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Overview of the Plot

Write about the English Literature for Gender Awareness of Oscar Wilde.

The aim of the following paper is to make a profound analysis of Oscar Wild’s play Salome, in order to identify as well as evaluate the way the aspect of intertexuality operates in relation to the sexual identities in the play. More precisely, the present paper would elaborately identify the chief sexual identities presented in the considered play of Oscar Wilde and thereafter will identify the intertexual contents, which are relevant in understanding those identities. In order to accomplish the aforementioned motive of the present discourse, a brief overview of the plot of Wilde’s “Salome” would be required. Thereafter, the paper would concentrate on emphasizing over the characters drawn in the considered play to determine the sexual identities. Finally, the paper would focus on recognizing the same identical attributes in other literary creation and would attempt to identify what those relevant texts have influenced the theme of sexual identity in Salome.

The thesis statement of following essay is to establish the fact that sexual identity is subversive if the play Salome can be seen through intertexual perspectives.

Firstly, it is to mention that the play Salome has been considered as a tragedy that has evolved around sexual perversity. The play can be called a revenge tragedy considering the vengeful act of Salome for Jokanaan (Behrendt). On the other hand, the play has metaphorically represented the situation of female sexual identity of the contemporary society of the Victorian society instead of casting a medieval background with medieval character. The plot of Salome revolves around the story of a princess named – Salome whose ethereal beauty captures male attentions including that of Salome’s stepfather – Herod. Initially the play depicts Salome’s chastity, decency and her ignorance for all other male individuals who desire sexual pleasure from her. However, later as the play grows with lunatic activities and screams of Jokanaan – the prophet kept imprisoned, the protagonist Salome became eager to know about Jokanaan’s identity (Bennett). The particular phase in the play can be considered as a climatic sequence as after the meeting between Salome and Jokanaan, from being a descent princess, Salome becomes a vulgar entity fueled with sexual lust for Jokanaan. At the penultimate stage, it seems that Salome reaches to her ultimate rage of vengeance for Jokanaan and on behalf of her artistic presentation in front of her stepfather, she demands for the death of Jokanaan. After such terrible demand, when Herod finally brings Jokanaan’s head to Salome she comes occupies her ultimate attribute of lust and revenge, out of which she perversely kisses Jokanaan’s dead head (Calico et al.). Salome’s attribute is considered as the metaphoric representation of an archetypal monster that provokes the potential male characters around her with sexual beauty and finally pushes them towards the premise of chastity, morality and most importantly of decency (Campbell).

Chief Sexual Identities in the Play

In terms of intertexual references on building the sexual identities in Salome, it is essential to look at the chief sexual identities represented in the play. In this context, it is essential to mention that the sexual identity as well as sexual orientation has become a staple subject for the attention of Victorian art, culture as well as music (Corrêa). Prior to find the intertexuality of the sexual identities of the considered play of Wilde, it is essential to mention that Wilde’s account of sexual identity in the play Salome is portrayed under the characterization of the protagonist Salome as understandably Salome goes through three sexual awareness phases. The sexual identity of the protagonist Salome is developed by three sexual awareness phases, which are – pre-pubescent stage, sexual awakening stage and the sexual depravity stage (Cregan). More precisely, in the pre-pubescent stage, the protagonist Salome acts as a sexually unaware princess, while in the sexual awakening stage, she becomes able to discover her desires regarding sexuality. At the final stage of sexual depravity, the newly recognized sexual desires of Salome transform into a vulgar, violent and revengeful as well as perverse form that finally destroys Jokanaan as well as herself (De Vries).

The transformation or in other words, establishment of the prime sexual identity of Salome is metaphorically responsible for the transformation of one of the predominant male characters of the play, which is the stepfather of Salome – Herod. Therefore, it has been identified that the chief sexual identity established into the play is the sexual identity of the protagonist – Salome (Edwards).

Considering the essay’s chief motive of identifying the intertexuality, it can be said that the most significant intertexual reference for the play’s sexual identity can be traced in the play - The Duchess of Padua by Oscar Wilde. In the play The Duchess of Padua by the same playwright, the violent kind of passion for love that, can be considered as the fruit of the sexual identity of the female character – Beatrice (Iacob). It is true that the plot of The Duchess of Padua is not similar with that of Salome but in terms of having violent passion and intensity to get back the love or desire of their life, both Salome and Beatrice’s sexual identity can be considered the same (Im). However, it is also to consider in this respect that in The Duchess of Padua, the act of killing the duke of Padua to get Guido is for the cause of love and not only to satisfy her sexual desire. Unlike this, in Salome, the protagonist demands the head of the person from whom she desires both love and sexual pleasure (Kerr). Nevertheless, in terms of intertexuality related to sexual identity, the heinous act of violence drawn from the urge of love evoked from sexual identity is Salome has a great influence from The Duchess of Padua (Li and Li).

