A number of critics have read Wilde's Salomé as an allegory for the work of art as such. Born of painting, literature, and drama, she would incarnate the beauty of artifice, ornament, and luxury. Importantly, however, this seductive spectacle is also a harbinger of death. 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.

Read an in-depth analysis of Salomé.

Herod Antipas

The Tetrarch of Judea, Herod is Herodias's second husband and Salomé's stepfather. Herod deposed, imprisoned, and executed Salomé's father—his own elder brother the former king—and wedded Herodias in what Jokanaan calls an incestuous union. Herod is in fear of Jokanaan, whom he has imprisoned, as he cannot know if Jokanaan speaks the word of God and if his many prophecies of his ruin will come to pass. He is also tormented by a host of omens—the blood in which he slips, the beating wings of the angel of death, his burning and bloody garland—that foretell the death about to strike the palace.

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Jokanaan—Wilde's Saint John the Baptist—is the prophet imprisoned in a tomb-like cistern at the orders of the Tetrarch. He spends much of the play in his subterranean prison, figuring as a mad, booming voice that prophesies the ruin of the kingdom, curses the royal family, and proclaims the coming of Christ. He appears on-stage and takes corporeal form, against his wishes, at Salomé's lustful call.

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The proud, hard queen of Judaea, Herodias abhors Jokanaan, who has slandered her as an incestuous harlot and remains alive against her wishes. She also suffers the indignity of Herod's incestuous lust for Salomé, hopelessly reproaching him for his gaze. Unlike most of the cast, characterized by its propensity for finding symbolism and the omen in particular in the world, Herodias appears to scorn the symbol.

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The Young Syrian

A former prince and captain of Herod's guard, the Syrian is a handsome, languorous youth utterly entranced by Salomé. Thus he raises Jokanaan from his cistern at her request and kills himself when she professes her love for the prophet.

The Soldiers

Along with the Syrian and the Page, the Soldiers compose the cluster of voyeurs that open the play looking into the banquet off-stage. They introduce Jokanaan to the visitors.

The Page

Mesmerized by the deadly moon, the Page senses the death of his friend the Young Syrian and eulogizes him upon his suicide.

Jews and Nazarenes

Two opposed groups in Herod's court who dispute various religious issues. The Jews are imagined as tiresome at best and as wild, howling beasts at worst; the Nazarenes bring news of Messia' miracles.


Tigellinus is a Roman official who provides Herod with news of Rome and Caesar.

A Cappadocian

The Cappadocian is a guest of Herod's court who in the first scenes of the play converses with the First Soldier on the identity of Jokanaan. He hardly believes in the prophet's power.

A Nubian

The Nubian is guest of Herod's court who remarks upon the taste his gods have for blood sacrifice.


Naaman stands silently in the background until delivering Jokanaan's execution. He also executed Herod's deposed elder brother.

The Slaves of Salomé

These slaves attend to Salomé intermittently, calling her, for example, back to the banquet and preparing her for the dance of the seven veils.