Tuesday, 2 March 2010
I love the plays of Oscar Wilde, all of his witty, intense comedies but it is Salome, his single tragedy that intrigues me most. As a play it’s fully consistent in its presentation with Wilde’s theory of drama. In one of his letters he says that "...I like comedy to be intensely modern, and tragedy to walk in purple and be remote." And I don't suppose it is possible to get more purple and remote than Salome!
Though obviously based on the Bible story, the play had more contemporary sources of inspiration. It was through a reading of Joris-Karl Huysmans’ novel À Rebours that Wilde became aware the Salome paintings of Gustave Moreau, which Des Esseintes, the hero of the book, obsesses over. It was an obsession that the playwright came to share.
There is a third source of inspiration for the play, beyond Huysmans' novel and Moreau's paintings. In 1888 the Pall Mall Gazette published Salome, a dramatic poem by an American named J. C Heywood. This in turn draws on Heinrich Heine's Atta Troll, in which the ghost of Herodias kisses the head of John the Baptist. Heywood's innovation was to make her do this while still alive. It was Wilde who took this one step further, to make Salome kiss the lips of the Baptist in the great dramatic climax of his play;
Ah! I have kissed thy mouth, Iokanaan, I have kissed thy mouth. There was a bitter taste on thy lips. Was it the taste of blood? . . . Nay; but perchance it was the taste of love.
Purple and decadent; who else but Wilde could have achieved that?!
Posted by Anastasia F-B at 16:08
Labels: english literature
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i had read oscar wilde's poems when i was back in school , but never ever had the opportunity to see his plays . i don't think there are many groups that do it now. i guess mainly cause there are always soo much of new material being made all the time. i would want to read salome just to see how "Purple and decadent" comes out..ReplyDelete
I've never seen an Oscar Wilde play, or any play for that matter, but have read a couple of them - Lady Windermere's Fan and The Importance of Being Earnest. I'll be sure to look for this one in a book I own, whether I'll get round to reading it is of course an entirely different matter as I struggle reading books. It's rediculous, I have some compulsion to re-read pages I've already read, the format throws me off. I've spent too long staring at a screen which can't be turned :@.ReplyDelete
They are good to read but better to see performed.ReplyDelete
This reminds me I must watch again the 1952 version of . The other Wilde play I admire apart from Salome. Was it Wilde that first developed the idea of Salome's Dance of the 7 Veils? If so, he must have got it from Islamic story of Joseph and Potiphar's wife Zuleikha who performed a Dance of the 7 Veils too in the Islamic books of lore that relate this story and pre-date Wilde's Salome.ReplyDelete
I must check, but I thought that was also in the Bible.ReplyDelete
The dance is mentioned in the Bible but not the seven veils. That still comes from near eastern myths of Ishtar and the like. I still haven't located the exact sources but I suspect Wilde was the first to transpose these into English.ReplyDelete
Ah, thank you, Rehan, This is something worth going into.ReplyDelete
Certainly worth going into.ReplyDelete