giovedì 17 maggio 2007

Salomé - Oscar Wilde

He actually wrote most of Salome in French in Paris during the autumn of 1891. On February 11, 1896, Salomé premiered to mixed reviews at the Théâtre de l'Œuvre in Paris. The play met with a mixed, but generally positive response; many suspected, however, that much of the enthusiastic applause at the curtain fall was actually in support of the author.
The play was first publicly performed in Germany at the Neues Theater in Berlin in 1903. Max Renhardt produced it based on the success of his earlier private production at the Kleines Theater in 1902. The production ran for 200 performances. Richard Strauss, who had been in the audience of that earlier private performance, premiered his opera of the same name at the Royal Opera House in Dresden in 1905. Salome was privately performed in both London and New York that same year.

The play tells in one act the Biblical story of Salome, step-daughter of the tetrarch Herod Antipas, who, to her step-father's dismay but to the delight of her mother Herodias, requests the head of Jokanaan (John the Baptist) on a silver platter as reward for dancing the Dance of the Seven Veils. Salome's irresistible seductive power seems to have reached beyond the limits of fiction, claiming not only Narraboth, Herod and Iokanaan as her victims, but also dominating a substantial portion of the late nineteenth century artistic imagination.


SALOME: I am amorous of thy body, Iokanaan! Thy body is white, like the lilies of the field that the mower hath never mowed. Thy body is white like the snows that lie on the mountains of Judaea, and come down into the valleys. The roses in the gardens of the Queen of Arabia are not so white as thy body. Neither the roses in the garden of the Queen of Arabia, the garden of spices of the Queen of Arabia, nor the feet of the dawn when they light on the leaves, nor the breast of the moon when she lies on the breast of the sea. There is nothing in this world so white as they body. Suffer me to touch thy body. [No response. Angrily.] Thy body is hideous. It is like the body of a leper. It is like a plastered wall, where vipers have crawled; like a plastered wall where the scorpions have made their nest. It is like a whited sepulchre, full of loathsome things. It is horrible; thy body is horrible. It is of thy hair I am enamoured, Iokanaan. Thy hair is like clusters of grapes, like the clusters of black grapes that hang from the vine-trees of Edom in the land of the Edomites. Thy hair is like the cedars of Lebanon, like the great cedars of Lebanon that give their shade to the lions and to the robbers who would hide them by day. The long black nights, when the moon hides her face, when the stars are afraid, are not so black as thy hair. The silence that dwells in the forest is not so black. There is nothing in the world that is so black as thy hair. Suffer me to touch thy hair. [No response. Angrily.] Thy hair is horrible. It is covered with mire and dust. It is like a crown of thorns placed on thy head. It is like a knot of serpents coiled round thy neck. I love not thy hair. It is thy mouth that I desire, Iokanaan. Thy mouth is like a band of scarlet on a tower of ivory. It is like a pomegranate cut in twain with a knife of ivory. The pomegranate flowers that blossom in the gardens of Tyre, and are redder than roses, are not so red. The red blasts of trumpets that herald the approach of kings, and make afraid the enemy, are not so red. Thy mouth is redder than the feet of those who tread the wine in the wine-press. It is redder than the feet of the doves who inhabit the temples and are fed by the priests. It is redder than the feet of him who cometh from a forest where he hath slain a lion, and seen gilded tigers. Thy mouth is like a branch of coral that fishers have found in the twilight of the sea, the coral that they keep for the kings! It is like the vermilion that the Moabites find in the mines of Moab, the vermilion that the kings take from them. It is like the bow of the King of the Persians, that is tainted with vermilion, and is tipped with coral. There is nothing in the world so red as thy mouth. Suffer me to kiss thy mouth. [No response.] I will kiss thy mouth, Iokanaan. I will kiss thy mouth.


The story of the princess Salome, stepdaughter of Herod, dates back to the book of Matthew in the Bible. In the original story, Salome dances for Herod's birthday feast, and he is so pleased with her dancing that he offers to give her anything she desires. Urged on by her mother, Salome requests the head of John the Baptist, and so she is responsible for the death of John. Since this first version of the story was written, many writers have retold the story of Salome. One of the most famous versions is the play Salome by Oscar Wilde.
In the years since Wilde wrote Salome, the play has been used as the basis for further work. In 1905, Richard Strauss, retaining Wilde's text, turned the play into an opera, and there have been a number of film versions. In addition, the play itself has been revived many times and continues to be produced today. Once controversial and reviled by many critics, Salome is now considered an important symbolic work in modern drama.


SALOME: She would incarnate the beauty of artifice, ornament, and luxury. Salomé first appears disgusted by the court, mortified by its crude, painted guests and the incestuous gaze of her stepfather, Herod. Soon thereafter she is seduced by the imprisoned prophet Jokanaan's voice and has him drawn from his tomb, transgressing the order of the Tetrarch.

