Wilde’s short one act Salomé, does not tell the story of love between man and woman, but rather the narrative of unquenched, dangerous desires. As we discussed the 19th century stereotypes of femininity in a previous class session, Salomé evokes here the prototypical femme fatale. She is beautiful and desirable, yet evil and bewitching. The depiction of Salomé is similar to Delville’s Idol of Perversity and Franz von Stuck’s The Sin, where the female is presented through a veil or in the shadows, as if half present, yet thoroughly dangerous.
As a written play, the reader can only imagine the alluring Salomé, yet her dangeous nature derives not from her beautiful looks, but from her callous desires. A princess, she commands impulsive wishes, never taking no for an answer. She gets what she wants. Her strong character is reminiscent of Raoule in Rachilde’s Monsieur Vénus. Like Raoule, Salomé craves the physical touch of Jokanaan, not an emotional relationship. She fetishizes his body parts, “amorous of thy body […] it is thy hair that I am enamoured of […] it is thy mouth that I desire” (Wilde, 208). Between each switch in obsession, she meticulously describes through similes and imagery, Jokanaan’s body, hair, and mouth. Unable to turn Jokanaan voluntarily, she must conquer him by his death. Her desires must be fulfilled; refusal brings death as its reward.
The final scene, where she seizes the head of Jokanaan sitting on a silver charger, is the culmination of fetishism. This head no longer belongs to a body, to a life. Still, Salomé is capable to speaking to it, kissing it, and owning it. Her victory exemplifies not love as prize, but death as retribution. Again, we may compare this final scene to Monsieur Vénus, where Raoule “embrace[s] it [the wax figure of Jacques], kiss[es] it on the lips [… and] spreads apart the thighs” (Rachilde, 210). Salomé possesses the mouth that once emitted the voice she yearned, but now can no longer speak. There will be no rejection of Salome. Neither the lips that refused her kiss, nor the eyes that avoid her gaze, will survive.
The eyes that Salomé craved in the beginning can no longer see her. This motif of the look and the gaze is prevalent throughout the play. For example, the Young Syrian is “always looking at her [Salomé], looking at her too much” (Wilde, 197). Another pair of eyes that “are always looking at her” is Herod’s. Multiple pairs of eyes on one character focus the reader to take a deeper look at –and into—Salomé. She is the personification of sin, and Wilde invites us to investigate her evil temptations and her malevolent desires.
Unlike Rachilde’s austere and stolid ending, Wilde’s ending is both vigorous and wild. Salomé is in hysterics: She scorns the bleeding head of the mistakes it made by not looking at her, not kissing her, not loving her. This rejection, assuredly a new concept in the life of this princess, promotes her madness. Unlike Jokanaan’s disembodied head that can neither kiss nor gaze, we as readers taste the poisoned lips of Salome and peer into her deranged soul.
-La Dame Jaune