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Salomé has made the author’s name a household word wherever the English language is not spoken. Few plays have such a peculiar history. Before tracing briefly the vicissitudes of a work that has been more execrated than even its author, I venture to repeat the corrections which I communicated to the Morning Post when the opera of Dr. Strauss was produced in a mutilated verson at Covent Garden in December, 1910. That such reiteration is necessary is illustrated by the circumstance that a musical critic in the Academy of December 17th, 1910, wrote of Wilde’s “imaginative verses” apropos of Salomé — a strange comment on the honesty of musical criticism. Salomé is in prose, not in verse.
Salomé was not written for Madame Sarah Bernhardt. It was not written with any idea of stage representation. Wilde did not write the play in English, nor afterwards re-write it in French, because he “could not get it acted in English” as stated by Mr. G. K. Chesterton on the authority, presumably, of Chambers’s Encyclopaedia or some other such source of that writer’s culture. It was not offered to any English manager. In no scene of Wilde’s play does Salomé dance round the head of the Baptist, as she is represented in music-hall turns. The name “John” does not occur either in the French or German text. Critics speak contemptuously of “Wilde’s libretto adapted for the opera.” Except for the performance at Covent Garden which was permitted only on conditions of mutilation, there has been no adaptation. Certain passages were omitted by Dr. Strauss because the play (which is in one act) would be too long without these cuts. Wilde’s actual words in Madame Hedwig Lachmann’s admirable translation are sung. The words have not been transfigured into ordinary operatic nonsense to suit the score. When the opera is given in French, however, the text used is not Wilde’s French original, but a French translation fitted to the score from the German.
Salomé was written by Oscar Wilde at Torquay in the winter of 1891–2. The initial idea of treating the subject came to him some time previously, after seeing in Paris a well-known series of Gustave Moreau’s pictures inspired by the same theme. A good deal has been made of his debt to Flaubert’s tale of Herodias. Apart from the Hebrew name of “Iokanaan” for the Baptist the debt is slight, when we consider what both writers owe to Scripture. On Flaubert’s Tentation de Saint Antoine Wilde has indeed drawn considerably for his Oriental motives; not more, in justice it must be added, than another well-known dramatist drew on Plutarch, Bandello, and other predecessors. The simple syntax was, of course, imitated directly from Maeterlinck, who has returned the compliment by adapting to some extent other features from Salomé in his recent play Mary Magdalene, a point observed by the continental critics. Our old friend Ollendorff, too, is irresistibly recalled by reading Wilde’s French; as he is indeed by all of M. Maeterlinck’s early plays. A famous sentence in one of John Bright’s speeches Wilde bodily transferred when he makes Iokanaan say, “J’entends dans le palais le battement des ailes de l’ange de la mort.” Large portions of Holy Writ, too, are incorporated. One of the musical critics is particularly severe on some of the Biblical quotations from Ezekiel (spoken by Iokanaan). He finds them “typical of Wilde’s perverted imagination and tedious employment of metaphor.” To the more scholarly and truffle-nosed industry of Mr. C. L. Graves I am indebted for the discovery that Wilde probably got the idea of Salomé’s passion for Iokanaan from Heine’s Atta Troll, though it is Herodias, not her daughter, who evinces it. Before this discovery was announced in the Spectator, that too was merely a disgusting invention of Wilde, who is, of course, anathema to “the journal of blameless antecedents and growing infirmities,” as a well-known statesman said so wittily.
So much for the origins or plagiarisms of Salomé. It is well to remember also the many dramas and ballets composed by various French writers, including Massenet’s well-known opera Herodiade, composed in 1881, and performed in 1904 at Covent Garden with the title Salomé. All of these were taken directly from the story told by St. Mark or Flaubert; nearly all of them are now forgotten. Wilde would certainly have seen one by Armand Sylvestre. Sudermann’s Johannes, from which Wilde is also accused of lifting, did not appear until 1898, several years later. Needless to say, there is no resemblance beyond that which must exist between any two plays in which John the Baptist and Herod are characters. Wilde’s confusion of Herod Antipas (Matt. xiv. 1) with Herod the Great (Matt. ii. 1) and Herod Agrippa the First (Acts xii. 23) is intentional. He follows a mediaeval convention of the mystery plays. There is no attempt at accurate historical reconstruction.
Madame Bernhardt, who in 1892 leased the Palace Theatre for a not very successful London season, had known Wilde from his earliest days. She has recorded her first meeting with him at Dover. He was constantly at the theatres where she was acting in London. She happened one day to say that she wished Wilde would write a play for her. One of his dramas had already appeared with success. He replied in jest that he had done so. Ignorant, or forgetful, of the English law prohibiting the introduction of Scriptural characters on the stage, she insisted on seeing the manuscript, decided on immediate production, and started rehearsals. On the usual application being made to the Censor for a licence it was refused. This is the only accurate information about the play ever vouchsafed in the Press when the subject of the opera is under discussion. Wilde immediately announced that he would change his nationality and become a Frenchman, a threat which in spired Mr. Bernard Partridge with a delightful caricature of the author as a conscript in the French Army (Punch, July 9th, 1892).
The following year, 1893, the text was passed for press, the late M. Marcel Schwob told me, by himself. He made only two corrections, he in formed me, because he was afraid of spoiling the individuality of Wilde’s manner and style by transmuting them into more academic forms and phrases. I have learned since, however, that Mr, Stuart Merrill, the well-known French–American writer, a great friend of Wilde, was also consulted, and that M. Adolph Rette and M. Pierre Louys (to whom the play is dedicated) claim to have made revisions. But no one who knew Oscar Wilde with any degree of intimacy would admit that Salomé, whatever its faults or merits or de rivations, owed anything considerable to the invention or talents of others. Emerson said that “no great men are original.” However this may be, Salomé is more characteristic and typical of Wilde’s imperfect genius, with the possible exception of The Importance of Being Earnest, than anything else he ever wrote. The sculptor must get his clay or bronze, his marble and his motives from somewhere, just as the painter his pigment and models. How much more does this apply to the dramatist? The play was published in French simultaneously by Messrs. Elkin Mathews and John Lane in London and by the Librairie de l’Art Independant in Paris in 1893. It was assailed by nearly the whole Press. But there was one exception: that of Mr. William Archer in Black and White. Now that Salomé has become part of the European dramatic repertoire, though so often consigned to oblivion by two generations of dramatic critics and though the fungoid musical critics have spawned all over it, Mr. Archer’s words have a special and peculiar interest:
“There is at least as much musical as pictorial quality in Salomé. It is by methods borrowed from music that Mr. Wilde, without sacrificing its suppleness, imparts to his prose the firm texture, so to speak, of verse. Borrowed from music may I conjecture through the mediation of Maeterlinck. . . . There is far more depth and body in Mr. Wilde’s work than in Maeterlinck’s. His characters are men and women, not filmy shapes of mist and moonshine. His properties are far more various and less conventional. His . . . palette is infinitely richer. Maeterlinck paints in washes of water-colour. Mr. Wilde attains to depth and brilliancy of oils. Salomé has all the qualities of a great historical picture, pedantry and conventionality excepted.” Black and White, March llth, 1893.
I do not know that Mr. Archer liked the play particularly or that he likes it now, but at all events he had the foresight and the knowledge to realise that here was no piece of trifling to be dismissed with contempt or assailed with obloquy. Mr. Archer has fortunately lived to see a good many of his judgments justified, and beyond emphasising his interesting anticipation of the eventual place Salomé was to occupy in musical composition, I need pay no further tribute to the brilliant perception of an honoured contemporary. The Times, while depreciating the drama, gave its author credit for a tour de force in being capable of writing a French play for Madame Bernhardt, and this drew from Wilde the following letter, which appeared in the Times on March 2nd, 1893:
“SIR, My attention has been drawn to a review of Salomé which was published in your columns last week. The opinions of English critics on a French work of mine have, of course, little, if any, interest for me. I write simply to ask you to allow me to correct a misstatement that appears in the review in question.
“The fact that the greatest tragic actress of any stage now living saw in my play such beauty that she was anxious to produce it, to take herself the part of the heroine, to lend to the entire poem the glamour of her personality and to my prose the music of her flute-like voice this was naturally, and always will be, a source of pride and pleasure to me, and I look forward with delight to seeing Mme. Bernhardt present my play in Paris, that vivid centre of art, where religious dramas are often performed. But my play was in no sense of the words written for this great actress. I have never written a play for any actor or actress, nor shall I ever do so. Such work is for the artisan in literature not for the artist.
