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

Salome (or in French: Salomé ) 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.

Contents

Versions and premieres

Rehearsals for the play's debut on the London stage 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 1893, and an English translation, with illustrations by Aubrey Beardsley, in 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 eventually premiered in Paris in 1896, while Wilde was in prison. When asked why he had chosen to write Salomé in French, Wilde cited Maeterlinck as an example of the interesting effect resulting when an author writes in a language not his own.

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

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 at the Savoy Theatre on October 5, 1931.

Themes

Many view Wilde's Salomé as a superb composite of earlier treatments of the theme overlaid with Belgian playwright Maurice Maeterlinck's characteristic methodical diction. Although the "kissing of the head" element was used in Heine and even Heywood's 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 Salomé in the Richard Strauss opera, circa 1910. Richard Ellmann misidentified this in his 1987 book as of Oscar Wilde himself, the error being corrected in 1992.[2]

Scholars like 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.

Wilde's Salomé in later art

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. 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.

The play, and most of the later filmed versions, have Herod as the center of the action. A strong actor, as with Al Pacino in his 1980s Circle in the Square production (and in 2006, in a Los Angeles production), or as with the Ken Russell movie Salome's Last Dance, Herod completely dominates the play.

The 1961 Biblical epic King of Kings uses lines of dialogue original to Wilde rather than the Gospel for some scenes involving Herod Antipas, John the Baptist, Herodias and Salome.

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".

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

Salome is metaphorically referenced in the anime Blood+.

Spanish painter Gino Rubert created a series of pictures in 2005.[3]

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

Salome is currently played with great success in Paris, at the Théâtre du Nord-Ouest in a very inspired version by stage director Olivier Bruaux.

Salome is currently being played for the first time in San Juan, Puerto Rico at the Teatro Francisco Arrivi by theatre company Artefacto.

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

References

  1. ^ Oscar Wilde by Richard Ellman, published in 1987
  2. ^ Cornell University College of Arts & Sciences News Letter Spring 1996 Vol. 17 No. 2
  3. ^ Spanish ed.: ISBN 8481095117 German edition, Club premiere 2006, without ISBN

External links

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