Dance of the Seven Veils

The act of dancing, which allows Salomé to bargain for what she so deeply desires—the head of Jokanaan—intrigued me while reading “Salomé.” When Salomé and Herod reach their sworn oath of giving Salomé her desire if only she will dance, there is only one stage direction: “Salomé dances the dance of the seven veils” (570). She does this solely for Herod’s pleasure, a dance for him and his consumption alone. What surprised me about this part of the play is that we have seen through our close reading of Wilde’s other plays how his way of writing stage directions can be prose-like, as if it has come straight out of a novel. While Salomé dances for everyone at the feats at Herod’s request, Wilde abandons his usual prose-like stage directions. Instead, Salomé dances the dance of the seven veils, and its description passes uneventfully. The audience doesn’t know if she’s dancing with grace, seduction, nervously. Wilde is purposefully leaving these details and the description of her dance out of the play, but why?

            The word “veils” is fascinating here. There have been many other blog posts about how we can arrive at a deep reading to where Wilde’s homosexuality manifests in the act of looking. Similar to staying in the closet, hidden by a “veil,” Salomé slowly unveils herself and her nature through the dance of the seven veils. When she unveils herself and says what she truly wants, Herod no longer gains sexual satisfaction from looking at her; instead, he is terrified at her request to behead Jokanaan so she can have his head. He realizes her true nature after she dances for him. I wonder why Wilde chose “the dance of the seven veils” for Salomé to dance, as this was the first recorded instance of this phrase. Can we read this in terms of Wilde’s homosexuality and the act of unveiling, or are we reading too deep into it all?

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