“I remain, Sir, your obedient servant,
The Censor was commended by all the other reviewers and dramatic critics. Never has that official been so popular.
In 1894 Messrs. Mathews and Lane issued an English translation of Salomé by Lord Alfred Douglas. The illustrations of Aubrey Beardsley which it contained were received with even greater disfavour by reviewers and art critics. A few of the latter, the late P. G. Hamerton and Mr. Joseph Pennell among others, realised, however, that a new artistic personality had asserted itself, and that the draughtsman was, if anything, hostile to the work he professed to embellish. Heir Miergraefe, the German critic, has fallen into the error of supposing that Beardsley’s designs were the typical pictorial expression of widespread admiration for Wilde’s writings. They are, of course, a mordant, though decorative, satire on the play. Excellent caricatures of Wilde may be seen in the frontispiece entitled “The Woman in the Moon” (Plate 1) and in “Enter Herodias” (Plate 9). The colophon is a real masterpiece and a witty criticism of the play as well. The impression the drawings have produced, not so much in England but in Europe, may be gauged by reference to the work of the same German critic, who in his universal survey of modern art allows only three artists of the English School separate chapters to themselves the three being William Morris, Whistler, and Beardsley.
By connoisseurs of Beardsley’s work the Salomé set of drawings is regarded as the highest achievement of a peculiar talent. In England, from constant reproductions and exhibition, they were more familiar to the public than the text of the play, until the revived interest in Wilde’s writings.
And here I may warn collectors against the numerous forgeries of the originals which are continually offered in the English and American markets. Of the sixteen drawings fourteen are still in the possession of Mr. John Lane. One (“Toilette,” Plate No. 12) is in the possession of the present writer, and “Enter Herodias” has recently passed from the collection of Mr. Herbert Pollit to that of Mr. W. D. Hutchinson. There is a coloured design of Salom6, one of Beardsley’s very few coloured drawings, belonging to Miss Doulton. This was never intended as an illustration for the play in published form, but on being shown to Mr. Lane suggested to him the idea of commissioning Beardsley to illustrate the English version of the play (Marillier, “Early Work of Aubrey Beardsley,” page 23). All others are spurious.
In 1896, when Wilde was still incarcerated at Reading, M. Lugne–Poe, the poet and actor, produced Salomé at the Theatre de l’OEuvre in Paris. It was coldly received. But the author, who heard of its production, refers pathetically to the incident in one of his letters to me from prison:
“Please say how gratified I am at the performance of my play, and have my thanks conveyed to Lugne–Poe. It is something that at a time of disgrace and shame I should still be regarded as an artist. I wish I could feel more pleasure, but I seem dead to all emotions except those of anguish and despair. However, please let Lugne–Poe know that I am sensible of the honour he has done me. He is a poet himself. Write to me in answer to this, and try and see what Lemattre, Bauer, and Sarcey said of Salomé”
Within two years of Wilde’s death, Salomé was first produced in Berlin on November 15th, 1902, at the Kleiner Theater, where it played for two-hundred nights, an unprecedented run for the Prussian capital. From that moment it became part of the repertoire of the German stage, and draws crowded, enthusiastic houses whenever it is revived. At Munich particular attention is given to the staging and mise-enscene. The late Professor Furtwangler was said to have personally supervised the “Dance of the Seven Veils,” which is rendered with scrupulous regard to archaic conventions. (In the opera the dance is except in the case of Madame Ackté seldom more than a commonplace ballet performance, and is usually executed by a super.) Technically the interlude of the dance interferes with the tense dramatic unity of the play (though this is less noticeable in the opera), and is one of many indications that Salomé was not originally composed for the stage.
In May, 1905, the New Stage Club gave two private performances (the first in this country) at the Bijou Theatre, Archer Street. A new generation of dramatic critics was more severe than its predecessor, but displayed less acquaintance with Scripture; objection was again raised by one of them to certain phraseology, quoted from Holy Writ, “as the diseased language of decadence.” In June, 1906, the Literary Theatre Society gave further performances. This last production was distinguished by the exquisite mounting and dresses of Mr. Charles Ricketts. The role of Herod was marvellously rendered by Mr. Robert Farquharson; that of Herodias by Miss Florence Farr. The National Sporting Club, Covent Garden, was the odd locality chosen for an illicit entertainment, on which the critics again fell with exacerbated violence. Another and very inadequate production occurred at the Court Theatre in February, 1911. Such is the remarkable history of a drama that shares the distinction or notoriety of Beckford’s Vathek, in being one of the only two considerable works written by an English author in French. Mr. Walter Ledger, the bibliographer, records, exclusive of the authorised French texts, over forty different translations and versions. These include German (seven), Czech, Dutch, Greek, Italian, Magyar, Polish, Russian, Spanish, Catalan, Swedish, and Yiddish translations, in all of which languages it is performed. The play is often performed at the American Yiddish theatres. There is a popular Yiddish text sold for fivepence in London, where it is whispered that, unknown to the Censor, the play can also be seen in the Yiddish tongue. The authorised original French text is included in the uniform Methuen editions of Wilde’s works.
According to an interview with Dr. Strauss in December, 1905, when his opera was first produced in Dresden, the composer’s attention was first drawn to the possibilities of Salomé by a Viennese who had prepared a libretto based on Wilde’s work. This seemed to him unsatisfactory, and he turned to the original, or (to be precise) to Madame Lachmann’s German translation.
A young French naval officer, Lieutenant Mariotte, a native of Lyons, unaware that a dis tinguished competitor was in the field before him, composed an opera round Salomé, for which he used the original French text. It was produced in 1911 in Paris, and ran concurrently with the work of Dr. Strauss. Mr. Henry Hadley, an American composer, has composed a symphonic poem “round Wilde’s motive. This was performed at Queen’s Hall in August, 1909. The burlesque dances of Miss Maud Allan and her rivals are also well known. It is noteworthy that the former appeared first at the Palace Theatre where, sixteen years earlier, the play was prohibited. It would be idle to deny that the origin of the dance was the extraordinary popularity of Wilde’s play on the Continent a popularity that existed at least four years before the production of Dr. Strauss’ s opera.
With reference to the charge of plagiarism brought against Salomé and its author, I venture to mention a personal recollection. Wilde complained to me one day that someone in a well-known novel had stolen an idea of his. I pleaded in defence of the culprit that Wilde himself was a fearless literary thief. “My dear Robbie’ he said, with his usual drawling emphasis, “when I see a monstrous tulip with four wonderful petals in someone else’s garden, I am impelled to grow a monstrous tulip with five wonderful petals, but that is no reason why someone should grow a tulip with only three petals.” That was Oscar Wilde.
[A great terrace in the Palace of Herod, set above the banqueting-hall Some soldiers are leaning over the balcony. To the right there is a gigantic staircase, to the left, at the back, an old cistern surrounded by a wall of green bronze. Moonlight.]
The Young Syrian How beautiful is the Princess Salomé to-night!
The Page of Herodias Look at the moon! How strange the moon seems! She is like a woman rising from a tomb. She is like a dead woman. You would fancy she was looking for dead things.
The Young Syrian She has a strange look. She is like a little princess who wears a yellow veil, and whose feet are of silver. She is like a princess who has little white doves for feet. You would fancy she was dancing.
The Page of Herodias She is like a woman who is dead. She moves very slowly. [Noise in the banqueting-hall.]
First Soldier What an uproar! Who are those wild beasts howling?
Second Soldier The Jews. They are always like that. They are disputing about their religion.
First Soldier Why do they dispute about their religion?
Second Soldier I cannot tell. They are always doing it. The Pharisees, for instance, say that there are angels, and the Sadducees declare that angels do not exist.
First Soldier I think it is ridiculous to dispute about such things.
The Young Syrian How beautiful is the Princess Salomé” to-night!
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.
The Young Syrian She is very beautiful to-night.
First Soldier The Tetrarch has a sombre look.
Second Soldier Yes; he has a sombre look.
First Soldier He is looking at something.
Second Soldier He is looking at some one.
First Soldier At whom is he looking?
Second Soldier I cannot tell.
The Young Syrian How pale the Princess is! Never have I seen her so pale. She is like the shadow of a white rose in a mirror of silver.
The Page of Herodias You must not look at her. You look too much at her.
First Soldier Herodias has filled the cup of the Tetrarch.
The Cappadocian Is that the Queen Herodias, she who wears a black mitre sewn with pearls, and whose hair is powdered with blue dust?
First Soldier Yes; that is Herodias, the Tetrarch’s wife.
