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Coriat, I.H. (1914). The Sadism in Oscar Wilde's “Salome”. Psychoanal. Rev., 1(3):257-259.

(1914). Psychoanalytic Review, 1(3):257-259

The Sadism in Oscar Wilde's “Salome”

Isador H. Coriat, M.D.

The episode of the beheading of John the Baptist at the request of Salome, daughter of Herodias, as related in Mark, is merely an amplification of the incident as described in Matthew. In both narratives it is stated that the execution was carried out for political and religious purposes, as John had condemned and declared unlawful and incestuous the marriage of Herod to his brother's wife. Josephus gives practically an identical account of this episode, while Graetz in his history of the Jews refers to the story of bringing the severed head of John upon a platter as a “mere myth.” In the Gospels it is the mother of Salome who requests her daughter to ask for the severed head of John as a compensation for her dancing, but Wilde, in dramatizing the episode, makes Salome ask for the head directly without any hint from her mother, in order to harmonize the reconstructed narrative with his conception of a sadistic impulse. In any event, however, neither in the Gospels nor in the historical accounts was the execution of John the Baptist carried out for more than a religious or a political purpose. Wilde, however, with his insight into sexual perversions and into the polymorphous sexual instinct of man, because he was himself a sufferer, made an innovation in his dramatic treatment of the legend as a sadistic episode. In his tragedy of Salome, he portrays the daughter of Herodias as a sadist and her desire for the head of John the Baptist is not for religious or political revenge, but to fulfill her sadistic desires.

This is a bold invention, but certain hints of a sadistic trend in Wilde himself, who, as is well known, was a victim of homosexuality, can be found in other of his published writings. In the “Picture of Dorian Gray,” for instance, the hero of the novel found a “horrible fascination” in reading about the tortures and the “awful and beautiful forms of those whom Vice and Blood and Weariness had made monstrous or mad.”

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