“Salomé” is a play written by Oscar Wilde, originally in French in 1891. It’s a one-act tragedy inspired by the biblical story of Salomé and her dance of the seven veils, culminating in the beheading of John the Baptist.

Salome by Oscar Wilde: Summary, Details And Curiosities

Salome dance

Basic info

  • Title of the work: Salomé
  • Author: Oscar Wilde
  • Date of Publication: 1893 (for the French version); an English translation, with illustrations by Aubrey Beardsley, was published in 1894.
  • Original Language: French
  • Genre: Drama/Tragedy
  • Form and Structure: One-act play
  • Setting: The play is set at the palace of Herod Antipas, Tetrarch of Judea, on a terrace overlooking the banquet hall.
  • Themes: The dangers of obsession, the destructive power of lust, the collision of the spiritual and the sensual, and the inevitability of fate.
  • Publication Medium: Originally published as a book. The play was not performed in England until 1931 due to its controversial biblical content.
  • Diction: Wilde’s language in “Salomé” is rich and poetic. The characters speak in a formal and ornate manner, especially Salomé herself. Wilde’s choice of words adds to the play’s exotic and decadent atmosphere, blending sensuality with spiritual themes.

Summary of Salome in One Paragraph

The biblical tale of desire and revenge unfolds on a moonlit night at the palace of Herod Antipas. Salomé, the Tetrarch’s stepdaughter, becomes infatuated with the imprisoned prophet Jokanaan (John the Baptist). Spurned by his rejections, she performs the seductive Dance of the Seven Veils for Herod, demanding Jokanaan’s head on a silver platter as her reward. The play delves into the themes of obsession, lust, and the destructive interplay between the spiritual and the sensual, culminating in a macabre finale where Salomé passionately kisses the severed head of the prophet she once coveted.

One sentence summary

Oscar Wilde’s “Salomé” portrays the tragic tale of obsessive desire as Salomé dances for Herod and demands John the Baptist’s head in return, culminating in a chilling climax of passion and death.

Detailed Summary

This play masterfully intertwines themes of lust, obsession, religion, and the tragic consequences of unchecked desire.

The Setting and Initial Tensions

Set on a moonlit terrace of Herod Antipas’s palace, the play begins with the young Syrian captain, Narraboth, expressing his admiration for Princess Salomé, stepdaughter to the Tetrarch Herod. His words reveal an infatuation, but the Page of Herodias warns Narraboth of the dangerous consequences of such desires. In the distance, the imprisoned prophet Jokanaan (John the Baptist) can be heard condemning the sins of Salomé’s mother, Queen Herodias.

Salomé’s Fascination with Jokanaan

Intrigued by Jokanaan’s voice, Salomé expresses a desire to see him. Narraboth, hopelessly in love with Salomé, obliges her request against the Tetrarch’s orders and has the prophet brought forth from his cistern prison. Jokanaan emerges, prophesying the coming of the Messiah and condemning Salomé’s family for their sins. Despite his harsh words, Salomé becomes infatuated with the prophet, especially drawn to his body and his hair. She tries to seduce him, but Jokanaan rejects her advances and returns to his prison. Devastated by what he has witnessed and his role in it, Narraboth takes his own life.

The Dance of the Seven Veils

Tetrarch Herod, drunk and lecherous, tries to engage Salomé in conversation, offering her anything she desires if she dances for him. Initially resistant, Salomé eventually agrees when Herod promises her up to half of his kingdom. She performs the sensual and mesmerizing Dance of the Seven Veils. Herod, entranced, asks her to name her reward. To his horror, she demands the head of Jokanaan on a silver platter.

The Climax and Conclusion

Despite Herod’s attempts to dissuade her by offering alternatives like jewels and sacred veils, Salomé remains unwavering in her desire. Her demand is rooted not in religious or moral reasoning but in her personal obsession and humiliation. Reluctantly, Herod orders the execution of Jokanaan. Salomé receives the prophet’s severed head and addresses it passionately, confessing her love and desire for Jokanaan. Herod, disgusted by this display, orders his soldiers to kill Salomé.

Main characters breakdown


The central figure of the play, Salomé is the stepdaughter of Herod and the Princess of Judea. Both alluring and innocent, she becomes intensely fascinated by Jokanaan and is rejected by him. This rejection, combined with her own emerging desires, drives her to demand his execution. Wilde portrays her as a complex character, caught between her youthful naivety and a dark, obsessive passion.

