Herod’s “Dance Monologue”: The Manifestation of Sexual Neuroses through Symbolic Language

June 16, 2021 by Essay Writer

The monologue of King Herod just preceding the Dance of the Seven Veils (Wilde, 50-53) demonstrates the depth of the King’s desperate neuroses. While his intention is to implore Salome to dance for him, Herod ends up delivering a capricious, repetitious, and intensely self-conscious monologue. He leaps between symbols, similes, metaphors, and occasional puns, and he takes on a tone that is alternately panicky and desperate. Furthermore, his rambling address touches on a variety of topics — including ominous symbols and the King of Cappadocia — tied together by the King’s nervous paranoia and his goal of successfully entreating his stepdaughter. The structure of this monologue and the symbolism and wordplay involved define Herod’s position in the play as a neurotic, ineffectual person constantly in fear of the perceived symbols and omens around him. These fears and the style of the monologue are inextricably linked to Herod’s desire to see Salome’s dance and his psychoneurotic nature caused by this fetish.Herod’s “Dance Monologue” follows a conversation among he, Herodias, and Salome in which certain topics Herod focuses on during the monologue were first mentioned: the King of Cappadocia, Salome’s dancing, and Iokanaan’s verbal prophecies. The rhythm of the monologue follows the rhythm of Herod’s dialogue in this earlier conversation. Herod is very repetitious: he mentions certain topics at multiple junctures in his monologue, and he uses parallel structures at specific areas. Herod mentions Salome’s dancing in at least two unconnected points, often cutting abruptly into the matter following a discourse on a fully unrelated subject. On page 51, Herod cuts from a comparison of blood to rose-petals to the matter; on page 52, he describes the gruesome demise of the King of Cappadocia, and then says, “Well! Wherefore dost thou tarry, Salome?” Certain symbols are repeated or referenced multiple times in the monologue as well. The color red as an omen is discussed on page 51 and again on page 53. On page 51, Herod frets over a “huge black bird”; later, on page 53, he takes comfort in Salome’s “little feet like white doves,” a very clear counterpart to this original symbol.Herod’s jerky dialogue and the abrupt nature of the content of his address present him as absentminded and nervous. His repetition of certain topics makes him seem effete, as if he, a king, cannot decide a matter or affect an event immediately. His parallel sentences and his repetition of certain exact words and phrases more directly influence these rhythmic effects. At the start of his monologue on pages 50-51, Herod repeats the two phrases “half of my kingdom” and “passing fair as a queen” within three consecutive sentences. On page 51, he says about a bird, “The beat of its wings is terrible. The breath of the wind of its wings is terrible” [Emphasis added]. The words “wind” and “wings” appear three times apiece in this section of the monologue. Within sentences, he dramatically repeats certain phrases, such as here, on the same page: “It is my garland that hurts me, my garland of roses” [Emphasis added]. On page 52, he repeats phrase in a similar manner: “But Caesar will crucify him when he comes to Rome. I know that Caesar will crucify him” [Emphasis added]. On page 53, he uses parallel similes: “Thy little feet will be like white doves! They will be like little white flowers that dance upon the trees.”The rhythm of this piece gives off a strong tone of desperation and, consequently, an implication of a lack of self-confidence. By repeating phrases such as “Caesar will crucify him” (52), “dance for me” (52), and “half of my kingdom” (50, 52), Herod is essentially verbally reassuring himself of these things. He wants Caesar to crucify the King of Cappadocia, yet by repeating with certainty this statement that Caesar will do so, Herod merely gives the impression that he is uncertain about the matter. When repeating “dance for me,” and “fair as a queen” (50-51), Herod sounds like a child begging for Salome, as opposed to a king commanding her. When repeating “half of my kingdom,” the King seems to absentmindedly marvel at the large cost he is willing to pay for Salome’s dance. Finally, Herod is nervous. He seems to fear that he is wrong about Caesar crucifying the enemy king. He also repeats certain omens, particularly “terrible wings” and the color red.The repetition of the Caesar line on page 52 is particularly noteworthy because the severity of the monologue briefly shifts in this block of text. Herod almost seems to soliloquize here as he introduces a very hopeful and graphic hypothetical about his opponent’s death. The darkly extreme nature of Herod’s aspersions and fantasy contrasts with his hopeful, frivolous desire for Salome, and his paranoid, dramatic fear of omens. Herod delivers this portion of the address with an ironic certainty, repeating, “Caesar will crucify him” and saying that the “prophet has prophesied” his enemy’s death, when in fact Iokanaan had prophesized the demise of Herod. Herod seems to be talking to himself here, and this noticeable departure in tone ultimately leads the viewer to cast doubt on Herod’s mental stability. The rambling nature of this portion furthermore implies Herod’s desperation.Herod’s monologue twists back and forth between joy and fear very capriciously. He begins on page 50 begging Salome to dance; he then becomes frightened by a bird and panics on page 51; at last, he asks Salome to dance one more at the bottom of that page. On page 52, Herod praises his honor, then cruelly disparages that of the King of Cappadocia, then asks Salome to start dancing. On the next page, he is pleased by her “naked feet,” then immediately horrified by the blood on the floor. There is, ultimately, a sense of instability about his character that can be gleaned from this. Herod seems easily distracted by symbolism and history. Furthermore, his condition is quickly and dramatically ameliorated when he thinks of Salome dancing.The fact Herod focuses on Salome and begs her so strongly to dance is a very erotic aspect of his monologue. The primary qualities of the interaction between Herod and