Significance of the Dance

One of the primary concepts that Oscar Wilde altered in his play was the significance that the dance gets emphasized, ultimately putting it at the very core of the play. Little information had originally been provided by the Bible, with Mark’s gospel simply stating, “When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests” (Mark 6:22). Indeed, the daughter (Salome) isn't described in any detail whatsoever - in fact, it isn't until the early fifth century that Salome was even given as her name. During this period, Salome’s dance was mainly utilized by early church leaders as an example to warn against such sinfulness as the temptations of women, as well as to introduce the element of sex itself - such as Johannes Chrysostomos, who stated in the late 4th century, “Wherever there is a dance, the devil is also present. God did not give us our feet for dancing, but so that we might walk on the path of righteousness.” [25]

From this point forward, however, the Salome narrative continually evolves - and often quite dramatically so, ultimately left bearing little resemblance to how it was used/understood in the earliest days of the Church. In Carmen Skaggs’ "Modernity's Revision of the Dancing Daughter: The Salome Narrative of Wilde and Strauss” she intimates that by expanding upon the dance in his play, “Wilde, as a Decadent writer in the nineteenth century, develops the themes of Orientalism and counter-cultural ethics. He enters the chasm of human emotion and reveals both the savage and noble heights to which humanity ascends. He explores the deeply ingrained gender ideologies of modernity and the sexual perversities of modern culture,” and “by focusing the narrative upon the dancing daughter and empowering her sexuality, Wilde brings new dimension to her character.” [19]

Theodore Ziolkowski, in his "The Veil as Metaphor and as Myth," continues the idea of character development for Salome via her dance, and points out that in Wilde’s text “Salome is placed squarely in the center of the action…her mother, fearing that the dance will only cause Herod to lust even more after her daughter, warns her repeatedly not to dance. Indeed, the dance is almost anticlimactic since Herod, unlike the biblical Herod, has already promised Salome whatever she wants.” [25] And with this in mind, that Salome has the agency to use her dance to her own benefit instead of dancing simply on the command of the lustful Herod, Linda and Michael Hutcheon’s claim in “‘Here's Lookin'at You, Kid’: The Empowering Gaze in Salome” that Salome knows the meaning of power and that “her dance is a calculated move in a game of exchange with Herod in which she offers her body as a sensual, sexual spectacle to his eyes, in return for a promise that will fulfill both her childlike willful stubbornness and her consuming sexual obsession to kiss the mouth of the resistant prophet,” serves to add another, more politically minded layer to Salome’s character, and takes the focus from strictly the sexual elements of Salome’s performance.[18]

Finally, in René Girard’s “Scandal and the Dance: Salome in the Gospel of Mark,” Girard uses the developed ideas of Salome as manipulative and politically savvy, and applies them once over to her dance, saying that her dance represents reckless desire because of the freedom of letting go and moving one’s body as well as the fuel for a political scandal, driven by Salome’s desire for Jokannan’s head. Girard also incorporates Skaggs’ idea of Wilde using different cultures and influences other than the original Biblical story, and claims that Salome’s dance becomes pagan and ritualistic because it is performed for Herod’s birthday, not a religious holiday, and in this circumstance, Jokannan becomes ritual sacrifice.[26]

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