Oscar Wilde’s gruesome and controversial play begs and important question. Who is Salome? In the bible this woman is not even given a name. She is the daughter of Herodias who dances for the pleasure of her stepfather, Herod. Perhaps the very fact that she remains unnamed is part of the mystery and problem that is Salome. There was no need to name this type of woman in patriarchal Christian religion. Yet, Salome’s story continues to inspire and terrify both her champions and her harshest critics.
In writing Salome Wilde gives this figure both an identity and a desire. But just what does this identity and subsequent desire represent? Throughout the play Salome is subjected to the male gaze. Both the Young Syrian and Herod continually look at her. They are both warned not to do so. The Page of Herodias tells the Young Syrian, “Why do you look at her? You must not look at her…Something terrible may happen.” Herod is similarly warned by his wife, “You must not look at her! You are always looking at her!” Aside from their own desires, why would these two characters believe that looking at Salome is so dangerous? This could be an acknowledgement of the power of looking and the subsequent power that Salome gains from being looked at.
Scopophilia is not only the pleasure and power of looking, but also the pleasure and power of being looked at. Salome is aware of this type of power. She says, “Why does the Tetrarch look at me all the while with his mole’s eyes under his shaking eyelids? It is strange that the husband of my mother looks at me like that. I know not what it means. Of a truth I know it too well.” Salome realizes that Herod is viewing her as a sexual o...
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...y? Whatever the reason Salome is destroyed by men immediately after she receives the satisfaction of kissing Jokanaan’s severed head.
Perhaps the figure of Salome is much like the moon in this play. It reflects whatever the onlooker hopes to see. To those who wish to view Salome as the original femme fatal, she is reflected as dangerous and grotesque. To others, who encourage her rebellion, she is an icon for artistic self-reflection. Representations of Salome are varied and many. They are constantly evolving with shifts of collective experience. In any event, Salome has earned the name denied to her in the bible. She is to some a heroine, to others a pornographic object, and still others a dangerous threat to patriarchal order. She has many identities and even more desires, yet she continues to fascinate and repulse, as her mystery is unraveled.
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