Herod Antipas (The Tetrarch)

Herod is the ruler of Judea and husband to Herodias. He is depicted as lecherous, superstitious, and easily manipulated. Throughout the play, he’s both fearful of Jokanaan’s prophecies and captivated by Salomé’s beauty. His lust for Salomé leads him to promise her any wish, a promise that culminates in the play’s tragic climax.


Herodias is Salomé’s mother and wife to Herod. She resents Jokanaan for his public condemnations of her marriage to Herod, as she was previously married to Herod’s brother. In the play, she often serves as a voice of reason, cautioning Herod against his dangerous infatuations and mocking his superstitious beliefs.

Jokanaan (John the Baptist)

A religious prophet imprisoned by Herod, Jokanaan represents the voice of moral and religious conviction. His prophecies and condemnations are central tensions in the play. Despite being in a position of vulnerability, he remains steadfast in his beliefs, even rejecting Salomé’s advances with fervent disdain.


The young Syrian captain of the guard, Narraboth is infatuated with Salomé’s beauty from the outset. His obsession leads him to defy orders, granting Salomé’s wish to see Jokanaan. As events spiral out of control, largely due to his actions, he’s consumed by regret and takes his own life.

The Page of Herodias

Serving as a contrasting figure to Narraboth, the Page often offers cautionary insights and warnings. He is deeply affected by Narraboth’s death and provides the audience with an external perspective on the unfolding events, emphasizing the tragic nature of the narrative.

Genesis of “Salomé”

Rooted in biblical lore, Wilde’s “Salomé” emerged during his time of personal and cultural exploration. The late 19th-century backdrop, marked by the Decadent movement and French Symbolism, greatly influenced its creation. It’s also reflective of Wilde’s personal challenges, including societal expectations and his own sexuality.

Echoes of the Era

“Salomé” was crafted during the fin de siècle, a period of decadence, aestheticism, and changing mores. Plays like George Bernard Shaw’s “Mrs Warren’s Profession” also challenged societal norms, while the writings of fellow Decadents like Joris-Karl Huysmans echoed Wilde’s preoccupation with sensuality and moral ambiguity. Both “Salomé” and these contemporaneous works are testaments to the era’s literary richness and defiance against Victorian strictures.

Wilde’s Palette

While Wilde is celebrated for societal critiques like “The Importance of Being Earnest” and “The Picture of Dorian Gray“, “Salomé” is distinct. It trades his signature satire for a sensuous, dark atmosphere. Yet, it continues his trend of delving into societal superficialities and human obsessions.

The Public Verdict

“Salomé” sparked controversy upon its debut. Acclaimed as a Symbolist masterpiece by some, others deemed it too risqué and immoral. England’s censorship body, the Lord Chamberlain’s office, banned it from the London stage due to its portrayal of biblical figures. Its reputation has since evolved, with modern audiences and critics acknowledging its literary significance.

Reimagining “Salomé”

Various artistic minds have adapted “Salomé” across mediums:

Intriguing Tidbits on “Salomé”

Language Barrier: Wilde originally wrote “Salomé” in French to avoid Victorian censorship. He later commissioned an English translation.

Beardsley’s Illustrations: Aubrey Beardsley’s illustrations for the English version were considered so outrageous and erotic that some of them were initially omitted from certain publications.

Performance Ban: Sarah Bernhardt, the famous French actress, intended to perform the role of Salomé in England. However, due to the Lord Chamberlain’s ban on depicting biblical characters on stage, this never transpired.

Legacy in Pop Culture: The Dance of the Seven Veils, as imagined in Wilde’s play, has left a lasting imprint, with many referencing or recreating it in modern culture, even though the dance is not explicitly detailed in biblical accounts.

Biblical Liberties: Wilde took significant creative liberties with the biblical story. In the New Testament, Salomé is never named, and her motivations for requesting John the Baptist’s head are not specified. Wilde’s interpretation is his own creation, adding layers of psychosexual tension and drama.

Wilde’s Personal Resonance: The character of Salomé can be seen as a reflection of Wilde’s own experiences of forbidden desire and the consequences of societal judgment.

My Personal Take on “Salomé”

Having delved into Oscar Wilde’s “Salomé”, I was immediately struck by its dark, sensuous atmosphere. It’s a departure from Wilde’s more satirical works, and that in itself made it alluring. The play merges biblical narrative with Wilde’s characteristic wit, creating a concoction of forbidden desires and moralities. The Dance of the Seven Veils, albeit enigmatic, added an almost hypnotic allure to the tale.

While it might not be to everyone’s taste, given its heavy symbolism and emotional intensity, I found it to be a fascinating exploration of passion, obsession, and the consequences of unchecked desires. For anyone seeking a deep, reflective reading experience, “Salomé” is certainly worth the journey.

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