Salome Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Salome is an interpretation of an important biblical tale. Referring to its New Testment sources (Gospel of Mark 6:15-29 and Gospel of Matthew 14:1-12), account for the changes Wilde made to the original tale and the aspects he emphasized.

  2. 2

    In dialogue with the actress Sarah Bernhardt, Wilde reportedly said that the main character of Salome was not Salome, but the moon. Moreover, we may notice that both Salome and Iokaanan are metaphorically linked to the moon through the color white, which is used to describe all three characters. Tracing the motif of whiteness in the play, explain how color or other characteristics link Salome and Iokaanan to the moon and to each other. If you have access to the illustrations, refer to these as well.

  3. 3

    Examine the distinction between looking and speaking in the play. Do you agree with critic Amy Koritz that the oppositions between objects and subjects--being looked at and mute, versus looking and speaking--correspond to a gender distinction between female and male, except for the threat posed by Salome?

  4. 4

    Aubrey Beardsley's accompanying illustrations for Salome are arguably as famous as Wilde's script. Paying attention to the content and style of the images, explain how the illustrations comment on and/or contradict the text. Focus on one or two illustrations as you explore the relationship between the verbal and visual aspects of Salome, recalling that the play itself was intended to have a visual aspect through live performance.

  5. 5

    Salome convinces Herod to grant her wish for Iokannan's head by offering to display her body in the dance. Focusing on the exchange between Salome and the Tetrarch, explain how Salome uses her sexuality as a commodity in Herod's court. Is Salome's sexual manipulation of the king a sign of her empowerment, or does it fortify the inferior status of women? Does Salome's awareness of her sexual power make her a hero, villain, or victim in the play?

  6. 6

    What is the significance of the relationship between the Page of Herodias and the Young Syrian? Focusing on their conversations with each other and the Page's response to the Young Syrian's suicide, explain why Wilde emphasized the personal dynamic between these two minor characters. Does this dynamic carry a thematic or symbolic resonance for other elements of the play?

  7. 7

    Metaphor dominates the text of Salome, but Heriodias states bluntly that "the moon is like the moon; that is all." Focusing on two or three passages that are dominated by metaphoric description, explain why the characters in Salome choose figurative language over direct statements. Include the challenge presented by Heriodias.

  8. 8

    Consider Wilde's audiences. Why, for example, would Wilde expect to find audiences interested in a biblical story about an event in the Middle East? How would an audience of people interested in Victorian fantasies about the Orient view such a play? Was Wilde trying to influence his audiences in any way or simply trying to give them what they may have wanted?

  9. 9

    The critic Linda Saladin argues that Wilde's Salome is organized around an obsession with the "unattainable object of desire." If desire and lust point back to an individual's own lack, discuss how desire-as-lack functions in Salome. Compare the phenomenon in at least two characters, such as Salome, the Young Syrian, Herod, and the Page of Herodias.

  10. 10

    The narrative action of Salome is often interrupted by the dialogue of minor and major characters speculating about the nature of God and the customs of the different religions that seek to interpret God. It is also interrupted by Iokanaan's divine prophesies. What function do these discussions of religion and ethics serve within the larger framework of the play? How do they illuminate, or undermine, the presentation of Salome's major characters? Be sure to touch on the frequent debates about the "visibility" of God and Salome's final monologue, in which she compares herself to the invisible God of the Jews.