Salomé

by: Oscar Wilde

Important Quotations Explained

It is true, I have looked at you all this evening. Your beauty troubled me. Your beauty has grievously troubled me, and I have looked at you too much. But I will look at you no more. Neither at things, nor at people should one look. Only in mirrors should one look, for mirrors do but show us masks.

Herod makes this confession when Salomé demands the head of Jokanaan, desperately begging the princess to release him from his word. Guiltily he 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 at things and being looked at, 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.