HAROLD: The Tetrarch of Judea, Herod is Herodias's second husband and Salomé's stepfather. Herod deposed, imprisoned, and executed Salomé's father—his own elder brother the former king—and wedded Herodias in what Jokanaan calls an incestuous union. Herod is in fear of Jokanaan, whom he has imprisoned, as he cannot know if Jokanaan speaks the word of God and if his many prophecies of his ruin will come to pass. He is also tormented by a host of omens—the blood in which he slips, the beating wings of the angel of death, his burning and bloody garland—that foretell the death about to strike the palace.

JOHN BAPTIST: "Terrible to look at", he spends much of the play in his subterranean prison, figuring as a mad, booming voice that prophecies the ruin of the kingdom, curses the royal family, and proclaims the coming of Christ. Herod bans others from seeing him, and he himself refuses to suffer the gaze of the cursed. He is also "blind" in a sense, failing to see those around him in his inspiration by the divine word.

HERODIAS: The proud, hard queen of Judaea, Herodias abhors Jokanaan, who has slandered her as an incestuous harlot and remains alive against her wishes. She also suffers the indignity of Herod's incestuous lust for Salomé, hopelessly reproaching him for his gaze. Thus, for example, when Herod sees a madwoman in the moon, she can only scoff: "the moon is like the moon, that is all". According to Jokanaan, Herodias is also guilty of a crime of sight, having "seen the images of Chaldeans limned in colors" and given herself up "unto the lust of her eyes".


THE MOON: Salomé weaves an extensive network of metaphors around the colour white, which all link to the moon, Salomé, and the prophet. Thus the play begins with two voyeurs: the Syrian, who marvels at the beautiful princess, and the Page, mesmerized by the moon. The Page's first line is an injunction to look: "Look at the moon!" Though both these voyeurs first appear lost in their own reveries, their respective monologues soon interweave around the pronoun "she". The moon becomes a metaphor for the princess: she is a dead woman rising from a tomb, slowly moving, dancing a dance of death.
The moon appears here as a double of Salomé's and a symbol of woman. For the Page, the moon is the woman bearing death. Salomé triumphantly imagines the moon as virgin, as the goddess who never defiled herself as her sisters did. Tellingly, Herod sees no virgin in the moon but its opposite: a naked, drunken madwoman who seeks everywhere for lovers and will not let the clouds cover her nakedness. As Salomé notes earlier, the wish in Herod's gaze is all too clear. Again, Herodias resists the cast's propensity for symbolism. When Herod sees a madwoman in the moon, she can but scoff: "the moon is like the moon, that is all."

OMENS: Salomé features a host of omens symbolizing the death about to befall the palace, the majority of which are perceived by an increasingly desperate, paranoiac Herod and prophesied by Jokanaan. Here some examples: the beating wings of the angel of death, the blood in which Herod slips, and the blood-red moon. Some have somatic effects: his garland is like fire and burns his forehead. He tosses it on the table and its petals become bloodstains on the cloth. Certainly one hears the echo of the crown of thorns here. Terrified Herod reflects that one "must not find symbols in everything" as it "makes life impossible." Unlike Herodias, however, Herod would not seek life in an ultimately hopeless denial of metaphor but in metaphor itself—specifically, the reversibility between metaphor's terms. Thus "it [is] better to say that stains of blood are as lovely as rose petals." Of course, the omen is perhaps characterized by the inflexibility of its metaphoric structures, the stop in the whirligig between a metaphor's terms. Though usually vague in its meaning and thus producing uncontrollable anxiety in its audience, it remains "motivated" nevertheless as a demonstration of some ill fate. Thus the petals are blood because the garland must portent dark times in the palace.



Salomé Script


Aubrey Beardsley was an illustrator and became known in the larger context of Art Nouveau. In criticizing Victorian society, Beardsley focused on the sexual sphere. He was fully aware that challenges to Victorian values came not only from the avant-garde, but from the Women's Movement, which by the 1880's, had made some gains in the areas of education and economic rights. Through his bizarre and symbolic style, Beardsley's drawings blur gender lines and mock male superiority. They also play on Victorian anxieties about sexual expression and men's fear of female superiority. The phrase Fin de Siecle came from the title of a French play, and became a popular expression which symbolized the mood in England from the 1870's to the turn of the century.

Interesting pictures are drawed by Aubrey Beardsley

Salome illustrations by Aubrey Beardsley

Who is Aubrey Beardsley? For futher information, click here


Richard Strauss composed the opera for the German translation of Oscar Wilde's adaptation of Salome. Strauss transformed Wilde's Salome into opera. Strauss's opera was broadly rejected at first because of the "immorality" of its content and for the heroine's disregard for the Christian morality.
If many, including Lord Alfred Douglas (Wilde's lover and the translator of the English edition, the original having been authored in French), were surprised to see Wilde's version of Salome performed on stage, Strauss's opera must have seemed appropriate given the lyricism of the text.

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