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Salome (or in French: Salomé ) is a tragedy by Oscar Wilde.
The original 1891 version of the play was in French. Three years later an English translation was published. The play tells in one act the Biblical story of Salome, step-daughter of the tetrarch Herod Antipas, who, to her step-father's dismay but to the delight of her mother Herodias, requests the head of Jokaanan (John the Baptist) on a silver platter as reward for dancing the Dance of the Seven Veils.
Versions and premieres
Rehearsals for the play's English debut were halted when the Lord Chamberlain's licensor of plays banned Salomé on the basis that it was illegal to depict Biblical characters on the stage. So instead, the play was published in French, with illustrations by Aubrey Beardsley, in 1894. On the Dedication page, Wilde indicates Lord Alfred Bruce Douglas as translator.
Wilde then gave the play to be produced in French, and it premiered in Paris in 1896. When asked why he had chosen to write Salomé in French, Wilde cited Maeterlinck as an example of the interesting effect resulting when an author writes in a language not his own.
The Lord Chamberlain's ban was not lifted for almost forty years; the first production of Salomé in England was at the Savoy Theatre on October 5, 1931.
Many view Wilde's Salomé as a superb composite of earlier treatments of the theme overlaid with Belgian playwright Maurice Maeterlinck's characteristic methodical diction. Although the "kissing of the head" element was used in Heine and even Heywood's production, Wilde's ingenuity was to move it to the play's climax. While his debts are undeniable, there are some interesting contributions in Wilde's treatment, most notably being his persistent use of parallels between Salomé and the moon.
Scholars like Nassaar like to point out that Wilde employs a number of the images favored by Israel's kingly poets and that the moon is meant to suggest the terrible pagan goddess Cybele, who, like Salomé was obsessed with preserving her virginity and thus took perverse pleasure in destroying male sexuality.
Wilde's Salomé in later art
Wilde's version of the story has since spawned several other artistic works, the most famous of which is Richard Strauss's opera of the same name. The Strauss opera moves the center of interest to Salome, away from Herod Antipas.
The play, and most of the later filmed versions, have Herod as the center of the action. A strong actor, as with Al Pacino in his 1980s Circle in the Square production (and in 2006, in a Los Angeles production), or as with the Ken Russell movie Salome's Last Dance, Herod completely dominates the play.
The 1961 Biblical epic King of Kings uses lines of dialogue original to Wilde rather than the Gospel for some scenes involving Herod Antipas, John the Baptist, Herodias and Salome.
Australian musician Nick Cave wrote a 5-act play entitled Salomé which is included in the 1988 collection of Cave's writings, King Ink (the play alludes to the Gospel account, Wilde's play, and Pierre Puvis de Chavannes's 1869 painting, The Beheading of John the Baptist).
Also heavily influenced by the play is The Smashing Pumpkins' video for the song "Stand Inside Your Love" and U2's Mysterious Ways and Salome.
- Project Gutenberg e-text of Wilde's Salomé (French): http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/1339
- Full text of Salomé, drame en un acte (French) from the University of Virginia Library
- Study guide containing analysis, glossary and historical background.
- Full text of Salome: A Tragedy in One Act (English) from the University of Virginia Library