Intertexual References and Sexual Identities in Wilde's Works

On the other hand, the same affect of the exoticized aspect of womanhood is evident in the literary piece named - La Sainte Courtisane. The unfinished play by the same playwright centers on the character of Myrrhina, who desires to tempt the hermit – Honorius (Rowden). The intertexuality related to the sexual identity is only limited within Myrrhina’s act or violent attempt of tempting Honorius. However, nothing sort of perverse vengeance or uglified passion of womanhood has been depicted in the story of La Sainte Courtisane (Sammells). In this context, it is required to mention that after having a brief overview of some of Oscar Wilde’s chief works it has been understood that the playwright has attempted to mock the situation of women in the contemporary Victorian society (Wilde). By making a vulgar presentation of women characters and specifically women sexuality, the playwright desired to make a metaphoric indication of the possible consequence that, can take place in a society when a woman becomes vulgar for her desires. Considering the aforementioned percept, it can be said that the cultural as well as social marginality of women in the contemporary society of the Victorian age has been portrayed through women of disorder like Salome (Wilde).            

However, in terms of intertexuality of Salome in relation to the sexual identity, the Biblical reference of the character Salome can be cited as well. In order to understand the sexual identity and its significance, the biblical reference is found to be most relevant. Salome is considered to be a biblical character that appeared in the New Testament though there is no direct mention of her name (Rowden). Nonetheless, the point of intertextuality is seemingly Oscar Wilde has used the biblical reference of Salome in his drama but only has made slight difference by adding sexual desire and lust. According to the biblical story of Salome in the New Testament, Salome has been the daughter of Herodias, who danced in the banquet party for Antipas’ birthday to claim the head of John the Baptist for her mother’s wish (Iacob). Salome’s mother desired to see the death of John the Baptist who protested against the marriage of Herod and Herodias. Similarly, like the biblical reference in the New Testament, in Oscar Wilde’s play it has been identified that when Salome demanded for the head of Jokanaan, her mother did not protest as previously it has been seen that Jokanaan keeps cursing Salome’s mother (Edwards). It should be also mentioned that the intertexuality of Salome with the aforementioned Biblical reference is considerable in relation to its sexual identity too (De Vries). It is because, may be the sexual desires are not there in the Biblical reference, though the request for making a dance performance to please Herod is related to a sort of physical pleasure. Salome’s demand to have the head of John the Baptists on behalf of her dance performance in both the New Testament and in Wilde’s creation is indicative of the fact that the woman character – Salome has utilized her sexual identity or physical attractiveness through the act of dance (Cregan).

Exoticized Aspect of Womanhood in La Sainte Courtisane

Besides, the aforementioned intertexuality it has been also found that in the illustration of Wilde’s masterpiece – The Importance of Being Earnest, there is found a parallel act like Salome though in a mocking way (Wilde). First of all , it is to mention that both Salome and The Importance of Being Earnest reflects power, personal as well as sexual identity, gender paradigm, importance of art and language and influence of Utilitarianism. Interestingly, the “death-dealing” passion of women is found in both the aforementioned plays though the form for Salome has been tragic and that of The Importance of Being Earnest is mocking (Wilde). However, it is also required to mention that the level of intertexuality between Salome and The Importance of Being Earnest is not as strong as the similarities in relation to sexual identity in the Biblical text and in The Duchess of Padua. Through the portrayal of Gwendolen Fairfax and Cecily Cardew’s determination for love, a slight intertexuality can be recognized between two of the aforementioned dramas of Oscar Wilde (Wilde).

