The Biblical Story of SalomeOscar Wilde had long been fascinated by the Biblical story of Salome, princess of
Judea, who danced for King Herod and asked for the head of St John the Baptist in return.
So he decided to write down his own version of the tale; however, Wilde’s Salome turned
out to be something quite special, and not just because it was written in French.
The Gospel according to Mark and Matthew
According to the Gospels, St John is beheaded on instigation of Herodias, Queen
of Judea, who is fed up with the prophet’s comments on her incestuous marriage with her
brother-in-law, King Herod. Herodias tells her dancing daughter (who is not given a
name) to ask for the head of the prophet as a reward for her skill, and the girl dutifully
obeys. King Herod has no other choice but the grant the girl’s wish.
The Gospel according to Wilde
The play is all about the sudden consuming passion of Salome, daughter of Queen
Herodias and stepdaughter of Herod Antipas, for the prophet Jokanaan, and his fierce
rejection of her love. Hurt and humiliated, Salome swears she will kiss Jokanaan’s lips.
When Herod, lusting after his stepdaughter, urges her to dance, she does so, only after he
has promised to give her whatever she may ask of him. In Wilde’s interpretation, Salome
is not just be her mother’s tool, but a girl with a will of her own. She then asks for the
head of Jokanaan on a silver platter. Very reluctantly, but forced to be true to his word,
Herod fulfills his promise. At the climax of the play, Salome finally kisses the lips of
Jokanaan’s severed head with such passion that Herod, horrified (and jealous?), orders hissoldiers to kill her.
Salome is judged incredibly perverse and cruel because she demands the head of
Jokanaan, the man who scorns her love. But what to say of Jokanaan himself? The
cruelty in his treatment of the young Princess is considerable. We must not forget that
Salome is, contrary to her mother Herodias, not a wanton, and she is not at all