Herod Antipas is the Tetrarch of Judaea. He is the husband of Herodias and the stepfather of Salome. He is a powerful man, able to decide which of his subjects will live and which will die. He displays a complicated mix of emotions—cruelty, compassion, fear, and guilt. When the Young Syrian dies, Herod tells Herodias that the Syrian was the son of a king, and that Herod himself drove the Syrian's father from his kingdom and made his queen a slave. Yet, seemingly because of his feelings of guilt, Herod says he considered the Young Syrian a "guest" and made him a captain. Similarly, Herod took his queen Herodias from his own brother; thus Herod's marriage is incestuous. Herod expresses guilt over this, but as with his other abuses of power, Herod does not act on his feelings of remorse, and there is no indication that he will refrain from such wrongdoing in the future. In fact, Herod clearly exhibits incestuous feelings toward Salome, his own stepdaughter.
Herod continually states that he does not kill Jokanaan, although he has imprisoned him, because Jokanaan is a prophet, a man of God, but it is evident that Herod's feelings of guilt and his fear of Jokanaan affect his decision. When Herod's lust for Salome leads him to offer her anything in exchange for her dancing for him, he acts recklessly, and so must have the Prophet killed for Salome. Although it is he who finally orders Jokanaan's death, Herod's guilt turns to rage at Salome, and so he has her killed essentially because of his own actions.
Salome, the title character of the play, is a princess, the daughter of Herodias and the stepdaughter of Herod. She expects to live according to her own desires and is not afraid to disobey Herod. She convinces the Young Syrian to bring her Jokanaan, though Herod has forbidden anyone to see him. She desires Jokanaan sexually and initially speaks admirably of his appearance. When he rebukes her, however, she says that his body is hideous and that his hair is horrible. She still admires, however, the redness of Jokanaan's lips and repeatedly tells him, not that she wants to kiss his mouth but that she will, assuming that she will finally have her desires satisfied.
Salome initially refuses to dance for Herod but changes her mind when he says he will give her anything. Upon finishing her dance, she demands the head of Jokanaan, ignoring Herod's plea that she ask for something else. Upon receiving the prophet's head, she kisses his mouth, proving that she has power over Jokanaan, that even though he calls her evil, she can take his life. Her victory, however, is short-lived, for Herod has more power than she and thus can have her killed.
A Cappadocian The Cappadocian briefly discusses the gods with other minor characters at the beginning of the play.
First Soldier Together with the second soldier, he refuses to bring Jokanaan forth to see. At the end of the play, both obey Herod's orders to kill Salome.
Herodias Herodias is the wife of Herod and the mother of Salome. She was previously the wife of Herod's brother, and so her marriage to Herod is considered incestuous. Jokanaan continually speaks against her, and she is angry that Herod does nothing to silence the prophet. She also complains that Herod looks at Salome too much and says that Salome should not dance for Herod. When Salome asks for the head of Jokanaan, Herodias believes that Salome does so for love of her mother. Herodias is pleased with Salome's...
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request and pressures Herod to have the prophet executed.
Jews The Jews argue that Jokanaan is not the prophet Elias and that Jesus is not the Messiah.
Jokanaan Jokanaan, or John the Baptist, is a Christian prophet. He has been imprisoned by Herod, and, for much of the play, he exists as a disembodied voice coming from the cistern onstage. He speaks continually of the coming of Jesus, whom he believes to be the Messiah, and the punishment awaiting those who do evil. For Jokanaan, the members of Herod's family are accursed, and he calls Salome the "Daughter of Sodom.'' Salome wants Jokanaan to see her as a woman and to kiss her, but he speaks only of her evil, thus angering her. Herodias wants Herod to have Jokanaan killed, but Herod believes Jokanaan has seen God, and he fears Jokanaan's terrible prophecies. Jokanaan seems to believe his only purpose in the world is to act as the voice of God, and he seems devoid of human emotion. Even when he is executed, he does not struggle, beg for his life, or even cry out; in fact, he makes no sound at all.
Naaman Naaman is the executioner who kills Jokanaan and brings his head to Salome on a silver shield.
Nazarenes The Nazarenes believe that Jokanaan is the prophet Elias and that Jesus is the Messiah. They speak of the miracles Jesus performs.
Nubian The Nubian discusses the gods with other minor characters at the beginning of the play.
Page The Page of Herodias is a friend of the Young Syrian and advises him not to look at Salome so much. There is some suggestion that he is in love with the Young Syrian.
Second Soldier Together with the first soldier, he refuses to bring Jokanaan forth to see Salome. At the end of the play, both obey Herod's order to kill Salome.
Slave The slave tells Salome that Herod wishes her to return to the feast.
Tigellinus Tigellinus is a young Roman. When Jokanaan speaks of the ‘‘Saviour of the World,’’ Tigellinus tells Herod that that is one of Caesar's titles.
The Young Syrian The Young Syrian is the Captain of the Guard. He comes from a royal family, but Herod drove his father from his kingdom and made his mother a slave. He seems to be in love with Salome, and it appears that the Page of Herodias may be in love with him. The Young Syrian advises Salome not to speak to the prophet but finally gives in to her demands and brings Jokanaan to speak with her. When Salome insists that she wants to kiss Jokanaan, the Young Syrian kills himself.