“Salome” is a play written by Irish writer and poet Oscar Wilde. The story is set at the banqueting hall in the palace of Herod. Herod, the Tetrarch of Judaea, is intensely infatuated with his stepdaughter Salome, Daughter of Herodias; but her interest lies with another man, Jokanaan. Unfortunately, Jokanaan has no feelings for Salome. The incestuous longing of her step father and her uncontainable lust for Jokanaan will have terrible consequences. Salome’s uncontrollable desire for Jokanaan drives her to perform the dance of the seven veils for Herod. As a reward, she asks for the head of Jokanaan on a silver platter. When she has the silver platter in her hands, she insanely starts to kiss Jokanaan’s cold lips. Her unbridled behavior angers Herod and he has her executed. “Salome is a play about desire”, and Salome herself is a symbol of extreme sexual desire (Im). Such strong desires can lead people to do wicked things that are not usually a part of their normal personalities. People have a dark side inside the part of their human nature, like an insidious beast, and desire induces the beast to awake. At the beginning of the play, Wilde connects Salome’s image with the bright moon. As Mitchell says, “The repeated references to the moon cited earlier serve to accentuate its importance as a symbol” (Mitchell). When Salome looks at the moon, she says, “I am sure she is a virgin. Yes, she is a virgin. She has never defiled herself. She has never abandoned herself to men, like the other goddesses” (Wilde 7). Salome’s purity is a very important aspect of the story, the lost of purity will complete change Salome’s character. “To Salome, the moon is pure and virginal”, just like herself (Mitchell). At this moment, she is still chaste as the moon, arrogant as a goddess. Her virginal purity makes her character seem innocent and untouched by the desires of all those around her. She keeps her distance from her admirers to protect her virginity and maintain her dignity as a supreme princess, all because she has not yet met the person who can entice her lust. Salome is a chaste and pure young girl who is coming of age and begins to have womanly sexual feeling. “Salome exists in an interstice between girl and woman, chastity and voluptuousness” (Im). When Salome hears the voice of Jokanaan, she is changing, the iceberg inside of her heart starts melting. When she looks at his body, she experiences an unprecedented strong sexual desire. “Suffer me to kiss thy mouth”, she says to Jokanaan repeatedly (Wilde 14-16). The fire of love is burning inside of her, and she does not bother to hide it. The highborn princess forgets her nobility, she throws herself at Jokanaan like a prostitute. Sadly, Jokanaan does not respond to her lust and pushes her away. Jokanaan’s rejection does not calm down Salome’s lust. In fact, it overwhelmingly occupies her mind, the flame of her desire is burning stronger. Upon seeing Jokanaan, Salome’s inner desires are awoken, and she feels very strong sexual desires towards him. “As though in warning, the Page of Herodias urges the Young Syrian to look at the moon, where perhaps there is some sign of Salome’s true nature, and not to look at Salome herself, because ‘something terrible may happen’” (Mitchell). Salome chooses to give in to her desires and formulate a plan to achieve what she wants. She decides to perform the dance of seven veils for Herod, who is disgusting to her, but he is the only person she can use as a tool to satisfy her goals. Even though the dance is incestuous, it still leads to what she craves. “The mutation reiterates Wilde’s belief that human beings are beasts with bestial needs” (Nassaar, Shaheen). When Salome is holding the silver platter with Jokanaan’s head on it, the beast inside of her heart is awakening. She kisses Jokanaan’s severed head as if possessed, bites his lip with her teeth as though she is biting a ripe fruit, and taste his tongue even though it is not moving anymore (Wilde 39). She says, “I was a virgin, and thou didst take my virginity from me. I was chaste, and thou didst fill my veins with fire” (Wilde 40). She decides if she cannot have him, then no one can. “Salome’s actions turn destructive because her limited ability to exert her will causes her power to be perverted” (Marcovitch). Salome looks at Jokanaan’s severed head and tells him, “I saw thee, and I loved thee. Oh, how I love thee! I love thee yet, Jokanaan, I love only thee” (Wilde 40). She thinks her sexual desire for him is from passion and love, but that is not true, it is from lust. She is eager to have Jokanaan’s body, not building a relationship with him. Just like her confession later, “I am athirst for thy beauty; I am hungry for thy body; and neither wine nor apples can appease my desire” (Wilde 40). She is controlled by her lust, a powerful feeling even stronger than love, and her lust puts her into trouble. Salome turns down Herod’s request for a dance again and again even though he is Tetrarch of Judaea, even when he offers her beautiful jewelry and half of his kingdom, she still will not yield an inch. As a pure young woman, she is above such offerings, until her own desires are awoken. But when she experiences lust, she will do anything to get what she wants. Her longing for Jokanaan’s kiss, is like a starving beast craving a piece of fresh meat, even if it is a kiss of death. Nassaar and Shaheen interpret Wilde’s idea as “he does not accept the traditional separation between man and beast” (Nassaar, Shaheen). The beast inside of Salome is aroused by her formidable sexual desire; this causes her to mutate from a pure virgin to an insane woman.
Work Cited Nassaar, Christopher S., and Nataly Shaheen. "Wilde's 'Salome'." The Explicator 59.3 (2001): 132. Literature Resource Center. Web. 5 June 2013. Marcovitch, Heather. "The princess, persona, and subjective desire: a reading of Oscar Wilde's Salome." Papers on Language & Literature 40.1 (2004): 88. Literature Resource Center. Web. 5 June 2013. Mitchell, Jason P. "A Source Victorian or Biblical?: The Integration of Biblical Diction and Symbolism in Oscar Wilde's Salomé." Victorian Newsletter 89 (Spring 1996): 14-18. Rpt. in Drama Criticism. Ed. Scott T. Darga. Vol. 17. Detroit: Gale, 2002. Literature Resource Center. Web. 9 June 2013. Im, Yeeyon. "Oscar Wilde's Salome: disorienting orientalism." Comparative Drama 45.4 (2011): 361+. Literature Resource Center. Web. 5 June 2013. Wilde, Oscar. “Salome.” The Plays of Oscar Wilde. 1-41. New York: The Modern Library, 1940. Print.