Salome (play)

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This article is about the play by Oscar Wilde. For other uses, see Salome (disambiguation).
One of the illustrations Aubrey Beardsley produced for the first English edition of Wilde's play Salome (1894)

Salome (French: Salomé, pronounced: [salome]) is a tragedy by Oscar Wilde. The original 1891 version of the play was in French. Three years later an English translation was published. The play tells in one act the Biblical story of Salome, stepdaughter of the tetrarch Herod Antipas, who, to her stepfather's dismay but to the delight of her mother Herodias, requests the head of Jokanaan (John the Baptist) on a silver platter as a reward for dancing the dance of the seven veils.

Characters[edit]

Versions and premieres[edit]

Rehearsals for the play's debut on the London stage, for inclusion in Sarah Bernhardt's London season, began in 1892, but were halted when the Lord Chamberlain's licensor of plays banned Salomé on the basis that it was illegal to depict Biblical characters on the stage. The play was first published in French in February 1893, and an English translation, with illustrations by Aubrey Beardsley, in February 1894. On the Dedication page, Wilde indicated that his lover Lord Alfred Douglas was the translator. In fact, Wilde and Douglas had quarrelled over the latter's translation of the text which had been nothing short of disastrous given his poor mastery of French — though Douglas claimed that the errors were really in Wilde's original play. Beardsley and the publisher John Lane got drawn in when they sided with Wilde. In a gesture of reconciliation, Wilde did the work himself but dedicated Douglas as the translator rather than having them sharing their names on the title-page. Douglas compared a dedication to sharing the title-page as "the difference between a tribute of admiration from an artist and a receipt from a tradesman."[1]

The play was eventually premiered on 11 February 1896, while Wilde was in prison, in Paris at the Comédie-Parisienne - (at the Théâtre de l'Œuvre in some accounts[2])- in a staging by Lugné-Poe's theatre group, the Théâtre de l'Œuvre.[3] In Pall Mall Gazette of 29 June 1892 Wilde explained, why he had written Salomé in French:

"I have one instrument that I know I can command, and that is the English language. There was another instrument to which I had listened all my life, and I wanted once to touch this new instrument to see whether I could make any beautiful thing out of it. [...] Of course, there are modes of expression that a Frenchman of letters would not have used, but they give a certain relief or colour to the play. A great deal of the curious effect that Maeterlinck produces comes from the fact that he, a Flamand by grace, writes in an alien language. The same thing is true of Rossetti, who, though he wrote in English, was essentially Latin in temperament."[4]
Maud Allan as Salomé with the head of John the Baptist in an early adaptation of Wilde's play

A performance of the play was arranged by the New Stage Club at the Bijou Theatre in Archer Street, London, on 10 and 13 May 1905, starring Millicent Murby as Salome and directed by Florence Farr.[5] In June 1906 the play was presented privately with A Florentine Tragedy by the Literary Theatre Society at King's Hall, Covent Garden. The Lord Chamberlain's ban was not lifted for almost forty years; the first public performance of Salomé in England was produced by Nancy Price at the Savoy Theatre on 5 October 1931. She took the role of Herodias herself and cast her daughter Joan Maude as Salomé.[6]

In 1992 the play was performed on Broadway at the Circle in the Square Theatre, under the direction of Robert Allan Ackerman. Sheryl Lee starred as the title role alongside Al Pacino. The play costarred Suzanne Bertish, Esai Morales and Arnold Vosloo.

Origins and themes[edit]

Wilde had considered the subject since he had first been introduced to Hérodias, one of Flaubert's Trois Contes, by Walter Pater, at Oxford in 1877. His interest had been further stimulated by descriptions of Gustave Moreau's paintings of Salome in Joris-Karl Huysmans's À rebours. Other literary influences include Heinrich Heine's Atta Troll, Laforgue's Salomé in Moralités Légendaires and Mallarmé's Hérodiade.[7]

Wilde's interest in Salomé's image had been stimulated by descriptions of Gustave Moreau's paintings in Joris-Karl Huysmans's À rebours.

