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Oscar Wilde wrote Salomé, a one act in French, about Salomé, daughter of Herodius, and niece/step-daughter of Herod Antipas, the Tetrarch. I don’t know if what I read was a good translation, since I don’t know French, but the language felt stilted, perhaps forced, though all the characters’ repeated reference to the moon and Salomé’s crazed litany of desire for Iokanaan gives the play a staccato rhythm, and redeems, for me, some of the odd phrasing. The end was inevitable–not just because we know the fate of John the Baptist from Scripture, but also because Salomé’s strength of obsession couldn’t go unanswered.

Salomé is basically insane–spoiled and mad with lust, and she’ll do anything to get what she wants. She doesn’t care whether she’s preying on the fatal love of the young Syrian or the hubris of Herod, who here is a petty, approval-driven man, willing to bow to his desires in some things, like taking his brother’s wife, but not all. He can’t get past his own bruised sense of propriety to the state of unbridled, unresistant acquiescence to temptation where Salomé lives. She has no filter, and no boundaries.

Wilde references the moon a lot, especially how it looks–invariably like a woman obsessed with death, looking for dead things. The play feels decadent and grotesque, melodramatic and extravagant; very much like the Art Nouveau in style at the time. I felt Wilde’s addition to the Biblical story, at the very end, was unnecessary, and didn’t quite fit with Herod’s shrinking, hand-washing character throughout the play.

Read the text for free, in French, English or both, side by side. Also worth noting: Aubrey Beardsley drew a series of illustrations for this play, of which this is a good example.

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  1. A Well of Ignorance › The Jewel-Hinged Jaw on Tuesday, September 9, 2008 at 10:29 am

    […] from Poe. I’ll need to read Politian to further illuminate the significance of the rhythms I noticed, but that’s a good example of the insights Delany casually throws […]

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