Herod is based on the historical figure who, as the son of Herod the Great, ruled Judea from 4 B.C. to 39 A.D. Wilde appears to have conflated certain aspects of the character with Herod's father, Herod the Great, and his predecessor, his half-brother who was also named Herod. Herod is married to Herodias, the widow of his brother, whom he held captive for 12 years and eventually strangled to death. Herod controls a vast court and, for the duration of the play, is entertaining a diverse group of international guests, including Jews, Nazarenes, Greeks, and Romans. He has the Christian prophet Iokanaan imprisoned in his palace cistern. To his wife's disapproval, he sexually desires his stepdaughter and niece, the princess Salome. Herodias implies that Herod is both sterile and of common blood (facts that are not supported by historical evidence).
Herodias, Wife of the Tetrarch
Herodias is based on the historical figure who was married to Herod Antipas during his reign over Judea. Prior to this marriage, Herodias was the wife of Herod's brother, whom Herod had imprisoned and slain, and who was the father of her daughter, Salome. For the duration of the play's narrative action, she is upset about her husband's explicit attraction to Salome and the prophet Iokanaan's claims that her marriage is incestuous and thus unholy. While the relation is not mentioned in Wilde's play, historical writings indicate that in addition to being Herodias's brother-in-law, Herod was also her half-uncle, and that this formed the basis for the prophet's disapproval.
Salome, Daughter of Herodias
Salome is based on the historical figure best known from the New Testament (Mark 6:21-29), where she is referred to only as "the daughter of Herodias." The name Salome is attributed to her by historian Flavius Josephus. In biblical legend, Herodias offers her as a dancer to Herod in exchange for John the Baptist's murder; in Wilde's play, the murder is presented as Salome's idea. Often referred to as "the Princess of Judea," Salome desires Iokanaan and rejects the advances of both her stepfather Herod and the Syrian guard throughout the course of the play.
Iokanaan, the Prophet
Iokanaan is based on the historical figure more commonly referred to as "John the Baptist," who prophesied the coming of Christ the Messiah. Iokanaan is captured by Herod's forces in the desert and imprisoned in the palace cistern until he is beheaded for rejecting Salome's advances. In the play, Iokanaan prophesies the bloodshed at the end of the narrative and condemns Herodias for having married her husband's brother.
The Young Syrian, Captain of the Guard
Herod's top-ranked soldier. Herod reveals that his father had been a king whom he himself displaced, and his mother a queen now assigned to Herodias as a slave. The Young Syrian is infatuated with Salome, and he allows her access to Iokanaan the prophet in exchange for a glance from her in his direction. When he sees that she desires Iokanaan, he kills himself. The Page of Herodias, who desires him, is particularly distraught at his suicide. The Page of Herodias implies that he is vain and enjoys looking at his reflection in the river.
Tigellinus, a Young Roman
One of Herod's guests at the banquet. He informs Herod of the political and religious climate of Rome. Later, he tells him that Iokanaan's term for Christ, "The Savior of the World," is also a term for Caesar, which confuses the king.
One of Herod's soldiers. He discusses religion with the Nubian and the First and Second Soliders in the play's opening sequence.
One of Herod's soldiers. He discusses religion with the Cappadocian and the First and Second Soliders in the play's opening sequence.
One of Herod's soldiers. He discusses religion with the Nubian, the Cappadocian, and the Second Soldier in the play's opening sequence, and he gives the audience the first indication that Herod is infatuated with Salome. He refuses Salome's request to gain access to Iokanaan, and he moves the body of the slain Syrian. Later, he may be among the soldiers who force the executioners to carry out the execution of Iokanaan and who crush Salome to death with their swords.
One of Herod's soldiers. He discusses religion with the Nubian, the Cappadocian, and the First Soldier in the play's opening sequence, and he reveals the sordid backstory behind Herod's and Herodias's marriage. He refuses Salome's request to gain access to Iokanaan, and he moves the body of the slain Syrian. Later, he may be among the soldiers who force the executioners to carry out the execution of Iokanaan and who crush Salome to death with their swords.
The Page of Herodias
An attendant to Herod's wife, Herodias. Wilde implies that the Page is in love with the Young Syrian; he constantly tries to distract the Syrian from looking at Salome and is despondent upon his death, claiming that he was closer to him "than a brother" and that he had given him jewelry and perfumes. Later, the Page cowers when Salome orders him to pressure the executioner to hasten the beheading of Iokanaan.
Naaman, the Executioner
An executioner of African heritage. He carries out the execution of Herod's brother, Herodias's first husband, and later beheads Iokanaan, a task which he is at first reluctant to complete.
Salome Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Salome is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.