Many view Wilde's Salomé as a superb composite of these earlier treatments of the theme overlaid, in terms of dramatic influences, with Belgian playwright Maurice Maeterlinck's characteristic methodical diction,[clarification needed] and specifically Maeterlinck's La Princesse Maleine, 'with its use of colour, sound, dance, visual description and visual effect'.[7] Wilde often referred to the play in musical terms and believed that recurring phrases 'bind it together like a piece of music with recurring motifs. ' Although the "kissing of the head" element was used in Heine and even Heywood's[who?] production, Wilde's ingenuity was to move it to the play's climax. While his debts are undeniable, there are some interesting contributions in Wilde's treatment, most notably being his persistent use of parallels between Salomé and the moon.

Alice Guszalewicz as Salome in the Richard Strauss opera, c. 1910. Richard Ellmann misidentified this photograph in his 1987 biography as "Wilde in costume as Salome," the error being finally corrected in 2000.[8]
Actress Margarita Xirgu in the Spanish premiere in 1910 in Barcelona

Scholars like Christopher Nassaar point out that Wilde employs a number of the images favored by Israel's kingly poets and that the moon is meant to suggest the pagan goddess Cybele, who, like Salomé, was obsessed with preserving her virginity and thus took pleasure in destroying male sexuality.[citation needed]

Following the prelude three demarcated episodes follow: the meeting between Salome and Iokanaan, the phase of the white moon; the major public central episode, the dance and the beheading, the phase of the red moon; and finally the conclusion, when the black cloud conceals the moon.[9]

An argument is made by Brad Bucknell in his essay, “On "Seeing" Salome” that the play can be seen as a struggle between the visual, in the form of various characters’ gazing as well as Salome’s dance, and the written word. Salome’s dance (which is never described) overpowers Iokannan’s prophecies, and Salome herself dies due to Herod’s command to crush her. As Bucknell writes of Salome’s dance, “The power of the word is inverted, turned back upon its possessors, the prophet and the ruler-figure of the tetrarch.” [10]

The idea of the gaze—specifically the male gaze—is also explored by Linda and Michael Hutcheon in ""Here's Lookin' At You, Kid": The Empowering Gaze in Salome.” In their essay, the two write that Salome’s body “clearly becomes the focus of the attention—and the literal eye—of both audience and characters. As dancer, Salome is without a doubt the object of the gaze—particularly Herod's male gaze.” The Hutcheons argue that while the male gaze has been traditionally rooted in the idea of sexual privilege, leading to a gendering of the gaze as ‘male’ in the first place, the character of Salome undermines this theory by knowingly using the male gaze to her advantage, first by gaining access to Iokannan via the male gaze and later through her dance.[11]

However, others argue that the female gaze is also present in the play, with Salome gazing and objectifying Iokannan. As critic Carmen Skaggs writes, “Syrian, Herod, and Salome objectify the subjects of their gazes. They admire each one for his/her beauty alone. The desires of all three are forbidden and recognized as dangerous by those around them, but they are not persuaded to turn away”.[12]

Skaggs also discusses in her essay “Modernity's Revision of the Dancing Daughter: The Salome Narrative of Wilde and Strauss” the possible homosexual subtext of Wilde’s play. Skaggs points to one instance in the play when Salome promises Narraboth a flower, a signal of homosexuality in Wilde’s time. Skaggs and other critics argue that Salome’s sexuality is presented as typically masculine, which makes the relationship between her and the Young Syrian border on the homoerotic. Skaggs also argues that Wilde is attempting to explore different forms of worship, with Salome, the Young Syrian, and Herod worshiping beauty and serving as contrasts for the religious Iokannan, whose worship revolves around God.[12]

Oscar Wilde’s play Salome is a twist on the execution of John the Baptist, fueled by motives of lust and slaughter.[13] Scholar Tania Albin believes Wilde’s interpretation is deeply rooted in the Biblical story of Salome’s dance to please Herod and her mother’s plea for John the Baptist’s head.[14] Wilde’s twist on the biblical story focuses on the personality of Salome and the hypersexual implications.

