Theatre: Salome

Salome is a one-act play by Oscar Wilde. The play was first published in Wilde's not very fluent French in 1893, and was first produced in Paris three years later; the British Censorship Bureau forbade its production due to its scandalous sexual content.

Salome, step-daughter of the biblical King Herod, has just fled from a party to the palace terrace, bored. She hears the prophet Jochanaan (John the Baptist), who is imprisoned in a cistern outside the palace, cursing her mother Herodias for marrying Herod, who was previously her brother-in-law. Salome, curious, wants to meet him. She asks Narraboth, the young Syrian captain of the guard and desperately in love with Salome, to bring Jochanaan to her, and despite Herod's orders that Jochanaan talk with no one, he does.

When Jochanaan comes before her, still shouting prophecies about Herod and Herodias, Salome falls instantly in lust with him, and offers herself to him - an offer that Jochanaan rejects. Narraboth, unable to accept that Salome loves another, kills himself. Jochanaan is taken back to the well, still preaching about salvation through the Messiah.

Herod enters, followed by his wife and court. After slipping in Nabarroth's blood and hallucinating, he stares lustfully at Salome, who rejects him. Jochanaan harasses Herodias from the well, calling her incestuous marriage to Herod sinful. She demands that Herod silence him. Herod refuses, and she mocks his fear. Two Nazarenes tell of Christ's miracles; at one point they bring up the raising of Lazarus from the dead, which Herod finds frightening.

After Salome refuses to eat and drink with him, Herod finally begs Salome to dance for him. He promises to reward her with her heart's desire even if it were one-half of his kingdom. Salome, once she gains Herod's vow to reward her, performs the Dance of the Seven Veils. Herod, after her dance, is ready to grant her soul's desire. She asks for the head of Jokanaan in a silver charger.

Salome caused renewed controversy when it was adapted into an opera by Richard Strauss. The opera's libretto follows the German translation of Wilde's French word for word (though abridged in some places). There have also been two film adaptations: a 1923 silent film and 1988's Salome's Last Dance. The latter is a Ken Russell film that presents the play as a Show Within a Show being put on for Wilde himself by the staff of a London brothel. It was also done for cinemas as a straight filmed version of the play as directed by Al Pacino (with Pacino as King Herod and the title role played by Jessica Chastain in her first film).


This play and opera contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Adaptation Expansion: An entire play from 11 verses of The Bible!
  • Alas, Poor Yorick: A supremely disturbing example.
  • All Love Is Unrequited: Narraboth loves Salome. Herodes loves (or at least, lusts after) Salome. Salome loves Jochanaan. No healthy relationships here.
  • All There Is to Know About "The Crying Game": Salome does a striptease and asks for the head of Jochanaan.
  • Bible Times
  • Brother-Sister Incest: Jochanaan accuses Herod and Herodias of this. This is a bit of a stretch since they are Not Blood Siblings but in-laws, as she was married to Herod's half-brother only. Having said that, she was also—gasp!—a divorcee, in a time when that was a big deal, and the Biblical version of the character did indeed attack on those lines.
  • Celibate Hero: Jochanaan rejects Salome, despite her attractiveness.
  • Creepy Child: Salome to most of the palace — and eventually Herod.
  • Cute and Psycho: Salome.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Narraboth.
  • Driven to Suicide: Narraboth, again.
  • Honor Before Reason: Herod keeps his promise to Salome, even though he knows it will get him into major hot water. (Well, it's either this trope or All Men Are Perverts.)
  • Fanservice or Fan Disservice: The Dance of the Seven Veils can be either, depending on who's playing Salome and whether they stage it with a body double.
    • In the Ken Russell version, shots of Salome dancing are intercut with closeups of Herod's ugly leering face. Then Salome pulls a switch so the one dancing turns out to be a man when removing the final garment. Herod is not impressed.
  • I Love the Dead: Salome declares her love to the severed head, finally kissing the prophet's lips passionately. Some productions take this even further and have her actually make love to the head.
  • Jews Love to Argue: Five Jews argue concerning the nature of God.
  • Offing the Offspring: Salome's eventual fate.
  • Parental Incest: Technically, Herod is only her stepdad, but that doesn't make the attraction any less squicky.
  • Please, I Will Do Anything!: Herod tries to dissuade Salome with offers of jewels, peacocks and the sacred veil of the Temple. Salome remains firm in her demand for Jochanaan's head, forcing Herod to concede to her demands.
  • Talking to the Dead: Salome to Jochanaan's head.
  • You Can Leave Your Hat On: The Dance of the Seven Veils is named such because Salome starts the dance wearing said items and ends it... not. No further description is included in the text of the play or opera (or Bible!), allowing each individual production to tailor it to the resources they have available (and the censors they have to deal with).