Salomè is a tragedy, written in 1891 by Oscar Wilde; it was first published in French in 1893 and only one year later translated into English.
Wilde spent part of his life in France, becoming friend of many members of symbolist and decadent movements. He frequented a lot of intellectual circles in Paris where a lot of artists were deeply interested in Oriental princess’s legends. He wrote the bulk of the play entirely in one night, buti t was impossible to perform ita t the theater because of a law which forbade the theatrical depiction of biblical characters. The drama was dedicated to the most famous actress of that period, Sarah Bernhardt, who first staged it.
The responsibility for John’s execution rests with Herodias, and such was the prevailing belief until the Baptist became a more widely worshiped saint. John’s veneration brought with it the increasing denigration of Salomè. The Salomè legend was a prominent one in both literature and the visual arts until the end of the Renaissance and then again with revival in the nineteenth century, the era of Europe’s colonial expansion in the eastern countries.
Without any doubts Wilde was influenced by many writers of his time: he probably read the novels of Gustave Flaubert, in particular the short story ‘Hérodias’, published in 1877. Flaubert’s setting of the Salomè legend, however, bears only a superficial resemblance to Wilde’s tragedy were the paintings of Gustave Moreau, whose strange and mystical themes laid the groundwork for later expressionist painting as well as for the poetry and art of the Decadents. In particular, Moreau’s ‘Salomè dancing before Herod’(1876) played a vital role for Salomè’s interpreters.
It’s important to note how in several literary works the role of each woman, Herodias and Salomè, was confused, whereas in Wilde’s drama they are well distinct. In most cases, Salomè was considered only a young girl, a subservient of the wishes of her mother, with almost no imortance, whereas under Wilde’s pen instead of Herodias, she is the true seducer. The Salomè legend is organized in all its forms around the seductive play of exhibitionism and the transgression of visual taboos on the body.
Salomè plays the main role. Her image fatally captures the male gaze: for looking on her too much, the Syrian will die. The other forbidden gaze in the play is Herod’s. Herod’s look upon salomè is incestuous, lascivious, and grotesque and it was the cause of John’s execution, because he denounced the incest of marriage.