Professor Gone Wilde:
The Professor’s Corner by Mary Jo Caruso, Manhattanville College
For all the humor Wilde imparts in The Importance of Being Earnest and An Ideal Husband, he demonstrates his capacity for darker material with Salomé. Gone is the witty and rhythmic language of his comedies; instead, a lyrical poignancy permeates the dialogue of Salomé:
They say that love hath a bitter taste…But what matter? What matter? I have kissed thy mouth, Iokanaan, I have kissed thy mouth. –Salomé in Salomé
Desire circles dangerously onstage in Wilde’s adaptation of the famous biblical tale, the tale that depicts how the women in King Herod’s life incite him to behead John the Baptist. Even if you’re unfamiliar with the story, the opening moments of the play will foreshadow the tragedy and hook you into watching how it will unfold:
The Young Syrian: How beautiful is the Princess Salomé tonight!
The Page of Herodias: You are always looking at her. You look at her too much. It is dangerous to look at people in such fashion. Something terrible may happen.
Experiencing Wilde’s Salomé in balance with his comedies is perhaps the best way to see it. Can you envision Wilde’s characters alternating stages, from Gwendolen and Cecily and their cucumber sandwiches, to Herod and Salomé and her sultry dance at court? It is an opportunity Wilde himself never got; because of its subject material, Salomé was prohibited from production in Britain until after Wilde’s death, and by the time Salomé was produced in Paris in 1896, Wilde had already been imprisoned.
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