Wilde’s play Salome is the distortion of the Biblical story through the creation of Salome as a victim and victimizer. She is the incarnation of seductive lust and manipulative power. Salome is the object of lust and perverted desire leading to her twisted obsession in the beheading of John the Baptist.[15] Keijser believes that Wilde was influenced by the Bible’s word choice and style, adapting Bible verses and diction generously. Biblical images, symbols, and diction are referenced from the Gospels, Isaiah, Song of Solomon and the Book of Revelation. Wilde even gives John the Baptist a more derived biblical Hebrew name with Iokannan.[16] In the Song of Solomon, Wilde’s text is literally adapted from the biblical context, Salome says that “[n]either the floods nor the great waters can quench my passion”. This is the closest Wilde comes to copying the Song, for it says, “[m]any waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it” (8:7).[15] Referencing the book of Revelation, Jokanaan compares Herodias with the figure of Jezebel, proclaiming her to be a treacherous woman who uses her sexual wiles to corrupt men and bring about their downfall. Wilde twists the context so that Salome is the one who desires John’s head rather than Herodias.[15] Wilde creates an incarnation of obsessive lust and power from a biblical context where she operates beyond the play.

Salome is not even mentioned in the Biblical story, but Wilde chooses to make the focal point of the play the perversion of lust and desire of Salome rather than Herodias vengeance on John the Baptist. He uses the sexual power of the dance to construct lustful emotions, which are barred out in the biblical text. The depiction of Salome as a pawn to her mother Herodias diminishes her image as a woman of manipulation, but Wilde portrays her as a woman of power and manipulator creating this femme fatale manifestation. The kissing of John’s severed head testifies to this ideal of what Bram Dijkstra calls “the virgin whore”, a perversion of purity tainted by lustful desires.[14]

Joseph Donahue a theater historian believes that Wilde uses a poetic licenses in filling in narrative gaps from the accounts of the head on the platter story, to tease out explicitly what was written implicitly.[13] Despite the similarities, Wilde’s depiction mixes legend with biblical history, the temporal with the eternal, but also blends form and medium creating a complex rendition of sensual repulsion.[17] Wilde’s recreation of this biblical horror based upon lust and manipulation of Salome's passion is its own downfall.

Significance of the Dance[edit]

One of the major things that Oscar Wilde changes in his play is how much the dance is emphasized and put as the center of the action of the play. In the Bible, we get very little information, with Mark’s gospel simply stating, “When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests” (Mark 6:22). The daughter is not described in detail at all, and in fact, it is not until the early fifth century that Salome was even given a name. During that time, Salome’s dance was used by the early church fathers as an example, principally to illustrated the temptation of women and to introduce the element of sex, such as Johannes Chrysostomos in the late 4th century, who stated, “Wherever there a dance, the devil is also present. God did not give us our feet for dancing but so that we might walk on the path of righteousness.” [18]

From this point, however, the Salome narrative continually evolves, almost in a dance itself. In Carmen Skaggs’ "Modernity's Revision of the Dancing Daughter: The Salome Narrative of Wilde and Strauss” she intimates that by expanding upon the dance in his play, “Wilde, as a Decadent writer in the nineteenth century, develops the themes of Orientalism and counter-cultural ethics. He enters the chasm of human emotion and reveals both the savage and noble heights to which humanity ascends. He explores the deeply ingrained gender ideologies of modernity and the sexual perversities of modern culture,” and “by focusing the narrative upon the dancing daughter and empowering her sexuality, Wilde brings new dimension to her character.” [12]

Theodore Ziolkowski, in his "The Veil as Metaphor and as Myth," continues the idea of character development for Salome via her dance, and points out that in Wilde’s text “Salome is placed squarely in the center of the action…her mother, fearing that the dance will only cause Herod to lust even more after her daughter, warns her repeatedly not to dance. Indeed, the dance is almost anticlimactic since Herod, unlike the biblical Herod, has already promised Salome whatever she wants.” [18] And with this in mind, that Salome has the agency to use her dance to her own benefit instead of dancing simply on the command of the lustful Herod, Linda and Michael Hutcheon’s claim in “‘Here's Lookin'at You, Kid’: The Empowering Gaze in Salome” that Salome knows the meaning of power and that “her dance is a calculated move in a game of exchange with Herod in which she offers her body as a sensual, sexual spectacle to his eyes, in return for a promise that will fulfill both her childlike willful stubbornness and her consuming sexual obsession to kiss the mouth of the resistant prophet,” serves to add another, more politically minded layer to Salome’s character, and takes the focus from strictly the sexual elements of Salome’s performance.[11]