Second Soldier The Tetrarch is very fond of wine. He has wine of three sorts. One which is brought from the Island of Samothrace, and is purple like the cloak of Csesar.
The Cappadocian I have never seen Caesar.
Second Soldier Another that comes from a town called Cyprus, and is yellow like gold.
The Cappadocian I love gold.
Second Soldier And the third is a wine of Sicily. That wine is red like blood.
The Nubian The gods of my country are very fond of blood. Twice in the year we sacrifice to them young men and maidens; fifty young men and a hundred maidens. But it seems we never give them quite enough, for they are very harsh to us.
The Cappadocian In my country there are no gods left. The Romans have driven them out. There are some who say that they have hidden themselves in the mountains, but I do not believe it. Three nights I have been on the mountains seeking them everywhere. I did not find them. And at last I called them by their names, and they did not come. I think they are dead.
First Soldier The Jews worship a God that you cannot see.
The Cappadocian I cannot understand that.
First Soldier In fact, they believe only in things that you cannot see.
The Cappadocian That seems to me altogether ridiculous.
The Voice of Jokanaan After me shall come another mightier than I. I am not worthy so much as to unloose the latchet of his shoes. When he cometh, the solitary places shall be glad. They shall blossom like the lily. The eyes of the blind shall see the day, and the ears of the deaf shall be opened. The new-born child shall put his hand upon the dragons’ lair and shall lead the lions by their manes.
Second Soldier Make him be silent, He is always saying ridiculous things.
First Soldier No, no. He is a holy man. He is very gentle, too. Every day when I give him to eat he thanks me.
The Cappadocian Who is he?
First Soldier A prophet.
The Cappadocian What is his name?
First Soldier Jokanaan.
The Cappadocian Whence comes he?
First Soldier From the desert, where he fed on locusts and wild honey. He was clothed in camel’s hair, and round his loins he had a leathern belt. He was very terrible to look upon. A great multitude used to follow him. He even had disciples.
The Cappadocian What is he talking of?
First Soldier We can never tell. Sometimes he says terrible things, but it is impossible to understand what he says.
The Cappadocian May one see him?
First Soldier No. The Tetrarch has forbidden it.
The Young Syrian The Princess has hidden her face behind her fan! Her little white hands are fluttering like doves that fly to their dove-cots. They are like white butterflies. They are just like white butterflies.
The Page of Herodias What is that to you? Why do you look at her? You must not look at her. . . . Something terrible may happen.
The Cappadocian [pointing to the cistern] What a strange prison!
Second Soldier It is an old cistern.
The Cappadocian An old cistern! It must be very unhealthy.
Second Soldier Oh no! For instance, the Tetrarch’s brother, his elder brother, the first husband of Herodias the Queen, was imprisoned there for twelve years. It did not kill him. At the end of the twelve years he had to be strangled.
The Cappadocian Strangled? Who dared to do that?
Second Soldier [Pointing to the executioner, a huge negro] That man yonder, Naaman,
The Cappadocian He was not afraid?
Second Soldier Oh no! The Tetrarch sent him the ring.
The Cappadocian What ring?
Second Soldier The death-ring. So he was not afraid.
The Cappadocian Yet it is a terrible thing to strangle a king.
First Soldier Why? Kings have but one neck, like other folk.
The Cappadocian I think it terrible.
The Young Syrian The Princess rises! She is leaving the table! She looks very troubled. Ah, she is coming this way. Yes, she is coming towards us. How pale she is! Never have I seen her so pale.
The Page of Herodias Do not look at her. I pray you not to look at her.
The Young Syrian She is like a dove that has strayed. . . . She is like a narcissus trembling in the wind. . . . She is like a silver flower.
Salomé I will not stay. I cannot stay. 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. . . . In truth, yes I know it.
The Young Syrian You have just left the feast, Princess?
Salomé How sweet the air is here! I can breathe here! Within there are Jews from Jerusalem who are tearing each other in pieces over their foolish ceremonies, and barbarians who drink and drink, and spill their wine on the pavement, and Greeks from Smyrna with painted eyes and painted cheeks, and frizzed hair curled in twisted coils, and silent, subtle Egyptians, with long nails of jade and russet cloaks, and Romans brutal and coarse, with their uncouth jargon. Ah! how I loathe the Romans! They are rough and common, and they give themselves the airs of noble lords.
The Young Syrian Will you be seated, Princess?
The Page of Herodias Why do you speak to her? Why do you look at her? Oh! something terrible will happen.
Salomé How good to see the moon! She is like a little piece of money. You would think she was a little silver flower. The moon is cold and chaste. I am sure she is a virgin, she has a virgin’s beauty. Yes, she is a virgin. She has never defiled herself. She has never abandoned herself to men, like the other goddesses.
The Voice of Jokanaan The Lord hath come. The Son of Man hath come. The centaurs have hidden themselves in the rivers, and the sirens have left the rivers, and are lying beneath the leaves in the forests.
Salomé Who was that who cried out?
Second Soldier The prophet, Princess.
Salomé Ah, the prophet! He of whom the Tetrarch is afraid?
Second Soldier We know nothing of that, Princess. It was the prophet Jokanaan who cried out.
The Young Syrian Is it your pleasure that I bid them bring your litter, Princess? The night is fair in the garden.
Salomé He says terrible things about my mother, does he not?
Second Soldier We never understand what he says, Princess.
Salomé Yes; he says terrible things about her. [Enter a Slave.]
The Slave Princess, the Tetrarch prays you to return to the feast.
Salomé I will not go back.
The Young Syrian Pardon me, Princess, but if you do not return some misfortune may happen.
Salomé Js he an old man, this prophet?
The Young Syrian Princess, it were better to return. Suffer me to lead you in.
Salomé This prophet . . . is he an old man?
First Soldier No, Princess, he is quite a young man.
Second Soldier You cannot be sure. There are those who say he is Elias.
Salomé Who is Elias?
Second Soldier A very ancient prophet of this country, Princess.
The Slave What answer may I give the Tetrarch from the Princess?
The Voice of Jokanaan Rejoice not thou, land of Palestine, because the rod of him who smote thee is broken. For from the seed of the serpent shall come forth a basilisk, and that which is born of it shall devour the birds.
Salomé What a strange voice I would speak with him.
First Soldier I fear it is impossible, Princess. The Tetrarch does not wish any one to speak with him. He has even forbidden the high priest to speak with him.
Salomé I desire to speak with him.
First Soldier It is impossible, Princess.
Salomé I will speak with him.
The Young Syrian Would it not be better to return to the banquet?
Salomé Bring forth this prophet. [Exit the slave.]
First Soldier We dare not, Princess.
Salomé [approaching the cistern and looking down into it] How black it is, down there! It must be terrible to be in so black a pit! It is like a tomb. . . . [To the soldiers] Did you not hear me? Bring out the prophet. I wish to see him.
Second Soldier Princess, I beg you do not require this of us.
Salomé You keep me waiting!
First Soldier Princess, our lives belong to you, but we cannot do what you have asked of us. And indeed, it is not of us that you should ask this thing.
[looking at the young Syrian] Ah!.
The Page of Herodias Oh! what is going to happen? I am sure that some misfortune will happen.
Salomé [going up to the young Syrian] You will do this thing for me, will you not, Narraboth? You will do this thing for me. I have always been kind to you. You will do it for me. I would but look at this strange prophet. Men have talked so much of him. Often have I heard the Tetrarch talk of him. I think the Tetrarch is afraid of him. Are you, even you, also afraid of him, Narraboth?
The Young Syrian I fear him not, Princess; there is no man I fear. But the Tetrarch has formally forbidden that any man should raise the cover of this well.
Salomé You will do this thing for me, Narraboth, and tomorrow when I pass in my litter beneath the gateway of the idol-sellers 1 will let fall for you a little flower, a little green flower.
The Young Syrian Princess, I cannot, I cannot.
Salomé [smiling] You will do this thing for me, Narraboth. You know that you will do this thing for me. And tomorrow when I pass in my litter by the bridge of the idol-buyers, I will look at you through the muslin veils, I will look at you, Narraboth, it may be I will smile at you. Look at me, Narraboth, look at me. Ah! you know that you will do what I ask of you. You know it well. . . . I know that you will do this thing.
The Young Syrian [signing to the third soldier] Let the prophet come forth . . ., The Princess Salomé desires to see him.
The Page of Herodias Oh! How strange the moon looks. You would think it was the hand of a dead woman who is seeking to cover herself with a shroud.
The Young Syrian The moon has a strange look! She is like a little princess, whose eyes are eyes of amber. Through the clouds of muslin she is smiling like a little princess.
