Salome by Oscar Wilde
Oscar Wilde’s gruesome and controversial play begs and important question. Who is Salome? In the bible this woman is not even given a name. She is the daughter of Herodias who dances for the pleasure of her stepfather, Herod. Perhaps the very fact that she remains unnamed is part of the mystery and problem that is Salome. There was no need to name this type of woman in patriarchal Christian religion. Yet, Salome’s story continues to inspire and terrify both her champions and her harshest critics.
In writing Salome Wilde gives this figure both an identity and a desire. But just what does this identity and subsequent desire represent? Throughout the play Salome is subjected to the male gaze. Both the Young Syrian and Herod continually look at her. They are both warned not to do so. The Page of Herodias tells the Young Syrian, “Why do you look at her? You must not look at her…Something terrible may happen.” Herod is similarly warned by his wife, “You must not look at her! You are always looking at her!” Aside from their own desires, why would these two characters believe that looking at Salome is so dangerous? This could be an acknowledgement of the power of looking and the subsequent power that Salome gains from being looked at.
Scopophilia is not only the pleasure and power of looking, but also the pleasure and power of being looked at. Salome is aware of this type of power. She says, “Why does the Tetrarch look at me all the while with his mole’s eyes under his shaking eyelids? It is strange that the husband of my mother looks at me like that. I know not what it means. Of a truth I know it too well.” Salome realizes that Herod is viewing her as a sexual object, but this does not necessarily leave her in a strictly passive position.
Salome uses the male desire to look at her in her favor. She desires to see the prophet Jokanaan and is forbidden. Yet, she is able to convince the Young Syrian to allow her to see him by manipulating the power of looking. She tells the Young Syrian, “I will look at thee through the muslin veils, I will look at thee, Narroboth, and it may be I will smile at thee. Look at me, Narroboth, look at me. Ah! Thou knowest that thou wilt do what I ask of thee.” Salome says she will look at the Young Syrian, but what she is really suggesting is that she will desire him as he desires her, because looking and lusting are synonymous. She then further fulfills his desire by asking him to look at her. She is encouraging his scopophilia, but all the while organizing it to fit her needs.
Salome repeats this manipulation of looking with Herod. She agrees to dance for him, but only to obtain what she desires, the head of Jokanaan. She dances the dance of the seven veils and serves as a sexual object for Herod’s gaze, but she does so in order to achieve her aim. In this way, Salome attains power through reverse scopophila.
But just what...