Wilde's , as has been noted, also has a musicality of form: as Quigley explains, not only is the language of the play full of tonal opposition, but the dramatic structure depends "as much upon the development of certain rhythmic contrasts and relationships as upon its linear narrative movement from love to death." Although Wilde's is not a in the Wagnerian sense, it does combine varied elements into a visual, verbal, and musical whole -- the difference being, perhaps, that Wilde was not trying to evoke totality for its own sake, but was guided a more symbolic vision.
The fact is that the Salome legend was a logical choice for Wilde: one writer acknowledges that "the Salome/Herodias figure was almost as popular among nineteenth-century artists as the Virgin Mary was among medieval artists." But seeking justification for Wilde's 'originality' in his creative use of sources is, I believe, misguided.
Lord Alfred Douglas wrote, shortly after reading the play:
Clearly, continues Wilde's tradition of Decadent art; at the same time, though, it calls certain aspects of Symbolism into being, leading to an interesting mixture of styles.
Symbolist and Decadent Moments in
The Symbolist nature of is an issue that sharply divides literary critics, leading to some rather polemical debates.
Brack, Jr., (Tuscon: University of Arizona Press, 1987), p.
The humorous exchanges between Herod and his wife illustrate the difficulty in trying to determine the play's agenda, and Herod admits a type of defeat, reprimanding himself for overemphasizing the "truth" of symbols: "You must not find symbols in everything you see.
Derrick Puffett (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), p.
But the outcome of the drama leaves the reader in a state of confusion: if Salome, the embodiment of symbolism, has succumbed to perversion and met with destruction, and if Herod, also a strong proponent of metaphorical imagery, has been the agent of this destruction, we are left with only Herodias, the down-to-earth realist.
Hedwig Lachmann (Stuttgart: Philipp Reclam, 1990), p.
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": Wilde's Radical Tragedy," in: , ed.
It were better to say that stains of blood are as lovely as rose petals."
Could this play, then, be a satire of the symbolist agenda, a critique of the movement for having made life "impossible" by seeking symbols in everything?