Salome (play)

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One of the illustrations Aubrey Beardsley produced for the first English edition of Wilde’s play Salome (1894)

Salome (French: Salomé, pronounced: [salome]) 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, stepdaughter of the tetrarch Herod Antipas, who, to her stepfather’s dismay but to the delight of her mother Herodias, requests the head of Jokanaan (John the Baptist) on a silver platter as a reward for dancing the dance of the seven veils.

Versions and premieres[edit]

Rehearsals for the play’s debut on the London stage, for inclusion in Sarah Bernhardt‘s London season, began in 1892, but 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. The play was first published in French in February 1893, and an English translation, with illustrations by Aubrey Beardsley, in February 1894. On the Dedication page, Wilde indicated that his lover Lord Alfred Douglas was the translator. In fact, Wilde and Douglas had quarrelled over the latter’s translation of the text which had been nothing short of disastrous given his poor mastery of French — though Douglas claimed that the errors were really in Wilde’s original play. Beardsley and the publisher John Lane got drawn in when they sided with Wilde. In a gesture of reconciliation, Wilde did the work himself but dedicated Douglas as the translator rather than having them sharing their names on the title-page. Douglas compared a dedication to sharing the title-page as “the difference between a tribute of admiration from an artist and a receipt from a tradesman.”[1]

The play was eventually premiered on 11 February 1896, while Wilde was in prison, in Paris at the Comédie-Parisienne – (at the Théâtre de l’Œuvre in some accounts [2])- in a staging by Lugné-Poe‘s theatre group, the Théâtre de l’Œuvre.[3] In Pall Mall Gazette of 29 June 1892 Wilde explained, why he had written Salomé in French:

“I have one instrument that I know I can command, and that is the English language. There was another instrument to which I had listened all my life, and I wanted once to touch this new instrument to see whether I could make any beautiful thing out of it. […] Of course, there are modes of expression that a Frenchman of letters would not have used, but they give a certain relief or color to the play. A great deal of the curious effect that Maeterlinck produces comes from the fact that he, a Flamand by grace, writes in an alien language. The same thing is true of Rossetti, who, though he wrote in English, was essentially Latin in temperament.”[4]

Maud Allan as Salomé with the head of John the Baptist in an early adaptation of Wilde’s play

A performance of the play was arranged by the New Stage Club at the Bijou Theatre in Archer Street, London, on 10 and 13 May 1905, starring Millicent Murby as Salome and directed by Florence Farr.[5] In June 1906 the play was presented privately with A Florentine Tragedy by the Literary Theatre Society at King’s Hall, Covent Garden. The Lord Chamberlain’s ban was not lifted for almost forty years; the first public performance of Salomé in England was produced by Nancy Price at the Savoy Theatre on 5 October 1931. She took the role of Herodias herself and cast her daughter Joan Maude as Salomé.[6]

In 1992 the play was performed on Broadway at the Circle in the Square Theatre, under the direction of Robert Allan Ackerman. Sheryl Lee starred as the title role alongside Al Pacino. The play costarred Suzanne Bertish, Esai Morales and Arnold Vosloo.

Origins and themes[edit]

Wilde had considered the subject since he had first been introduced to Hérodias, one of Flaubert‘s Trois Contes, by Walter Pater, at Oxford in 1877. His interest had been further stimulated by descriptions of Gustave Moreau‘s paintings of Salome in Joris-Karl Huysmans‘s À rebours. Other literary influences include Heinrich Heine‘s Atta Troll, Laforgue‘s Salomé in Moralités Légendaires and Mallarmé‘s Hérodiade.[7]

Wilde’s interest in Salomés image had been stimulated by descriptions of Gustave Moreau‘s paintings in Joris-Karl Huysmans‘s À rebours.

Many view Wilde’s Salomé as a superb composite of these earlier treatments of the theme overlaid, in terms of dramatic influences, with Belgian playwright Maurice Maeterlinck‘s characteristic methodical diction,[clarification needed] and specifically Maeterlinck’s La Princesse Maleine, ‘with its use of colour, sound, dance, visual description and visual effect’.[8] Wilde often referred to the play in musical terms and believed that recurring phrases ‘bind it together like a piece of music with recurring motifs. ‘ Although the “kissing of the head” element was used in Heine and even Heywood’s[who?] 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.