[The prophet comes out of the cistern. Salomé looks at him and steps slowly back.]
Jokanaan Where is he whose cup of abominations is now full? Where is he, who in a robe of silver shall one day die in the face of all the people? Bid him come forth, that he may hear the voice of him who hath cried in the waste places and in the houses of kings.
Salomé Of whom is he speaking?
The Young Syrian You can never tell, Princess.
Jokanaan Where is she who having seen the images of men painted on the walls, the images of the Chaldeans limned in colours, gave herself up unto the lust of her eyes, and sent ambassadors into Chaldea?
Salomé It is of my mother that he speaks.
The Young Syrian Oh no, Princess.
Salomé Yes; it is of my mother that he speaks.
Jokanaan Where is she who gave herself unto the Captains of Assyria, who have baldricks on their loins, and tiaras of divers colours on their heads? Where is she who hath given herself to the young men of Egypt, who are clothed in fine linen and purple, whose shields are of gold, whose helmets are of silver, whose bodies are mighty? Bid her rise up from the bed of her abominations, from the bed of her incestuousness, that she may hear the words of him who prepareth the way of the Lord, that she may repent her of her iniquities. Though she will never repent, but will stick fast in her abominations, bid her come; for the fan of the Lord is in His hand.
Salomé But he is terrible, he is terrible!
The Young Syrian Do not stay here, Princess, I beseech you.
Salomé It is his eyes above all that are terrible. They are like black holes burned by torches in a Tyrian tapestry. They are like black caverns where dragons dwell. They are like the black caverns of Egypt in which the dragons make their lairs. They are like black lakes troubled by fantastic moons. . . . Do you think he will speak again?
The Young Syrian Do not stay here, Princess. I pray you do not stay here.
Salomé How wasted he is! He is like a thin ivory statue. He is like an image of silver. I am sure he is chaste as the moon is. He is like a moonbeam, like a shaft of silver. His flesh must be cool like ivory. I would look closer at him.
The Young Syrian No, no, Princess.
Salomé I must look at him closer.
The Young Syrian Princess! Princess!
Jokanaan Who is this woman who is looking at me? I will not have her look at me. Wherefore doth she look at me with her golden eyes under her gilded eyelids? I know not who she is. I do not wish to know who she is. Bid her begone. It is not to her that I would speak.
Salomé I am Salomé, daughter of Herodias, Princess of Judaea.
Jokanaan Back! daughter of Babylon! Come not near the chosen of the Lord. Thy mother hath filled the earth with the wine of her iniquities, and the cry of her sins hath come up to the ears of God.
Salomé Speak again, Jokanaan. Thy voice is wine to me.
The Young Syrian Princess! Princess! Princess!
Salomé Speak again! Speak again, Jokanaan, and tell me what I must do.
Jokanaan Daughter of Sodom, come not near me! But cover thy face with a veil, and scatter ashes upon thine head, and get thee to the desert and seek out the Son of Man.
Salomé Who is he, the Son of Man? Is he as beautiful as thou art, Jokanaan?
Jokanaan Get thee behind me! I hear in the palace the beating of the wings of the angel of death.
The Young Syrian Princess, I beseech thee to go within.
Jokanaan Angel of the Lord God, what dost thou here with thy sword? Whom seekest thou in this foul palace? The day of him who shall die in a robe of silver has not yet come.
Jokanaan Who speaketh?
Salomé Jokanaan, I am amorous of thy body! Thy body is white like the lilies of a field that the mower hath never mowed. Thy body is white like the snows that lie on the mountains, like the snows that lie on the mountains of Judaea, and come down into the valleys. The roses in the garden of the Queen of Arabia are not so white as thy body. Neither the roses in the garden of the Queen of Arabia, nor the feet of the dawn when they light on the leaves, nor the breast of the moon when she lies on the breast of the sea. . . . There is nothing in the world so white as thy body. Let me touch thy body.
Jokanaan Back! daughter of Babylon! By woman came evil into the world. Speak not to me. I will not listen to thee. I listen but to the voice of the Lord God.
Salomé Thy body is hideous. It is like the body of a leper. It is like a plastered wall where vipers have crawled; like a plastered wall where the scorpions have made their nest. It is like a whitened sepulchre full of loathsome things. It is horrible, thy body is horrible. It is of thy hair that I am enamoured, Jokanaan. Thy hair is like clusters of grapes, like the clusters of black grapes that hang from the vine-trees of Edom in the land of the Edomites. Thy hair is like the cedars of Lebanon, like the great cedars of Lebanon that give their shade to the lions and to the robbers who would hide themselves by day. The long black nights, the nights when the moon hides her face, when the stars are afraid, are not so black. The silence that dwells in the forest is not so black. There is nothing in the world so black as thy hair. . . . Let me touch thy hair.
Jokanaan Back, daughter of Sodom! Touch me not. Profane not the temple of the Lord God.
Salomé Thy hair is horrible. It is covered with mire and dust. It is like a crown of thorns which they have placed on thy forehead. It is like a knot of black serpents writhing round thy neck. I love not thy hair. . . . It is thy mouth that I desire, Jokanaan. Thy mouth is like a thread of scarlet on a tower of ivory. It is like a pomegranate cut with a knife of ivory. The pomegranate-flowers that blossom in the gardens of Tyre, and are redder than roses, are not so red. The red blasts of trumpets that herald the approach of kings, and make afraid the enemy, are not so red. Thy mouth is redder than the feet of those who tread the wine in the wine-press.
Thy mouth is redder than the feet of the doves that haunt the temples and are fed by the priests. It is redder than the feet of him who cometh from a forest where he hath slain a lion and seen gilded tigers. Thy mouth is like a branch of coral that the fishers have found in the twilight of the sea, the coral that they keep for kings! . . . It is like the vermilion that the Moabites find in the mines of Moab, the vermilion that the kings take from them. It is like the bow of the King of the Persians, that is painted with vermilion and is tipped with coral. There is nothing in the world so red as thy mouth.. .. Let me kiss thy mouth.
Jokanaan Never! daughter of Babylon! Daughter of Sodom! Never.
Salomé I will kiss thy mouth, Jokanaan. I will kiss thy mouth.
The Young Syrian Princess, Princess, thou who art like a garden of myrrh, thou who art the dove of all doves, look not at this man, look not at him! Speak not such words to him. I cannot suffer them. . . . Princess, Princess, speak not these things.
Salomé I will kiss thy mouth, Jokanaan.
The Young Syrian Ah!
[He kills himself and falls between Salomé and Jokanaan.]
The Page of Herodias The young Syrian has slain himself! The young captain has slain himself! He has slain himself who was my friend! I gave him a little box of perfumes and ear-rings wrought in silver, and now he has killed himself! Ah, did he not foretell that some misfortune would happen? I, too, foretold it, and it has happened. Well I knew that the moon was seeking a dead thing but I knew not that it was he whom she sought. Ah! why did I not hide him from the moon? If I had hidden him in a cavern she would not have seen him.
First Soldier Princess, the young captain has just killed himself.
Salomé Let me kiss thy mouth, Jokanaan.
Jokanaan Art thou not afraid, daughter of Herodias? Did I not tell thee that I had heard in the palace the beating of the wings of the angel of death, and hath he not come, the angel of death?
Salomé Let me kiss thy mouth.
Jokanaan Daughter of adultery, there is but one who can save thee. It is He of whom I spake. Go seek Him. He is in a boat on the sea of Galilee, and He talketh with His disciples. Kneel down on the shore of the sea, and call unto Him by His name. When He cometh to thee (and to all who call on Him He cometh), bow thyself at His feet and ask of Him the remission of thy sins.
Salomé Let me kiss thy mouth.
Jokanaan Cursed be thou! daughter of an incestuous mother, be thou accursed!
Salomé I will kiss thy mouth, Jokanaan.
Jokanaan I do not wish to look at thee. I will not look at thee, thou art accursed, Salomé, thou art accursed.
[He goes down into the cistern.]
Salomé I will kiss thy mouth, Jokanaan; I will kiss thy mouth.
First Soldier We must bear away the body to another place. The Tetrarch does not care to see dead bodies, save the bodies of those whom he himself has slain.
The Page of Herodias He was my brother, and nearer to me than a brother. I gave him a little box full of perfumes, and a ring of agate that he wore always on his hand. In the evening we used to walk by the river, among the almond trees, and he would tell me of the things of his country. He spake ever very low. The sound of his voice was like the sound of the flute of a flute player. Also he much loved to gaze at himself in the river. I used to reproach him for that.
