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Symbols are objects, characters, figures, and colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
Often identified as a Symbolist play, Salomé offers those looking for symbols far too many to enumerate here. Almost all of the play's poetic images, gestures, and objects arguably take on symbolic value. We have identified the more obvious ones here. Herodias presents a decided exception in this cast so heavily inclined toward symbolism in their speech, scoffing at whatever mysteries the characters might conjure.
The moon appears here as a double of Salomé's and a symbol of woman. For the Page, the moon is the woman bearing death. Salomé triumphantly imagines the moon as virgin, as the 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 seeks everywhere for lovers and will not let the clouds cover her nakedness. As Salomé notes earlier, the wish in Herod's gaze is all too clear. Again, Herodias resists the cast's propensity for symbolism. When Herod sees a madwoman in the moon, she can but scoff: "the moon is like the moon, that is all."
Salomé features a host of omens symbolizing the death about to befall the palace, the majority of which are perceived by an increasingly desperate, paranoiac Herod and prophesied by Jokanaan. Examples include: the beating wings of the angel of death, the blood in which Herod slips, and the blood-red moon. Some have somatic effects: his garland is like fire and burns his forehead. He tosses it on the table and its petals become bloodstains on the cloth. Certainly one hears the echo of the crown of thorns here. Terrified Herod reflects that one "must not find symbols in everything" as it "makes life impossible." Unlike Herodias, however, Herod would not seek life in an ultimately hopeless denial of metaphor but in metaphor itself—specifically, the reversibility between metaphor's terms. Thus "it [is] better to say that stains of blood are as lovely as rose petals." Of course, the omen is perhaps characterized by the inflexibility of its metaphoric structures, the stop in the whirligig between a metaphor's terms. Though usually vague in its meaning and thus producing uncontrollable anxiety in its audience, it remains "motivated" nevertheless as a demonstration of some ill fate. Thus the petals are blood because the garland must portent dark times in the palace.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Salomé!