Study Guide

Salomé Summary

By Oscar Wilde

Salomé Summary

The scene: Herod's palace. Night. A group of soldiers stands on a balcony. Below, Herod is throwing a lavish banquet. A young Syrian looks down upon the banquet—he can't take his eyes off of Salomé. His companion, the Page of Herodias tells him to stop staring.

Meanwhile, the other soldiers, alarmed by the shouting of the Jews down below, begin talking about religion. From off-stage we hear the shouting of Jokanaan, the prophet whom the soldiers are guarding. He makes cryptic, foreboding statements, which only increase their interest in him; they can't see him, though, because Herod, the Tetrarch, has forbidden it. They talk about his prison, an old cistern, and its previous occupant—the king's brother. One soldier, the Cappadocian, is shocked to hear that the king had him put to death (ouch) and is frightened by Naaman, the brawny, ripped Executioner.

At this point Salomé, the daughter of Herodias, enters. She is sick of being stared at (lustfully—ew) by her stepfather, and is glad to get some fresh air. The young Syrian attempts to wait upon her, but she ignores him. When Salomé hears Jokanaan calling out, she's immediately interested in him. She's heard of him before; and she knows that he says terrible things about her mother (um, that's weird, Sal). She begs the young Syrian to let her see him, and gets her way by promising him a flower. Aww.

The moment she sees Jokanaan, Salomé is fascinated and thinks he's hawt. Her feelings fluctuate wildly: she praises his body, but when he won't let her touch it, she curses him. She goes on to do the same thing with his hair and his lips. Jokanaan refuses her come-ons. He tells her to go to "the Son of Man" and ask his forgiveness. Salomé doesn't listen—she tells Jokanaan again and again: "I will kiss thy mouth." The young Syrian just can't handle the how intense she is—he commits suicide. Jokanaan returns to his cistern.

The Page moans about the death of his friend while the soldiers scramble to remove his body—Herod doesn't like to see dead bodies unless he has ordered the dudes killed—but they're interrupted by entrance of Herod and his court. Creepy Herod is looking for Salomé.

Herod is none too happy to find the dead body, and sorry to see the captain of his guard dead; he feels a cold wind blowing and hears the beating of wings. Ugh. Ominous. He attempts again and again to get Salomé's attention, but he only succeeds in annoying Herodias.

When Jokanaan cries out, Herodias only becomes more agitated—she's sick of hearing him curse her. She asks Herod to get rid of him, and accuses him of being frightened of the prophet. A Jew agrees, and asks Herod to put him into Jewish custody. When Herod remarks that he will not, that for all he knows Jokanaan may have seen God, the Jews begin to argue. They discuss the nature of God, and dispute the claim that Jokanaan is actually the reincarnation of the prophet Elias.

A couple of Nazarenes enter the conversation and say that yeah, Jokanaan is the prophet. They also tell everyone that the Messiah (which the prophet speaks of) has come, and that he's been performing miracles. But Herod becomes alarmed when he hears that this guy has been raising the dead, and insists that he stop immediately. Some things are too creepy, even for Herod.

He quickly changes the subject and begins to ask Salomé to dance for him. Ick. Despite Herodias not liking the idea, Herod eventually succeeds in getting his stepdaughter to dance. In return, he swears that he will give her anything she wants.

After performing the Dance of the Seven Veils, Salomé makes her request. She wants the head of Jokanaan on a silver charger. Herod laughs, but gets worried when he realizes that she is serious. He begs her to pick something else, offering all kinds of riches to her if she'll only change her mind. She stands by her decision—which Herodias heartily approves of, (what a sicko)—and Herod says okie dokie. He calls for Jokanaan to be beheaded.

When Jokanaan's head is brought out, Salomé begins to talk to it. She curses him for stirring up an crazy passion in her and for destroying her chastity. She wonders why he didn't look at her. Herod is really icked out by what he sees, and so he begins to leave. He calls for the lights to be put out. In the darkness, Salomé kisses Jokanaan.

"I have kissed thy mouth," she says, "I have kissed thy mouth." Herod turns around and, seeing Salomé, orders his soldiers to kill her.