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Oscar Wilde

Part 5

Part 4

Part 5, page 2

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Herod offers Salomé an emerald from Caesar that, if looked through, has telescopic properties. Salomé continues to demand Jokanaan's head. Increasingly desperate, Herod rejoins that Salomé only asks to punish him for looking at her. Her beauty has troubled him. He will look no more, at neither things nor people. "Only in mirrors should one look, for mirrors do but show us masks." He calls for wine. He offers her his flock of white peacocks with feet of gilded gold. When they cry the rain comes, and the moon shows herself when they spread their tales. Among them Salomé will be like the moon in the midst of a great cloud.

Salomé is unmoved. Herod protests that Jokanaan might be a holy man and has foretold disaster on the day of his death. Herod offers her the jewels hidden in the palace: pearls like moons caught in a net; black and red-wine amethysts; topazes like the eyes of tigers, cats, and pigeons; moonstones; onyxes like the eyes of a dead woman. He has a crystal that woman cannot look upon and that men can only see upon being beaten with robs, a golden cup that turns to silver when filled with an enemy's poison, turquoises that enable their wearer to imagine what is not real. Herod would even give her the veil of the sanctuary to be released from his word. Salomé refuses.

Herod falls back, having drained his glass of wine, and the Soldier bears his death ring to the frightened Executioner. The executioner climbs into the cistern. Salomé leans over it, wondering why she does not hear sounds of struggle. She hears something fall. Convinced it is the sword of the cowardly executioner, she commands the Page and then the Soldiers to finish the job. All recoil. A huge black arm emerges from the cistern, bearing Jokanaan's head on a silver shield. Salomé seizes it, as Herod hides his face with his cloak. The Nazarenes pray, and Herodias smiles and fans herself.

Salomé tells the head that she will kiss its mouth now. But she still asks why Jokanaan refuses to look at her. She commands him to look at her. She remarks how ee rejected her with his viper tongue and treated her, the princess of Judaea, as a harlot. Now his head is hers to do with as she wishes. Jokanaan was the only man she loved, his body a beautiful "column of ivory set on a silver socket", a garden of doves and silver lilies, a silver tower decked with ivory shields. He saw his God but never saw her. She hungers for his body, and nothing will quench her. She was a virgin, and she took his virginity. If he had looked at her, he would have loved her, and love's mystery is greater than death's.

Herod declares Salomé monstrous. Herodias approves. Herod refuses to stay and calls for the servants to put out the torches. He will not look at things nor suffer them to look at him. "Put out the torches! Hide the moon! Hide the stars!" he exclaims. Herod begins to climb the staircase to the palace, and the stage goes dark. The voice of Salomé annouces that she has kissed the prophet's mouth. It tastes bitter, perhaps of blood or love. A moonbeam falls on Salomé, covering her with light. Herod turns and, upon seeing Salomé, orders the soldiers to kill her. They rush forward and crush her beneath their shields.


Desperately, Herod implores Salomé to release him from his word. Again, note the profusion of the tropes of looking. Herod guiltily believes that Salomé is punishing him for his look. Her "beauty has troubled him" and he has looked at her "too much." He resolves to withdraw from looking altogether, turning from both people and things. This withdrawal prefigures his disgusted retirement from the scene of the visible, where he puts out the palace torches and reduces the stage to darkness: "I will not look at things, I will not suffer things to look at me." Herod would have nothing to do with the economy of desire, the games of voyeurism and exhibitionism that structure the play. Strangely, he then delivers the play's only "Wildean" epigraph: "Only in mirrors should one look, for mirrors do but show us masks." Instead of looking and being looked, Herod would opt, hopelessly, for the fascinations of the mirror and masquerade. This escape is hopeless as the self's look in the mirror is of course hardly free of the game of looks between self and other.

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