Finally, in René Girard’s “Scandal and the Dance: Salome in the Gospel of Mark,” Girard uses the developed ideas of Salome as manipulative and politically savvy, and applies them once over to her dance, saying that her dance represents reckless desire because of the freedom of letting go and moving one’s body as well as the fuel for a political scandal, driven by Salome’s desire for Jokannan’s head. Girard also incorporates Skaggs’ idea of Wilde using different cultures and influences other than the original Biblical story, and claims that Salome’s dance becomes pagan and ritualistic because it is performed for Herod’s birthday, not a religious holiday, and in this circumstance, Jokannan becomes ritual sacrifice.[19]

Wilde's Salomé in later art[edit]

Wilde's version of the story has since spawned several other artistic works, the most famous of which is Richard Strauss's opera of the same name. Strauss saw Wilde's play in Berlin in November 1902, at Max Reinhardt's 'Little Theatre', with Gertrud Eysoldt in the title role, and began to compose his opera in summer 1903, completing it in 1905 and premiering it later the same year.[2] The Strauss opera moves the center of interest to Salome, away from Herod Antipas. However, it was not the only operatic treatment. Antoine Mariotte also wrote Salomé in 1905, and he was involved in a debate with Strauss to prove that his music was written earlier than Strauss's version. Mariotte's version was premiered in 1908.

In 1906, Maud Allan created a production entitled "Vision of Salomé", which debuted in Vienna. It was based loosely on Wilde's play. Her version of the Dance of the Seven Veils became famous (and to some notorious) and she was billed as "The Salomé Dancer". A production of the play led to a libel case in 1918, when Allan was accused of promoting sexual immorality.

In 1923, a film adaptation of Salomé directed by Charles Bryant was released. Alla Nazimova, the Russian-American actress, played the protagonist.

The play, and most of the later filmed versions, have Herod as the center of the action, dominating the play. Strong actors have been used to achieve this, such as Al Pacino in his 1980s Circle in the Square production; and in 2006, in a Los Angeles production.

Australian musician Nick Cave wrote a 5-act play entitled Salomé which is included in the 1988 collection of Cave's writings, King Ink (the play alludes to the Gospel account, Wilde's play, and Pierre Puvis de Chavannes's 1869 painting, The Beheading of John the Baptist).

Ken Russell directed a film version of the play, Salome's Last Dance (1988), staged as a private performance for Wilde at a brothel.

Also heavily influenced by the play are The Smashing Pumpkins' video for the song "Stand Inside Your Love" and U2's "Mysterious Ways" and "Salome".[citation needed]

Caffe Cino playwright Doric Wilson wrote a comic re-imagination of Wilde's Salome entitled "Now She Dances!".

The 1999 film Cookie's Fortune depicts a small Southern town preparing for a community production of Salomé, with Camille (Glenn Close) as the director of the play and Cora (Julianne Moore) in the role of Salomé.

In the film Trick, the character Katherine is in a fictitious variation of Salome that is set in a women's prison. Though, aside from seeing characters in striped prison jumpsuits, no scene from the play is actually seen.

Salome is metaphorically referenced in the anime Blood+.[citation needed]

Salome is the subject of a series of paintings The Dance of Salome (1988) by Nabil Kanso.

Spanish painter Gino Rubert created a series of pictures in 2005.[20]

Salome is a track by Pete Doherty on his 2009 album Grace/Wastelands, which shares several lyrical references to Wilde's work.

Throughout the movie and musical A Man of No Importance, the main character tries to produce the production of Salome in his local church.

Andrew Lloyd Webber's 1993 musical Sunset Boulevard features a song in Act I entitled 'Salome'. The song highlights Salome's infatuation with John the Baptist, and foreshadows Norma's obsession and later murder of Joe.

Salome is quoted and reference in the 2002 musical A Man of No Importance.