Second Soldier You are right; we must hide the body. The Tetrarch must not see it.
First Soldier The Tetrarch will not come to this place. He never comes on the terrace. He is too much afraid of the prophet.
[Enter Herod, Herodias, and all the Court.]
Herod Where is Salomé? Where is the Princess? Why did she not return to the banquet as I commanded her? Ah! there she is!
Herodias You must not look at her! You are always looking at her!
Herod The moon has a strange look to-night. Has she not a strange look? She is like a mad woman, a mad woman who is seeking everywhere for lovers. She is naked too. She is quite naked. The clouds are seeking to clothe her nakedness, but she will not let them. She reels through the clouds like a drunken woman. . . . I am sure she is looking for lovers. . . . Does she not reel like a drunken woman? She is like a mad woman, is she not?
Herodias No. The moon is like the moon, that is all. Let us go within. . . . You have nothing to do here.
Herod I will stay here! Manasseh, lay carpets there. Light torches. Bring forth the ivory tables, and the tables of jasper. The air here is delicious. I will drink more wine with my guests, We must show all honours to the ambassadors of Caesar.
Herodias It is not because of them that you remain.
Herod Yes; the air is delicious. Come, Herodias, our guests await us. Ah! I have slipped! I have slipped in blood! It is an ill omen. It is a very evil omen. Wherefore is there blood here? . . . And this body, what does this body here? Think you I am like the King of Egypt who gives no feast to his guests but that he shows them a corpse? Whose is it? I will not look on it.
First Soldier It is our captain, sire. It is the young Syrian whom you made captain only three days ago.
Herod I gave no order that he should be slain.
Second Soldier He killed himself, sire.
Herod For what reason? I had made him captain!
Second Soldier We do not know, sire. But he killed himself.
Herod That seems strange to me. I thought it was only the Roman philosophers who killed themselves. Is it not true, Tigellinus, that the philosophers at Rome kill themselves?
Tigellinus There are some who kill themselves, sire. They are the Stoics. The Stoics are coarse people. They are ridiculous people. I myself regard them as being perfectly ridiculous.
Herod I also. It is ridiculous to kill oneself.
Tigellinus Everybody at Rome laughs at them. The Emperor has written a satire against them. It is recited everywhere,
Herod Ah! He has written a satire against them? Caesar is wonderful. He can do everything. . . . It is strange that the young Syrian has killed himself. I am sorry he has killed himself. I am very sorry; for he was fair to look upon. He was even very fair. He had very languorous eyes. I remember that I saw that he looked languorously at Salomé. Truly, I thought he looked too much at her.
Herodias There are others who look at her too much.
Herod His father was a king. I drove him from his kingdom. And you made a slave of his mother, who was a queen, Herodias. So he was here as my guest, as it were, and for that reason I made him my captain. I am sorry he is dead. Ho! why have you left the body here? Take it away! I will not look at it away with it! [They take a/ray the bodt.] It is cold here. There is a wind blowing. Is there not a wind blowing?
Herodias No; there is no wind.
Herod I tell you there is a wind that blows. . . . And I hear in the air something that is like the beating of wings, like the beating of vast wings. Do you not hear it?
Herodias I hear nothing.
Herod I hear it no longer. But I heard it. It was the blowing of the wind, no doubt. It has passed away. But no, I hear it again. Do you not hear it? It is just like the beating of wings.
Herodias I tell you there is nothing. You are ill. Let us go within.
Herod I am not ill. It is your daughter who is sick. She has the mien of a sick person. Never have I seen her so pale.
Herodias I have told you not to look at her.
Herod Pour me forth wine [wine is brought]. Salomé, come drink a little wine with me. I have here a wine that is exquisite. Caesar himself sent it me, Dip into it thy little red lips and then I will drain the cup.
Salomé I am not thirsty, Tetrarch,
Herod You hear how she answers me, this daughter of yours?
Herodias She does right. Why are you always gazing at her?
Herod Bring me ripe fruits [fruits are brought], Salomé, come and eat fruit with me. I love to see in a fruit the mark of thy little teeth. Bite but a little of this fruit and then I will eat what is left.
Salomé I am not hungry, Tetrarch.
Herod [to Herodias] You see how you have brought up this daughter of yours.
Herodias My daughter and I come of a royal race. As for you, your father was a camel driver! He was also a robber!
Herod Thou liest!
Herodias Thou knowest well that it is true.
Herod Salomé, come and sit next to me. I will give thee the throne of thy mother.
Salomé I am not tired, Tetrarch.
Herodias You see what she thinks of you.
Herod Bring me what is it that I desire? I forget. Ah! ah! I remember.
The Voice of Jokanaan Lo! the time is come! That which I foretold hath come to pass, saith the Lord God. Lo! the day of which I spake.
Herodias Bid him be silent. I will not listen to his voice. This man is for ever vomiting insults against me.
Herod He has said nothing against you. Besides, he is a very great prophet.
Herodias I do not believe in prophets. Can a man tell what will come to pass? No man knows it. Moreover, he is for ever insulling me. But I think you are afraid of him. . . . I know well that you are afraid of him.
Herod I am not afraid of him. I am afraid of no man.
Herodias I tell you, you are afraid of him. If you are not afraid of him why do you not deliver him to the Jews, who for these six months past have been clamouring for him?
A Jew Truly, my lord, it were better to deliver him into our hands.
Herod Enough on this subject. I have already given you my answer. I will not deliver him into your hands. He is a man who has seen God.
A Jew That cannot be. There is no man who hath seen God since the prophet Elias. He is the last man who saw God. In these days God doth not show Himself. He hideth Himself. Therefore great evils have come upon the land.
Another Jew Verily, no man knoweth if the prophet Elias did indeed see God. Perad venture it was but the shadow of God that he saw.
A Third Jew. God is at no time hidden. He showeth Himself at all times and in everything. God is in what is evil even as He is in what is good.
A Fourth Jew That must not be said. It is a very dangerous doctrine. It is a doctrine that cometh from the schools at Alexandria where men teach the philosophy of the Greeks. And the Greeks are Gentiles: they are not even circumcised.
A Fifth Jew No one can tell how God worketh. His ways are very mysterious. It may be that the things which we call evil are good, and that the things which we call good are evil. There is no knowledge of anything. We must needs submit to everything, for God is very strong. He breaketh in pieces the strong together with the weak, for He regardeth not any man.
First Jew Thou speakest truly. God is terrible; He breaketh the strong and the weak as a man breaks corn in a mortar. But this man hath never seen God. No man hath seen God since the prophet Elias.
Herodias Make them be silent. They weary me.
Herod But I have heard it said that Jokanaan himself is your prophet Elias.
The Jew That cannot be. It is more than three hundred years since the days of the prophet Elias.
Herod There are some who say that this man is the prophet Elias.
A Nazarene I am sure that he is the prophet Elias.
The Jew Nay, but he is not the prophet Elias.
The Voice of Jokanaan So the day is come, the day of the Lord, and I hear upon the mountains the feet of Him who shall be the Saviour of the world.
Herod What does that mean? The Saviour of the world?
Tigellinus It is a title that Caesar takes.
Herod But Caesar is not coming into Judaea. Only yesterday I received letters from Rome. They contained nothing concerning this matter. And you, Tigellinus, who were at Rome during the winter, you heard nothing concerning this matter, did you?
Tigellinus Sire, I heard nothing concerning the matter. I was explaining the title. It is one of Caesar’s titles.
Herod But Caesar cannot come. He is too gouty. They say that his feet are like the feet of an elephant. Also there are reasons of State. He who leaves Rome loses Rome. He will not come. Howbeit, Caesar is lord. He will come if he wishes. Nevertheless, I do not think he will come.
First Nazarene It was not concerning Caesar that the prophet spake, sire.
Herod Not of Caesar?
First Nazarene No, sire.
Herod Concerning whom, then, did he speak?
First Nazarene Concerning Messias who hath come.
A Jew Messias hath not come,
First Nazarene He hath come, and everywhere He worketh miracles.
Herodias Ho! ho! miracles! I do not believe in miracles. I have seen too many. [To ike page] My fan!
First Nazarene This man worketh true miracles. Thus, at a marriage which took place in a little town of Galilee, a town of some importance, He changed water into wine. Certain persons who were present related it to me. Also He healed two lepers, that were seated before the Gate of Capernaum, simply by touching them.
Second Nazarene Nay, it was two blind men that he healed at Capernaum.
First Nazarene Nay; they were lepers. But He hath healed blind people also, and He was seen on a mountain talking with angels.