Salome are that he bribes her, that he reiterates his request throughout, and that he juxtaposes ominous signs and painful thoughts with his desire. The first two aspects enhance the eroticism of Herod’s monologue. Herod essentially bribes Salome, he purchases a physical act from her — as if she were a prostitute — using half his kingdom: an intimate possession for a king. The idea of a king pleading for a girl in a clearly subservient position to dance for him heightens the suspense of the monologue and, consequently, the scene’s erotic complexion. Herod’s constant echoing of his request dramatizes the matter.Herod, in repeatedly desiring to see Salome dance immediately after he is threatened by an omen or bad feeling, acts in a highly infantile manner. The King is essentially turning to Salome to cope with the ominous things that he perceives around him: blood on the floor, a black bird, Iokanaan, etc. Herod is a sort of psychoneurotic. He perceives symbols and bad omens all around him, he constantly and desperately repeats what he says, and he is, in many ways, a finicky, cowardly hypochondriac. He is bothered by the chilly wind and noise from a black bird he cannot see, then he says, “Nay, but it is not cold, it is hot. I am choking. Pour water on my hands. Give me snow to eat. Loosen my mantle. Quick! quick! loosen my mantle. Nay, but leave it” (51). Herod then tears off his garland of roses and inexplicably compares the color of these flowers to blood. Herod also deludes himself into thinking Iokanaan’s prophecy is for a king other than he, one to whom he claims to be superior. Yet Herod, in boasting, “I know not how to lie” (52), sounds insecure and inaccurate by this point in the monologue. He calls the King of Cappadocia a coward, yet Herod comes off as a true coward in the scene.Freud writes in Dora “All psychoneurotics are persons with strongly marked perverse tendencies, which have been repressed in the course of their development and have become unconscious” (43). Herod’s perverse tendency is, perhaps, to see Salome dance. He offers her half his kingdom not for sex, but simply to watch her dance. Barthes writes that a striptease is, itself, a separate erotic “barrier” from the nude female body: “There will therefore be in striptease a whole series of coverings placed upon the body of the woman in proportion as she pretends to strip it bare” (84); also, “Contrary to the common prejudice, the dance which accompanies the striptease from beginning to end is in no way an erotic element” (85). According to Freud (as qtd. by Williams), “Aversion from the real female genitals, which is never lacking in any fetishist, also remains an indelible stigma of the repression that has taken place” (104). The fetish is, says Williams, paraphrasing Freud, “a substitute phallus created in the unconscious of a little boy who does not want to surrender the belief that his mother has a penis” (103). Herod’s desperate desire for Salome’s dance appears to supersede all else in the monologue. He fetishes the dance, in the way that he fetishes her feet:HERODAh, thou art to dance with naked feet! ‘Tis well! ‘Tis well! Thy little feet will be like white doves. They will be like little white flowers that dance upon the trees… (53)As Herod begs Salome to dance and fulfill his desire, he reacts in the neurotic manner described above, inexplicably fearful of omens, and constantly repeating and contradicting himself.The “Dance Monologue” features a considerable array of explicit symbols. As earlier, Salome’s dance itself is a symbol, one of Herod’s desire, and his kingdom is essentially a symbol of the power he’s willing to mortgage in order to fulfill this desire. Herod, as a neurotic, constantly sees auguries of ill fortune around him. The colors white, red, and black all illicit strong emotional responses from him: Salome’s white feet are soothing (53), a black bird inspires terror (51), and the color red is ominous (51, 53). Herod reacts insanely to the garlands of rose petals around his neck, saying, “They are like stains of blood on the cloth” (51). Herod tries to relieve himself by rationalizing his use of symbolic language: “It is not wise to find symbols in everything that one sees. It makes life too full of terrors. It were better to say that stains of blood are as lovely as rose-petals” [Emphasis added] (51). By merely twisting the simile around, Herod is able to calm himself. However, the reordering of a simile is a very arbitrary change, and Herod even seems mentally unstable at this point in his monologue. It is clear that the symbolic language in Herod’s mind that flows through this monologue has an intense effect on his mental health. Herod is, essentially, in bondage to not only his desire to see Salome dance, but also to symbolic language, the kind that Iokanaan had wielded to such great effect. He says explicitly, on page 52, “I am the slave of my word, and my word is the word of a king.” At first glance, the first part of this statement is a metaphor; however, it is clear in the context of Herod’s monologue, that the entire statement is literal: Herod is a slave to his words, and to his imagination. Herod is, ultimately, trapped by symbolism. He is bounded by Salome’s dance, itself a symbolic gesture, one that, according to Barthes, “establish[es] the woman right from the start as an object in disguise” [Emphasis his] (84). The King is, also, bounded by his own language, his propensity to invent ominous things. He is stressful and neurotic, and his desire to see Salome merely dance has come into the open in his monologue. The strange and idiosyncratic qualities of Herod’s monologue — his desperate repetition, his unstable feelings, his apprehensive symbolism, and his nervous and childlike tone — all serve to reinforce the notion that he cannot escape his desire, and that he is stuck between his fetish and his fear. Works CitedBarthes, Roland. “Striptease.” Mythologies. New York: Hill and Wang, 1972. 84-87.Freud, Sigmund. Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1963.Wilde, Oscar. Salome. New York: Dover, 1967.Williams, Linda. Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the “Frenzy of the Visible.” Berkeley: U. of California Press, 1989.

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