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Theatre / Salome

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Salomenote  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. To this, Herod agrees, although reluctantly. When the severed head is brought to Salome, she kisses its lips, but her triumph is short-lived as a horrified Herod orders his men to kill her.

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 three film adaptations: a 1923 silent film; 1988's Salome's Last Dance (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); and 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 film debut). You may also recognize that a film adaptation of it was the ill-fated intended comeback film from Sunset Boulevard.

Not to be confused with the Xandria album by the name Salome, the Seventh Veil, whose title was likely inspired by the play.

This play and opera contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Adaptation Expansion: An entire play from 11 verses of The Bible!
  • Adaptational Villainy: Salome originally was just a bit, nameless character who was influenced by her mother to order John the Baptist (Jochanaan)'s head on a silver platter as vengeance for calling out of Herod's somewhat incestuous relationship. Here, she masterminded the death of Jochanaan without any of her mother's influences because she's being ignored by him. This also gave Herod a bit of Adaptational Heroism, who retaliated with executing her after being creeped out with what she did with Jochanaan's head, when originally he did nothing, while his wife and Salome got away scots free.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Death by Adaptation: Salome (or rather the unnamed daughter of Herodias) isn't executed in The Bible.
  • Demanding Their Head: Oscar Wilde's interpretation of The Beheading of John the Baptist casts Salome as a wicked temptress who cannot handle rejection and becomes angry with John the Baptist for refusing her advances. In this version, she asks for John's head as her reward without any prompting from Herodias, and after receiving it she declares her love to it and kisses it on the mouth (and in some modern stagings even starts making love to it), to Herod's disgust.
  • Driven to Suicide: Narraboth, again.
  • 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.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: As debauched as he is, even King Herod is revolted by the extent of Salome's depravity and orders his soldiers to kill her.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Salome, if her interactions with Herod and Narraboth are any indication, is used to men being so attracted to her (physical) beauty that she can seduce and manipulate them with relative ease. Jochanaan, however, doesn't fit this mold at all; not only does he outright reject her advances, but he also doesn't care in the slightest about her beauty and refuses to even look at her. This was clearly NOT the reaction Salome expected, and her frustration eventually compels her to have Jochanaan beheaded.
  • 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.)
  • 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.
  • Lecherous Stepparent: Herod lusts after his stepdaughter Salome.
  • Loincloth: Jochanaan's attire while imprisoned.
  • A Love to Dismember: Salome orders John the Baptist's head to be cut off so she can kiss it.
    Salome: Ah! thou wouldst not suffer me to kiss thy mouth, Iokanaan. Well! I will kiss it now.
  • Not Good with Rejection: Salome has Jochanaan killed after he rejects her advances.
  • Offing the Offspring: Salome's eventual fate, because even Herod (her step-father) is appalled by her necrophilia in the end and orders his soldiers to kill her.
  • One-Word Title: "Salome" is one word.
  • Pervert Dad: Or rather, pervert stepfather - Herod blatantly lusts after Salome.
  • 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.
  • Prefers Going Barefoot: Salome expresses her preference for dancing barefooted, which horrifies her stepfather when he realizes it means she will dance over the recently spilled blood.
  • Protagonist Title: The title is Salome, and Salome is the character whose actions drive the plot.
  • Spoiled Brat: Salome is implied to have shades of this.
    • She is constantly showered with praises (especially regarding her beauty) by characters such as Narraboth and Herod throughout most of the play.
    • She blatantly disobeys the strict orders of her superiors on two separate occasions (Herod’s order to the soldiers not to let anyone see Jochanaan, and Herodias telling her not to dance) without so much as a slap on the wrist.
    • Whenever she doesn’t get what she wants (e.g. when Jochanaan won’t let her kiss his mouth), her typical response is to repeat the same demand over and over again until the refuser gives in, and if that doesn’t work, she will not hesitate to toy with and exploit a man’s feelings for her (Narraboth) or even have the refuser killed (Jochanaan) in order to get her way.
    • Sometimes when she doesn't get what she wants (e.g. when Jochanaan won't let her touch his body or his hair), she throws a "sour grapes" tantrum and disparages the thing she wanted just as viciously as she adoringly praised it seconds earlier.
    • When she hears the executioner’s sword fall to the ground, Salome thinks the executioner cannot bring himself to kill Jochanaan, and her reaction has all the makings of a classic temper tantrum.
  • Talking to the Dead: Salome to Jochanaan's head.
  • Teens Are Monsters: At most, Salome is sixteen, and she shows an unhealthy and downright creepy obsession with John the Baptist that culminates in him losing his head.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Salome has one when the executioner drops his sword and seemingly hesitates to behead Jochanaan, at which point Salome angrily calls him a coward and runs around demanding that Herod's soldiers be sent to finish the job. This is implied to be the point in the play when Salome goes completely insane.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Herod's guards don't hesitate to follow his orders to crush Salome beneath their shields because, evidently, they're no more into necrophilia than Herod is.
  • 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).