On the other side, one of the most significant intertexual content can be seen in Roald Dahl’s short story – Lamb to the Slaughter. In Roald Dahl’s Lamb to the Slaughter, the writer draws a character like Mary Maloney who resembles several features of Salome as well as her mother. After considering Roald Dahl’s Lamb to the Slaughter, it can be said that a huge amount of similarity can be seen between Salome and the aforementioned short story (Eden). In relation to sexual identity, it has been identified that like Salome’s initial state in the play, Mary Maloney has been also a devoted and pregnant homemaker of Patrick whose sole concern at the initial stage has been to make a good household and make her husband happy. Like Salome’s transformation and her desire to take revenge on the person, she loved dearly, Mary Maloney in Dahl’s Lamb to the Slaughter transform herself right after hearing that her love – her husband wants to give her divorce (Eden). Further, like the ultimate revenge taken by Salome on Jokanaan, in Dahl’s short story, Mary Maloney seeks revenge on her husband and finally does so by killing him with the large lamb leg. In both of the context, the protagonist women kill the male individual to whom they have relationship of desire. However, it is also to mention that while the act of Mary Maloney has a consequence of rage, Salome’s act has been drawn from a well-decided plan (Eden). Henceforth, it can be said that the in comparison with Mary Maloney, Salome’s transformation of sexual identity has been more brutal, more perverse and more evil though the subversive attribute of womanhood of Salome can understood from the reference.  

Biblical Reference and Sexual Identity in Salome

However, not directly in terms of sexual identity, a slight intertexuality can be recognized in the scene of cutting a stallion’s head in The Godfather can be also considered. In the aforementioned scene, it seems that in order to show the dominance of power, a stallion’s head is cut and placed on the bed of the stallion’s owner. The scene is not completely irrelevant as the act of beheading a creature who is an object of love of the person to whom the revenge is directed is there in Wilde’s play - Salome too. However, in relation to the sexual identity, the abovementioned similarity cannot be considered here. On the other hand, in terms of intertexuality in relation to sexual identity can be traced in Belgian playwright – Maurice Maeterlinck’s Princess Maleine can be also considered. However, nothing sort of revengeful mentality revealed through the character of the protagonist Maleine, like Salome (Bennett). Nevertheless, the similar context that can be considered in this context is Maleine’s passionate love for Hjalmar who finally kills her, is quite similar with the passionate love of Salome for Jokanaan. Therefore, it helps in understanding the subversive nature of female sexual identity of Salome.

Nevertheless, it is needed to be considered here that if the unfinished drama - La Sainte Courtisane, would have been finished or would have formed in other way, then the play could earn a potential resemblance with Salome (Alexandra). By driving her passion that has been centered on sexual temptation to divine chastity and religion, it can be said that Wilde has somewhere dominated the predominant attributes of the Courtisane in La Sainte Courtisane. In this context of intertexuality in relation to sexual identity, the poem – My Last Duchess by Robert Browning can be considered as well. In the poem My Last Duchess, the poet presents a Duke and his monologue that indicates the Duke’s murder of his wife (Nichols). The poem refers the fact that behind taking the life of the Duchess, the reason has been her simplicity, goodness and chastity. In Wilde’s Salome, the ultimate victim Jokanaan has a pure and divine soul who has the power to make prophecy. In both cases, the murders killed their beloved ones as they have been rejected or failed to tempt their beloved ones (Li and Li). Only the difference between the two contexts is while Salome has been a female individual, the Duke of Robert Browning’s poem has been a male individual. Therefore, it can be said that the revenge upon the beloved ones in form of killing makes the intertexuality between Browning’s masterpiece and the controversial drama of Oscar Wilde in terms of sexual identity is relevant enough.

From the above elaboration and evaluation, it has been understood that the plot of Oscar Wilde’s Salome revolves around the protagonist Salome who initially stays ignorant about her attractive beauty and sexual pleasure but later after recognizing it becomes violent. As a consequence of her increasing attribute of violence and perverseness, she desires to kill the person from whom she demanded sexual desire as well as love. The above discourse has indicated that the particular theme can be found in Oscar Wild’s several dramas like the The Duchess of Padua and The Importance of Being Earnest. However, according to the above evaluation and discussion, the most significant relevance or intertexuality in relation to sexual identity and sexual orientation can be seen in the Biblical representation of Salome in the New Testament and in Roald Dahl’s Lamb to the Slaughter. Further, the above discussion has indicated the fact that the intertexual references can be seen in Robert Browning’s My Last Duchess and in the scene of beheading the horse in The Godfather and in Maurice Maeterlinck’s Princess Maleine. It can be concluded that the determining point of finding intertexuality in relation to sexual identity of Salome with other texts, is a woman’s urge to kill her beloved who has not responded as per the expectation to her sexual urges and love.


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