Comment on the time period in the play of Salome by Oscar Wilde.

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The time period of Oscar Wilde's Salome is the Biblical era of the New Testament when King Herod had the throne and the prophet John the Baptist was imprisoned and beheaded. Salome, Herod and Herodias are therefore historical characters and the general events are seen as historical events. At this time in history the many different groups of people had many different gods. In Wilde's play two groups, the Nubians and the Cappodocians talk about their gods. The Nubian says their gods are harsh and require 150 sacrificed people twice each year. The Cappodocian says their gods have vanished and must be dead. The Jewish religious leaders are represented as continually arguing seemingly minute details of religious law, such as whether angels do or do not exist.

During this period also, there was a double standard for adultery  in which women were severely punished and men not punished (which has been historically true for much of time in most places). Wilde makes a point of dramatizing the harsh moral code that isolates classes of individuals--in this case, women--for censure and punishment while other classes are above reproach. Wilde does this in the relationship between Herod and Herodias and in Salome's character. It is Herodias who is blamed for their marital misfortunes. Salome is characterized as having violent physical desires toward the prophet Jokanaan and she receives and equally violent punishment.

It is possible to read this depiction of the harsh moral code of this Herodian time period as a parallel constructed by Wilde to Victorian England--Wilde's own time period--in which moral strictures and harsh morality were also the rule and eventually sent Wilde to prison, ending his career.

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