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Salome: A Wilde Perspective Essay, Research Paper

Salom?: A Wilde Perspective

Oscar Wilde had long been fascinated by the Biblical story of Salom?, princess of

Judea, who danced for King Herod and asked for the head of St John the Baptist in return.

So he decided to write down his own version of the tale; however, Wilde’s Salom? turned

out to be something quite special, and not just because it was written in French.

The Gospel according to Mark and Matthew

According to the Gospels, St John is beheaded on instigation of Herodias, Queen

of Judea, who is fed up with the prophet’s comments on her incestuous marriage with her

brother-in-law, King Herod. Herodias tells her dancing daughter (who is not given a

name) to ask for the head of the prophet as a reward for her skill, and the girl dutifully

obeys. King Herod has no other choice but the grant the girl’s wish.

The Gospel according to Wilde

The play is all about the sudden consuming passion of Salom?, daughter of Queen

Herodias and stepdaughter of Herod Antipas, for the prophet Jokanaan, and his fierce

rejection of her love. Hurt and humiliated, Salom? swears she will kiss Jokanaan’s lips.

When Herod, lusting after his stepdaughter, urges her to dance, she does so, only after he

has promised to give her whatever she may ask of him. In Wilde’s interpretation, Salom?

is not just be her mother’s tool, but a girl with a will of her own. She then asks for the

head of Jokanaan on a silver platter. Very reluctantly, but forced to be true to his word,

Herod fulfills his promise. At the climax of the play, Salom? finally kisses the lips of

Jokanaan’s severed head with such passion that Herod, horrified (and jealous?), orders his

soldiers to kill her.

Salom? is judged incredibly perverse and cruel because she demands the head of

Jokanaan, the man who scorns her love. But what to say of Jokanaan himself? The

cruelty in his treatment of the young Princess is considerable. We must not forget that

Salom? is, contrary to her mother Herodias, not a wanton, and she is not at all

experienced in the ways of the world. She tries to escape Herod’s ‘male gazing’ because

she feels threatened by it, and in a speech she admires the moon for being chaste. It is

only when she sees Jokanaan that passions she had never known before come into

existence. Jokanaan insults her by treating her as a harlot, though she is none. He despises

her love. Now if that isn’t perverse and cruel.


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