A Sadducee Angels do not exist.
A Pharisee Angels do exist, but I do not believe that this Man has talked with them.
First Nazarene He was seen by a great multitude of people talking with angels.
A Sadducee Not with angels.
Herodias How these men weary me! They are ridiculous! [To the page] Well! my fan! [The page gives her the fan.] You have a dreamer’s look; you must not dream. It is only sick people who dream. [She strikes the page with her fan]
Second Nazarene There is also the miracle of the daughter of Jairus.
First Nazarene Yes; that is sure. No man can gainsay it.
Herodias These men are mad. They have looked too long on the moon. Command them to be silent.
Herod What is this miracle of the daughter of Jairus?
First Nazarene The daughter of Jairus was dead. He raised her from the dead.
Herod He raises the dead?
First Nazarene Yea, sire, He raiseth the dead.
Herod I do not wish Him to do that. I forbid Him to do that. I allow no man to raise the dead. This Man must be found and told that I forbid Him to raise the dead. Where is this Man at present?
Second Nazarene He is in every place, sire, but it is hard to find Him.
First Nazarene It is said that He is now in Samaria.
A Jew It is easy to see that this is not Messias, if He is in Samaria. It is not to the Samaritans that Messias shall come. The Samaritans are accursed. They bring no offerings to the Temple.
Second Nazarene He left Samaria a few days since. I think that at the present moment He is in the neighbourhood of Jerusalem.
First Nazarene No; He is not there. I have just come from Jerusalem. For two months they have had no tidings of Him.
Herod No matter! But let them find Him, and tell Him from me I will not allow Him to raise the dead. To change water into wine, to heal the lepers and the blind . . . He may do these things if He will. I say nothing against these things. In truth, I hold it a good deed to heal a leper. But I allow no man to raise the dead. It would be terrible if the dead came back.
The Voice of Jokanaan Ah! the wanton! the harlot! Ah! the daughter of Babylon with her golden eyes and her gilded eyelids! Thus saith the Lord God. Let there come up against her a multitude of men. Let the people take stones and stone her. . . .
Herodias Command him to be silent
The Voice of Jokanaan Let the war captains pierce her with their swords, let them crush her beneath their shields.
Herodias Nay, but it is infamous.
The Voice of Jokanaan It is thus that I will wipe out all wickedness from the earth, and that all women shall learn not to imitate her abominations.
Herodias You hear what he says against me? You allow him to revile your wife?
Herod He did not speak your name.
Herodias What does that matter? You know well that it is me he seeks to revile. And I am your wife, am I not?
Herod Of a truth, dear and noble Herodias, you are my wife, and before that you were the wife of my brother.
Herodias It was you who tore me from his arms.
Herod Of a truth I was the stronger. . . . But let us not talk of that matter. I do not desire to talk of it. It is the cause of the terrible words that the prophet has spoken. Perad venture on account of it a misfortune will come. Let us not speak of this matter. Noble Herodias, we are not mindful of our guests. Fill thou my cup, my well-beloved. Fill with wine the great goblets of silver, and the great goblets of glass. I will drink to Caesar. There are Romans here. We must drink to Caesar.
All Caesar! Caesar!
Herod Do you not see how pale your daughter is?
Herodias What is it to you if she be pale or not?
Herod Never have I seen her so pale.
Herodias You must not look at her.
The Voice of Jokanaan In that day the sun shall become black like sackcloth of hair, and the moon shall become like blood, and the stars of the heaven shall fall upon the earth like ripe figs that fall from the fig-tree, and the kings of the earth shall be afraid.
Herodias Ah! Ah! I should like to see that day of which he speaks, when the moon shall become like blood, and when the stars shall fall upon the earth like ripe figs. This prophet talks like a drunken man . . . But I cannot suffer the sound of his voice, I hate his voice. Command him to be silent.
Herod I will not. I cannot understand what it is that he saith, but it may be an omen.
Herodias I do not believe in omens. He speaks like a drunken man.
Herod It may be he is drunk with the wine of God!
Herodias What wine is that, the wine of God? From what vineyards is it gathered? In what wine-press may one find it?
Herod [from this point he looks all the while at Salomé] Tigellinus, when you were at Rome of late, did the Emperor speak with you on the subject of . . .?
Tigellinus On what subject, sire?
Herod On what subject? Ah! I asked you a question, did I not? I have forgotten what I would have asked you.
Herodias You are looking again at my daughter. You must not look at her. I have already said so.
Herod You say nothing else.
Herodias I say it again.
Herod And the restorati6n of the Temple about which they have talked so much, will anything be done? They say the veil of the sanctuary has disappeared, do they not?
Herodias It was thyself didst steal it. Thou speakest at random. I will not stay here. Let us go within.
Herod Dance for me, Salomé.
Herodias I will not have her dance.
Salomé I have no desire to dance, Tetrarch.
Herod Salomé, daughter of Herodias, dance for me.
Herodias Let her alone.
Herod I command thee to dance, Salomé”.
Salomé I will not dance, Tetrarch.
Herodias [laughing]. You see how she obeys you!
Herod What is it to me whether she dance or not? It is naught to me. To night I am happy. I am exceeding happy, Never have I been so happy.
First Soldier The Tetrarch has a sombre look. Has he not a sombre look?
Second Soldier He has a sombre look.
Herod Wherefore should I not be happy? Caesar, who is lord of the world, who is lord of all things, loves me well. He has just sent me most precious gifts. Also he has promised me to summon to Rome the King of Cappadocia, who is my enemy. It may be that at Rome he will crucify him, for he is able to do all things that he wishes. Verily, Caesar is lord. Thus you see I have a right to be happy. There is nothing in the world that can mar my happiness.
The Voice of Jokanaan He shall be seated on this throne. He shall be clothed in purple and scarlet. In his hand he shall bear a golden cup full of his blasphemies. And the angel of the Lord God shall smite him. He shall be eaten of worms.
Herodias You hear what he says about you. He says that you will be eaten of worms.
Herod It is not of me that he speaks. He speaks never against me. It is of the King of Cappadocia that he speaks,, of the King of Cappadocia who is mine enemy. It is he who shall be eaten of worms. It is not I. Never has he spoken word against me, this prophet, save that I sinned in taking to wife the wife of my brother. It may be he is right. For, of a truth, you are sterile.
Herodias I am sterile, I? You say that, you who are ever looking at my daughter, you who would have her dance for your pleasure? It is absurd to say that. I have borne a child. You have gotten no child, no, not even from one of your slaves. It is you who are sterile, not I.
Herod Peace, woman! I say that you are sterile. You have borne me no child, and the prophet says that our marriage is not a true marriage. He says that it is an incestuous marriage, a marriage that will bring evils. . . . I fear he is right. I am sure that he is right. But it is not the moment to speak of such things. I would be happy at this moment. Of a truth, I am happy. I am very happy. There is nothing I lack.
Herodias I am glad you are of so fair a humour to-night. It is not your custom. But it is late. Let us go within. Do not forget that we hunt at sunrise. All honours must be shown to Cesar’s ambassadors, must they not?
Second Soldier What a sombre look the Tetrarch wears.
First Soldier Yes, he wears a sombre look.
Herod Salomé, Salomé, dance for me. I pray you dance for me. I am sad to-night. Yes. I am passing sad to-night. When I came hither I slipped in blood, which is an evil omen; and I heard, I am sure I heard in the air a beating of wings, a beating of giant wings. I cannot tell what it means. . . . I am sad to-night. Therefore dance for me. Dance for me, Salomé, I beseech you. If you dance for me you may ask of me what you will, and I will give it you. Yes, dance for me, Salomé, and I will give you all that you ask of me,, even unto the half of my kingdom.
Salomé [rising] Will you indeed give me whatsoever I shall ask, Tetrarch?
Herodias Do not dance, my daughter.
Herod Everything, even to the half of my kingdom.
Salomé You swear it, Tetrarch?
Herod I swear it, Salomé.
Herodias Do not dance, my daughter.
Salomé By what will you swear, Tetrarch?
Herod By my life, by my crown, by my gods. Whatsoever you desire I will give it you, even to the half of my kingdom, if you will but dance for me. O Salomé, Salomé”, dance for me!
Salomé You have sworn, Tetrarch.
Herod I have sworn, Salomé.
Salomé All that I ask, even to the half of your kingdom?
Herodias My daughter, do not dance.
