Salomé

by: Oscar Wilde

Salomé

Characters Salomé

A number of critics believe Wilde's Salomé to be an allegory for the work of art itself. As Wilde told a friend with regards to her essential representation—the dance of the seven veils—Salomé should appear "totally naked, but draped with heavy and ringing necklaces made of jewels of every color, warm with the fervor of her amber flesh. " Salomé is left not naked, but bejeweled, transformed into a luxurious work of art: even her flesh becomes "amber." Importantly, however, this seductive spectacle is also a harbinger of death.

In the play, Salomé first appears disgusted by the court, mortified by its crude, painted guests and the incestuous gaze of her stepfather, Herod. Soon thereafter she is seduced by the imprisoned prophet Jokanaan's voice and has him drawn from his tomb, transgressing the order of the Tetrarch. His appearance ends her cold virginity, a chastity that she celebrates in the moon and appears, albeit in much more hysterical fashion, in her Mallarméan counterpart "Hérodiade." Though all men have been hateful to her, Salomé loves Jokanaan desperately. Staring at him lustily, she violently demands his look and his lips, which the prophet of course refuses her.

Salomé then withdraws somewhat for the following scenes as Herod brings his banquet outdoors and attempts to seduce her. She returns the center of the stage to perform the famous dance of the seven veils and enjoy the desire she can apparently only have in death. Thus she becomes deadly as spectacle. In this respect, she is twinned with the moon anew, which also appears here as both the image and gaze of death. As established at the outset, the moon and Salomé are the play's most consuming objects of the look, imagined in a seductive metaphoric network of concealment and exhibition, of veils, clouds, wings, fans, etc. and moving slowly in a dance of death. We have the first demonstration of her deadliness in the suicide of the Syrian, who is precisely seduced by Salomé's command that he look at her and promise that she will look at him tomorrow through the muslin veils of her litter. Ultimately Salomé herself will become object of the moon's deadly stare. Her monstrous, necrophilic crossing of the taboo between living and dead at the end of the play brings down the judgment the moon, causing the Tetrarch to order her execution—a smothering under the soldiers's shields that erases her from view.