For my final paper, I have decided to examine Salomé through the lenses of colonialism and orientalism. I wanted to use this blog post as a method to attempt to connect these ideas to Wilde’s Irishness (a test-run).
The first interesting parallel to British-Irish relations in the play relates to its setting in “colonial” Judea. The Romans seem to share a similar role to the British as both empires conquered a diverse array of peoples while also trying to impose their cultural and religious beliefs on a resistant populace. In the beginning of the play, two soldiers (presumably of Roman but definitely of imperial background) have a conversation in which they dehumanize and critique the local Jewish citizenry. One soldier asks, “Who are those wild beasts howling” (552) while the other soldier answers, “The Jews…They are disputing about their religion” (552). The comparison of the Jews to “wild beasts” seems to mirror the British’s animalistic depictions of the Irish, and the verb “howling” could specifically connect to how many of these offensive representations included simian undertones. The fact that the Jewish people were “disputing about their religion” may also relate to Ireland as Protestants and Catholics were constantly thrown into conflict over the doctrines of the overarching Christian belief system. The British elite may have looked down upon this theological disagreement as their religious landscape looked much calmer and more uniformly Protestant on the surface, and this idea appears in the play when one of the soldiers remarks that “it is ridiculous to dispute about such things”– as most Romans would have shared a largely uniform belief in their traditional pantheon or might have not been very passionate about critiquing the majority religion (552).
Continuing on the topic of religion, both the British and the Romans seem to have attempted to eradicate local religions in their respective colonial territories. For example, the Cappadocian character explains, “In my country there are no gods left. The Romans have driven them out. There are some who say that they have hidden themselves in the mountains,…but I think they are dead” (553). This “driving out” of a competing belief system may relate to how the Protestant British attempted to destroy Irish Catholicism, which also managed to retain many localized and traditional pagan influences. In another literature class, I learned about how some people in rural Ireland believed that ancient mythological beings had escaped into the further reaches of the countryside – mirroring the Cappadocian pantheon’s retreat into “the mountains.” Additionally, imperial oppression has the ability to create a larger sense of pessimism within the colony, and the Jewish character expresses this feeling when he states that “God doth not show Himself…Therefore great evils have come upon the land” (563). In this way, the disappearance of God is described as an abandonment because his absence has caused “great evils” or suffering. The character further elaborates this sense of hopelessness by explaining that “God is terrible. He breaketh the strong and the weak as a man brays corn in a mortar” (563). I would argue that this statement may loosely connect to Ireland as there must have been frustration about the many hardships of being under colonial rule – especially after the devastating Great Famine (occurred earlier in the 19th century).