Salomé is a short, but bewitching tragedy based on the biblical story of King Herod in the New Testament. Telling a tale of lustful desire and power, the language of the play is saturated and verbose, and the imagery, decadent and lush. The sequences of seduction and passion are consistently offset by the grotesque, most evident in the sudden suicide of the Young Syrian, and the presentation of Jokanaan’s severed head on a silver shield. Overall, the play represents the aestheticism of Symbolist drama, while also critiquing the literary movement in its jarring turn of events. It mixes the physicality of human experience with the voice of prophetic transcendence, elevating the artistry of the drama while allowing it to remain accessible to realists.
Wilde wrote Salomé in French in 1891 while residing in Paris, where it also debuted in early 1896. It was later adapted into an operatic version by Richard Strauss, which was enormously successful in Germany. The play was translated into English in 1894; despite the Lord Chamberlain’s ban dating from the Reformation that forbade the representation of biblical characters onstage, it was given five private performances in London between the years of 1905 and 1931. Besides being performed fairly extensively in recent times, Salomé has inspired a multitude of contemporary plays, songs, and films.