In 2009, the game developer Tale of Tales created a computer game called Fatale based on Oscar Wilde’s take on the Biblical story.[21] In the first third of the game, the player takes on the role of Iokannan awaiting his execution as Salome (unseen) dances above. Quotations from Wilde's Salome appear periodically, creating what Tale of Tales calls a “whispering soundscape”. In the second part of the game, the player takes on the role of Iokannan’s spirit and is tasked with blowing out the candles in the courtyard. The player is also allowed at this point to examine their surroundings. Salome and her mother Herodias can be seen at this point. In the last part of the game, the player can only control the camera as Salome dances. It is not outright stated from whose point of view you are watching; however, it may be Herod's as he is absent from the rest of the game. Tale of Tales took visual inspiration from the depictions of Salome painted by Titian, Gustav Moreau, and Lucas Cranach, Rita Hayworth's performance of the Dance of the Seven Veils set to Richard Strauss's music, as well as Aubrey Beardsley's illustrations for Wilde's original manuscript. The developers have cited “the repeated reference to looking and seeing” within Wilde's play as forming the core experience of the game.[22]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Oscar Wilde by Richard Ellman, published in 1987
  2. ^ a b Peter Raby, Introduction, p. xiii The Importance of Being Earnest and Other Plays, Oxford, Worlds Classics, 2008 ISBN 978-0-19-953597-2
  3. ^ Bristow, Joseph (2009). Oscar Wilde and Modern Culture: The Making of a Legend. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press. pp. 96, 106, 193. ISBN 978-0-8214-1837-6. 
  4. ^ cited by Archibald Henderson in Overland Monthly No. 1, July 1907. p. 14 archive.org
  5. ^ Wilde, Oscar (1986). The Importance of Being Earnest and other plays. London: Penguin Books Ltd. p. 319. ISBN 0-14-048209-1. 
  6. ^ Ellis, Samantha. "Salomé, Savoy Theatre, October 1931", 26 March 2003, accessed February 22, 2013
  7. ^ a b Peter Raby, Introduction, The Importance of Being Earnest and Other Plays, Oxford, Worlds Classics, 2008 ISBN 978-0-19-953597-2
  8. ^ The Importance of Not Being Salome, http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2000/jul/17/books.classics
  9. ^ Peter Raby, Introduction, p.xiv The Importance of Being Earnest and Other Plays, Oxford, Worlds Classics, 2008
  10. ^ "On "Seeing" Salome, http://www.jstor.org/stable/2873388
  11. ^ a b ""Here's Lookin' At You, Kid: The Empowering Gaze in Salome", http://www.jstor.org/stable/25595633
  12. ^ a b c "Modernity's Revision of the Dancing Daughter: The Salome Narrative of Wilde and Strauss", http://www.jstor.org/stable/25112661
  13. ^ a b Marrapodi, Eric. "A Head on a Silver Platter – Rethinking John the Baptist and Oscar Wilde." CNN Belief Blog RSS. CNN, 2 Feb. 2012. Web. 24 Mar. 2014.
  14. ^ a b Albin, Tania. "The Biblical Story of Salome." The Biblical Story of Salome. Brown University, 26 Dec. 2006. Web. 24 Mar. 2014
  15. ^ a b c Keijser, Luuk. "Biblical Influences on Oscar Wilde's Salome." The Culture Counter. The Culture Counter, 23 Nov. 2013. Web. 24 Mar. 2014.
  16. ^ "View Submitted Name." Behind the Name:. N.p., 10 Jan. 2009. Web. 24 Mar. 2014
  17. ^ Thuleen, Nancy. "Salome: A Wildean Symbolist Drama." Website Article. 19 December 1995. <http://www.nthuleen.com/papers/947paper.html>.
  18. ^ a b "The Veil as Metaphor and as Myth", http://www.jstor.org/stable/25746529
  19. ^ "Scandal and the Dance: Salome in the Gospel of Mark", http://www.jstor.org/stable/468858
  20. ^ Spanish ed.: ISBN 84-8109-511-7 German edition, Club premiere 2006, without ISBN
  21. ^ Tale of Tales, http://tale-of-tales.com/Fatale/
  22. ^ Tale of Tales, http://tale-of-tales.com/Fatale/#!folio/project-1.html

External links[edit]