Herod Even to the half of my kingdom. Thou wilt be passing fair as a queen, Salomé, if it please thee to ask for the half of my kingdom. Will she not be fair as a queen? Ah! it is cold here! There is an icy wind, and I hear . . . wherefore do I hear in the air this beating of wings? Ah! one might fancy it was a bird, a huge black bird hovering over the terrace. Why can I not see it, this bird? The beating of its wings is terrible. The breath of the wind of its wings is terrible. It is a chill wind. Nay, but it is not cold, it is hot. I am choking. Pour water on my hands. Give me snow to eat. Loosen my mantle. Quick! quick! loosen my mantle. Nay, but leave it. It is my garland that hurts me, my garland of roses. The flowers are like fire. They have burned my forehead. [He tears the wreath from his head and throws it on the table.] Ah! I can breathe now. How red those petals are! They are like stains of blood on the cloth. That does not matter. You must not find symbols in everything you see. It makes life impossible. It were better to say that stains of blood are as lovely as rose petals. It were better far to say that. . . . But we will not speak of this. Now I am happy. I am very happy. Have I not the right to be happy? Your daughter is going to dance for me. Will you not dance for me, Salom6? You have promised to dance for me.
Herodias I will not have her dance.
Salomé I will dance for you, Tetrarch.
Herod You hear what your daughter says. She is going to dance for me. You do well to dance for me, Salomé. And when you have danced for me, forget not to ask of me whatsoever you wish. Whatsoever you wish I will give it to you, even to the half of my kingdom. I have sworn it, have I not?
Salomé You have sworn it, Tetrarch.
Herod And I have never broken my word. I am not of those who break their oaths. I know not how to lie. I am the slave of my word, and my word is the word of a king. The King of Cappadocia always lies, but he is no true king. He is a coward. Also he owes me money that he will not repay. He has even insulted my ambassadors. He has spoken words that were wounding. But Caesar will crucify him when he comes to Rome. I am sure that Caesar will crucify him. And if not, yet will he die, and be eaten of worms. The prophet has prophesied it. Well! wherefore dost thou tarry, Salom6?
Salomé I am waiting for my slaves to bring me perfumes and the seven veils and to take off my sandals.
[Slaves bring perfumes and the seven veils and take off the sandals of Salomé.]
Herod Ah, you are going to dance with naked feet! Tis well! Tis well. Your little feet will be like white doves. They will be like little white flowers dancing on a tree. . . . No, no, she is going to dance on blood! There is blood spilt on the ground. She must not dance on blood. It were an evil omen.
Herodias What is it to you if she dance on blood? You have waded deep enough therein. . . .
Herod What is it to me? Ah! look at the moon! She has become red. She has become red as blood. Ah! the prophet prophesied truly. He prophesied that the moon would become red as blood. Did he not prophesy it? All of you heard him. And now the moon has become red as blood. Do you not see it?
Herodias Oh yes, I see it well, and the stars are falling like ripe figs, are they not? And the sun is becoming black like sackcloth of hair, and the kings of the earth are afraid. That at least one can see. The prophet, for once in his life, was right. The kings of the earth are afraid. . . . Let us go within. You are sick. They will say at Rome that you are mad. Let us go within, I tell you.
The Voice of Jokanaan Who is this who cometh from Edom, who is this who cometh from Bozra, whose raiment is dyed with purple, who shineth in the beauty of his garments, who walketh mighty in his greatness? Wherefore is thy raiment stained with scarlet?
Herodias Let us go within. The voice of that man maddens me. I will not have my daughter dance while he is continually crying out. I will not have her dance while you look at her in that fashion. In a word, I will not have her dance.
Herod Do not rise, my wife, my queen, it will avail thee nothing. I will not go within till she hath danced. Dance, Salomé, dance for me.
Herodias Do not dance, my daughter.
Salomé I am ready, Tetrarch.
[Salomé dances the dance of the seven veils.]
Herod Ah! wonderful! wonderful! You see that she has danced for me, your daughter. Come near, Salomé, come near, that I may give thee thy reward. Ah! I pay the dancers well. I will pay thee royally. I will give thee whatsoever thy soul desireth. What wouldst thou have? Speak.
Salomé [kneeling] I would that they presently bring me in a silver charger..,
Herod [laughing] In a silver charger? Surely yes, in a silver charger. She is charming, is she not? What is it you would have in a silver charger, O sweet and fair Salomé, you who are fairer than all the daughters of Judaea? What would you have them bring you in a silver charger? Tell me. Whatsoever it may be, they shall give it you. My treasures belong to you. What is it, Salomé?
Salomé [rising] The head of Jokanaan.
Herodias Ah! that is well said, my daughter.
Herod No, no!
Herodias That is well said, my daughter.
Herod No, no, Salomé. You do not ask me that. Do not listen to your mother’s voice. She is ever giving you evil counsel. Do not heed her,
Salomé I do not heed my mother. It is for mine own pleasure that I ask the head of Jokanaan in a silver charger. You have sworn, Herod. Forget not that you have sworn an oath.
Herod I know it. I have sworn by my gods. I know it well. But I pray you, Salomé, ask of me something else. Ask of me the half of my kingdom, and I will give it you. But ask not of me what you have asked.
Salomé I ask of you the head of Jokanaan.
Herod No, no, I do not wish it.
Salomé You have sworn, Herod.
Herodias Yes, you have sworn. Everybody heard you. You swore it before everybody.
Herod Be silent! It is not to you I speak.
Herodias My daughter has done well to ask the head of Jokanaan. He has covered me with insults. He has said monstrous things against me. One can see that she loves her mother well. Do not yield, my daughter. He has sworn, he has sworn.
Herod Be silent. Speak not to me! . . . Come, Salomé^ be reasonable. You will be reasonable, will you not? I have never been hard to you. I have ever loved you. . . . It may be that I have loved you too much. Therefore ask not this thing of me. This is a terrible thing, an awful thing to ask of me. Surely, I think you are jesting. The head of a man that is cut from his body is ill to look upon, is it not? It is not meet that the eyes of a virgin should look upon such a thing. What pleasure could you have in it? None. No, no, that is not what you desire. Hearken to me. I have an emerald, a great round emerald, which Caesar’s minion sent me. If you look through this emerald you can see things which happen at a great distance. Caesar himself carries such an emerald when he goes to the circus. But my emerald is larger. It is the largest emerald in the whole world. You would like that, would you not? Ask it of me and I will give it you.
Salomé I demand the head of Jokanaan.
Herod You are not listening. You are not listening. Suffer me to speak, Salomé.
Salomé The head of Jokanaan.
Herod No, no, you would not have that. You say that to trouble me, because I have looked at you all this evening. It is true I have looked at you all this evening. Your beauty troubled me. Your beauty has grievously troubled me, and I have looked at you too much. But I will look at you no more. Neither at things nor at people should one look. Only in mirrors should one look, for mirrors do but show us masks. Oh! oh! bring wine! I thirst. . . . Salomé, Salomé, let us be friends. Come now! . . . Ah! what would I say? What was it? Ah! I remember! . . . Salomé nay, but come nearer to me; I fear you will not hear me Salomé, you know my white peacocks, my beautiful white peacocks, that walk in the garden between the myrtles and the tall cypress trees. Their beaks are gilded with gold, and the grains that they eat are gilded with gold also, and their feet are stained with purple. When they cry out the rain comes, and the moon shows herself in the heavens when they spread their tails. Two by two they walk between the cypress trees and the black myrtles, and each has a slave to tend it. Sometimes they fly across the trees, and anon they couch in the grass and round the lake. There are not in all the world birds so wonderful. There is no king in all the world who possesses such wonderful birds. I am sure that Caesar himself has no birds so fair as my birds. I will give you fifty of my peacocks. They will follow you whithersoever you go, and in the midst of them you will be like the moon in the midst of a great white cloud. . . . I will give them all to you. I have but a hundred, and in the whole world there is no king who has peacocks like unto my peacocks. But I will give them all to you. Only you must loose me from my oath, and must not ask of me that which you have asked of me.
[He empties the cup of wine.]
Salomé Give me the head of Jokanaan.
Herodias Well said, my daughter! As for you, you are ridiculous with your peacocks.
Herod Be silent! You cry out always; you cry out like a beast of prey. You must not. Your voice wearies me. Be silent, I say.. .. Salomé, think of what you are doing. This man comes perchance from God. I am sure that he comes from God. He is a holy man. The finger of God has touched him. God has put into his mouth terrible words. In the palace, as in the desert, God is always with him. . . . At least it is possible. One does not know, but it is possible that God is for him and with him. Furthermore, if he were to die some misfortune might happen to me. In any case, he said that the day he dies a misfortune will happen to some one. That could only be to me. Remember, I slipped in blood when I entered. Also I heard a beating of wings in the air, a beating of mighty wings. These are very evil omens. And there were others. I am sure there were others, though I did not see them. Well, Salomé, you do not wish a misfortune to happen to me? You do not wish that. Listen to me, then.
