kisshis mouth, her motives aren’t exactly clear; her lust is mixed with somethingmore violent and forceful. This combination of the really dark and the reallysensual defines Salome.
I noticedthat the women in this play had quite strong roles. Both Salome and Herodiaswould easily defy King’s orders and would unhesitantly put forth their opinionto the King. Quoting from the text Herodias had said to Herod, “My daughter andI come of a royal race. As for thee, thy father was a camel driver! He was athief and a robber to boot!” Also when the servant brought the head to Salomeshe 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 seeingthe head. This play was published in 1891 and women were not given equal rightsto men at that time. So, we can conclude from this that Oscar Wilde was tryingto break the stereotype.The playcomes at its climax when Herod decides he’d like to see Salome dance when Salomehas no interest in even seeing her stepfather, let alone dancing for him. Thesuspense starts to build up when Salome after performing the dance then asksfor Jokanaan’s head on a silver platter.
Herodias is delighted. Herod ishorrified. He tries to get Salome to change her mind, but she won’t budge. So hecalls for Jokanaan to be beheaded.The sceneswhere the King sees all the Omens and keeps getting more and more scared remindedme of ‘Julius Ceaser’ by William Shakespeare.
In ‘Julius Ceaser’ Ceaser hadalso seen the omens for his death but inspite of getting scared he showedbravery and was determined to fight death while his scared wife was pleading himto take the bad Omens seriously. Opposite to this here in this play the kingwas scared of the Omens and his wife tried to give him some strength by sayingnot to take the omens seriously.At the endof the play Salome is given Jokanaan’s head.
She addresses him/it, getting madat him for rejecting her. Still, she shows fancy for him. When the stage goesdark, Salome kisses Jokanaan. Herod, disgusted, orders Salome to be put todeath. The soldiers crush her beneath their shields.
I found this ending veryabrupt and unexpected. We get to see this similar writing style in some otherworks of Oscar Wilde like ‘A Florentine tragedy’If we seehow 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, alltheir wishes have been fulfilled.Criticalreaction 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, thoughoften an admirer of Wilde’s works, considered Salome’s dialogue “empty,sluggish, and pretentious”