Summary

Part 3

Summary Part 3

Calling for the torches to be lit, Herod takes the party outside to look at Salomé. Despite Herodias's embarrassed reproaches, he cannot tear his eyes away: ultimately her image will transfix him entirely. Along with staring at Salomé, Herod of course also gazes at the moon. As noted above, the moon appears here as a double of Salomé's: for the Page specifically, the woman bearing death. Earlier, perhaps echoing Mallarmé's Herodias, Salomé triumphantly imagines her as a virgin, a goddess who never defiled herself as her sisters did. Tellingly, Herod sees no virgin in the moon but its opposite: a naked, drunken madwoman who searches everywhere for lovers and will not let the clouds cover her nakedness. As Salomé notes earlier, the wish in his gaze is all too clear. In following Herod's desiring gaze, we should not also forget the recurring eroticism of the mouth. Herod invites the princess to drink from his cup and bite into his fruit, leaving the trace of her mouth so that he may consume the rest. Eating is of course already sensual: here, under the trace of Salomé's mouth, it is a metaphor for sex.

The next major exchange following Herod's attempts at seduction are the debates of the Jews and Nazarenes. Already the Jews have been posed as "howling" and "wild beasts," haggling over the controversy introduced by Jokanaan. The reports of the Messiahs' miracles by the Nazarenes that follow the debate of the Jews would indicate the "progress" from the religion of the Jews to Christianity that Jokanaan's prophecies already herald. Indeed some of the arguments Wilde has written for the Jews seem to themselves favor the movements into Christianity (i.e. because God has hidden himself, evil has fallen on the land, etc.). Certainly the debate of the Jews lends itself to comic interpretation. Their dialogue seems apiece with the comic court dialogue, dialogue rather sparse in this rather heavy play. Wildean humor emerges, for example, in the conjunction of the Tetrarch's automatic reverence of Caesar and unwittingly caricaturizing observation that the emperor is too gouty to travel. Similarly is it hard not to hear the "perfectly ridiculous" of Wilde's society comedies in Tigellinus's characterization of the Stoics—the all-too-certain enemies of Wilde's philosophy of pleasure—as being "perfectly ridiculous" in their tendency to commit suicide.