Salomé Give me the head of Jokanaan.
Herod Ah! you are not listening to me. Be calm. I I am calm. I am quite calm. Listen. I have jewels hidden in this place jewels that your mother even has never seen; jewels that are marvellous. I have a collar of pearls, set in four rows. They are like unto moons chained with rays of silver. They are like fifty moons caught in a golden net. On the ivory of her breast a queen has worn it. Thou shalt be as fair as a queen when thou wearest it. I have amethysts of two kinds: one that is black like wine, and one that is red like wine which has been coloured with water. I have topazes, yellow as are the eyes of tigers, and topazes that are pink as the eyes of a wood-pigeon, and green topazes that are as the eyes of cats. I have opals that burn always with an ice-like flame, opals that make sad men’s minds, and are fearful of the shadows. I have onyxes like the eyeballs of a dead woman. I have moonstones that change when the moon changes, and are wan when they see the sun. I have sapphires as big as eggs, and as blue as blue flowers. The sea wanders within them and the moon comes never to trouble the blue of their waves. I have chrysolites and beryls and chrysoprases and rubies. I have sardonyx and hyacinth stones, and stones of chalcedony, and I will give them all to thee, all, and other things will I add to them. The King of the Indies has but even now sent me four fans fashioned from the feathers of parrots, and the King of Numidia a garment of ostrich feathers. I have a crystal, into which it is not lawful for a woman to look, nor may young men behold it until they have been beaten with rods. In a coffer of nacre I have three wondrous turquoises. He who wears them on his forehead can imagine things which are not, and he who carries them in his hand can make women sterile. These are treasures of great value. They are treasures without price. But this is not all. In an ebony coffer I have two cups of amber that are like apples of gold. If an enemy pour poison into these cups, they become like apples of silver. In a coffer in crusted with amber I have sandals incrusted with glass. I have mantles that have been brought from the land of the Seres, and bracelets decked about with carbuncles and with jade that come from the city of Euphrates. . . . What desirest thou more than this. Salom? Tell me the thing that thou desirest, and I will give it thee. All that thou askest I will give thee, save one thing. I will give thee all that is mine, save one life. I will give thee the mantle of the high priest. I will give thee the veil of the sanctuary.
The Jews Oh! oh!
Salomé Give me the head of Jokanaan.
Herod [sinking bach in his seat] Let her be given what she asks! Of a truth she is her mother’s child! [The firsl soldier approaches. Herodias draws from the hand of the Tetrarch the ring of death and gives it to the soldier who straightway bears it to the Executioner. The Executioner looks scared.] Who has taken my ring? There was a ring on my right hand. Who has drunk my wine? There was wine in my cup. It was full of wine. Someone has drunk it! Oh! surely some evil will befall some one. [The Executioner goes down into the cistern.] Ah! Wherefore did I give my oath? Kings ought never to pledge their word. If they keep it not, it is terrible, and if they keep it, it is terrible also.
Herodias My daughter has done well.
Herod I am sure that some misfortune will happen.
Salomé [she leans over the cistern and listens] There is no sound. I hear nothing. Why does he not cry out, this man? Ah! if any man sought to kill me, I would cry out, I would struggle, I would not suffer. . . . Strike, strike, Naaman, strike, I tell you. . . . No, I hear nothing. There is a silence, a terrible silence. Ah! something has fallen upon the ground. I heard something fall. It is the sword of the headsman. He is afraid, this slave! He has let his sword fall. He dare not kill him. He is a coward, this slave! Let soldiers be sent. [She sees the Page of Herodias and addresses him.] Come hither! Thou wert the friend of him who is dead, is it not so? Well, I tell thee, there are not dead men enough. Go to the soldiers and bid them go down and bring me the thing I ask, the thing the Tetrarch has promised me, the thing that is mine. [The Page recoils. She turns to the soldiers.] Hither, ye soldiers. Get ye down into the cistern and bring me the head of this man. [The soldiers recoil.] Tetrarch, Tetrarch, command your soldiers that they bring me the head of Jokanaan.
[A huge black arm, the arm of the Executioner, comes forth from the cistern, bearing on a silver shield the head of Jokanaan. Salomé seizes it. Herod hides his face with his cloak. Herodias smiles and fans herself. The Nazarenes fall on their knees and begin to pray.]
Ah! thou wouldst not suffer me to kiss thy mouth, Jokanaan. Well! I will kiss it now. I will bite it with my teeth as one bites a ripe fruit. Yes, I will kiss thy mouth, Jokanaan. I said it; did I not say it? I said it. Ah! I will kiss it now.. .. But, wherefore dost thou not look at me, Jokanaan? Thine eyes that were so terrible, so full of rage and scorn, are shut now. Wherefore are they shut? Open thine eyes! Lift up thine eyelids, Jokanaan! Wherefore dost thou not look at me? Art thou afraid of me, Jokanaan, that thou wilt not look at me?,.. And thy tongue, that was like a red snake darting poison, it moves no more, it says nothing now, Jokanaan, that scarlet viper that spat its venom upon me. It is strange, is it not? How is it that the red viper stirs no longer? . . . Thou wouldst have none of me, Jokanaan. Thou didst reject me. Thou didst speak evil words against me. Thou didst treat me as a harlot, as a wanton, me, Salomé, daughter of Herodias, Princess of Judaea! Well, Jokanaan, I still live, but thou, thou art dead, and thy head belongs to me. I can do with it what I will. I can throw it to the dogs and to the birds of the air. That which the dogs leave, the birds of the air shall devour. . . . Ah, Jokanaan, Jokanaan, thou wert the only man that I have loved. All other men are hateful to me. But thou, thou wert beautiful! Thy body was a column of ivory set on a silver socle. It was a garden full of doves and of silver lilies. It was a tower of silver decked with shields of ivory. There was nothing in the world so white as thy body. There was nothing in the world so black as thy hair. In the whole world there was nothing so red as thy mouth. Thy voice was a censer that scattered strange perfumes, and when I looked on thee I heard a strange music. Ah! wherefore didst thou not look at me, Jokanaan? Behind thine hands and thy curses thou didst hide thy face. Thou didst put upon thine eyes the covering of him who would see his God. Well, thou hast seen thy God, Jokanaan, but me, me, thou didst never see. If thou hadst seen me thou wouldst have loved me. I, I saw thee, Jokanaan, and I loved thee. Oh, how I loved thee! I love thee yet, Jokanaan. I love thee only. . . . I am athirst for thy beauty; I am hungry for thy body; and neither wine nor fruits can appease my desire. What shall I do now, Jokanaan? Neither the floods nor the great waters can quench my passion. I was a princess, and thou didst scorn me. I was a virgin, and thou didst take my virginity from me. I was chaste, and thou didst fill my veins with fire. . . . Ah! ah! wherefore didst thou not look at me, Jokanaan? If thou hadst looked at me thou hadst loved me. Well I know that thou wouldst have loved me, and the mystery of love is greater than the mystery of death. Love only should one consider.
Herod She is monstrous, your daughter, she is altogether monstrous. In truth, what she has done is a great crime. I am sure that it is a crime against an unknown God.
Herodias I approve of what my daughter has done. And I will stay here now.
Herod [rising] Ah! There speaks the incestuous wife! Come! I will not stay here. Come, I tell you. Surely some terrible thing will befall. Manasseh, Issachar, Ozias, put out the torches. I will not look at things. I will not suffer things to look at me. Put out the torches! Hide the moon! Hide the stars! Let us hide ourselves in our palace, Herodias. I begin to be afraid.
[The slaves put out the torches. The stars disappear. A great black cloud crosses the moon and conceals it completely. The stage becomes very dark. The Tetrarch begins to climb the staircase.]
The Voice of Salomé Ah! I have kissed thy mouth, Jokanaan, I have kissed thy mouth. There was a bitter taste on thy lips. Was it the taste of blood? . . . But perchance it is the taste of love. They say that love hath a bitter taste. . . . But what of that? what of that? I have kissed thy mouth, Jokanaan, I have kissed thy mouth.
[A moonbeam falls on Salomé, covering her with light]
Herod [turning round and seeing Salomé] Kill that woman!
[The soldiers rush forward and crush beneath their shields Salomé, daughter of Herodias, Princess of Judæa.]
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