Alice Guszalewicz as Salome in the Richard Strauss opera, c. 1910. Richard Ellmann misidentified this photograph in his 1987 biography as “Wilde in costume as Salome,” the error being finally corrected in 2000.[9]

Actress Margarita Xirgu in the Spanish premiere in 1910 in Barcelona

Scholars like Christopher Nassaar 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 pagan goddess Cybele, who, like Salomé, was obsessed with preserving her virginity and thus took pleasure in destroying male sexuality.[citation needed]

Following the prelude three demarcated episodes follow: the meeting between Salome and Iokanaan, the phase of the white moon; the major public central episode, the dance and the beheading, the phase of the red moon; and finally the conclusion, when the black cloud conceals the moon.[10]

Wilde’s Salomé in later art[edit]

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. Richard Strauss saw Wilde’s play in Berlin in November 1902, at Max Reinhardt‘s ‘Little Theatre’, with Gertrud Eysoldt in the title role, and began to compose his opera in summer 1903.[2] The Strauss opera moves the center of interest to Salome, away from Herod Antipas.

In 1906, Maud Allan created a production entitled “Vision of Salomé”, which debuted in Vienna. It was based loosely on Wilde’s play. Her version of the Dance of the Seven Veils became famous (and to some notorious) and she was billed as “The Salomé Dancer”. A production of the play led to a libel case in 1918, when Allan was accused of promoting sexual immorality.

In 1923, a film adaptation of Salomé directed by Charles Bryant was released. Alla Nazimova, the Russian/American actress, played the protagonist.

The play, and most of the later filmed versions, have Herod as the center of the action, dominating the play. Strong actors have been used to achieve this, such as Al Pacino in his 1980s Circle in the Square production; and in 2006, in a Los Angeles production.

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).

Ken Russell directed a film version of the play, Salome’s Last Dance (1988), staged as a private performance for Wilde at a brothel.

Also heavily influenced by the play are The Smashing Pumpkins‘ video for the song “Stand Inside Your Love” and U2‘s “Mysterious Ways” and “Salome“.[citation needed]

Caffe Cino playwright Doric Wilson wrote a comic re-imagination of Wilde’s Salome entitled “Now She Dances!”.

The 1999 film Cookie’s Fortune depicts a small Southern town preparing for a community production of Salomé, with Camille (Glenn Close) as the director of the play and Cora (Julianne Moore) in the role of Salomé.

In the film Trick, the character Katherine is in a fictitious variation of Salome that is set in a women’s prison. Though, aside from seeing characters in striped prison jumpsuits, no scene from the play is actually seen.

Salome is metaphorically referenced in the anime Blood+.[citation needed]

Spanish painter Gino Rubert created a series of pictures in 2005.[11]

Salome is a track by Pete Doherty on his 2009 album Grace/Wastelands, which shares several lyrical references to Wilde’s work.

Throughout the movie and musical A Man of No Importance, the main character tries to produce the production of Salome in his local church.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1993 musical adaptation of ‘Sunset Boulevard‘ features a song in act one entitled ‘Salome’. The song highlights Salome’s infatuation with John the Baptist, and foreshadows Norma’s obsession and later murder of Joe.


  1. ^ Oscar Wilde by Richard Ellman, published in 1987
  2. ^ a b Peter Raby, Introduction, p.xiii The Importance of Being Earnest and Other Plays, Oxford, Worlds Classics, 2008
  3. ^ Bristow, Joseph (2009). Oscar Wilde and Modern Culture: The Making of a Legend. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press. pp. 96, 106, 193. ISBN 978-0-8214-1837-6. 
  4. ^ cited by Archibald Henderson in Overland Monthly No. 1, July 1907. p. 14
  5. ^ Wilde, Oscar (1986). The Importance of Being Earnest and other plays. London: Penguin Books Ltd. p. 319. ISBN 0-14-048209-1. 
  6. ^ Ellis, Samantha. “Salomé, Savoy Theatre, October 1931”, 26 March 2003, accessed February 22, 2013
  7. ^ Peter Raby, Introduction, The Importance of Being Earnest and Other Plays, Oxford, Worlds Classics, 2008
  8. ^ Peter Raby, Introduction, The Importance of Being Earnest and Other Plays, Oxford, Worlds Classics, 2008 ISBN 978-0-19-953597-2
  9. ^ The Importance of Not Being Salome,
  10. ^ Peter Raby, Introduction, p.xiv The Importance of Being Earnest and Other Plays, Oxford, Worlds Classics, 2008
  11. ^ Spanish ed.: ISBN 84-8109-511-7 German edition, Club premiere 2006, without ISBN

External links[edit]

This article uses material from the Wikipedia article Salome (play), which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.