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The Daughters of Herodias in Hérodiade, Salomé, and A Full Moon in March Marilyn Gaddis Rose They dance, the daughters of Herodias With their eternal, white, unfaltering feet, And always, when they dance, for their delight, Always a man’s head falls because of them.1 Salome or Herodias— she goes by both names— was almost a fetish to Arthur Symons and his generation in the nineties. Stéphane Mallarmé, their adored magus, had given them an exquisite precedent in his Hérodiade, a dramatic fragment over which he worked for more than three decades. He even moved from province to Paris in his unsuccessful search for leisure in which to complete Hérodiade and the Grande Oeuvre. Wilde’s Salomé, rewritten in French to assure its performance (so he said), created a furor; while he was in prison, it was finally staged at the Théâtre de l’Oeuvre, Paris, in February, 1896, and only later translated into English by none other than Alfred Lord Douglas. The paintings and drawings of Beardsley, Gustave Moreau, and Charles Ricketts reflect her impact upon the artistic imagination, and they found analogies to her fabled undulations in the dancing of their contemporaries, Jane Avril and Loïe Fuller. Close to the consciousness of William Butler Yeats, Salome would epitomize a period of history for him: “When I think of the moment before revelation I think of Salome— she, too, delicately tinted or maybe mahogany dark— dancing before Herod and receiving the Prophet’s head in her indifferent hands, and wonder if what seems to us decadence was not in reality the exaltation of the muscular flesh and of civilisation perfectly achieved.” 2 Whether Yeats discerned in this event a moment of historical stasis, he and his elders found themselves, early or late, compelled to express it in dramatic bas-relief. From Mallarmé’s Hérodiade (roughly 1864-1898) to Wilde’s Salomé (1893) to Yeats’ A Full Moon in March (1935) there is probably as direct a route as a literary motif has traveled.3 Mallarmé and Wilde were acquainted, as were Yeats and Wilde. Arthur O ’Shaughnessy, George Moore, Arthur Symons, and Stuart Merrill were friends of all three. O ’Shaughnessy wrote on 172 Marilyn Gaddis Rose 173 Herodias, Moore and Symons translated Mallarmé into English, and Merrill helped Wilde polish his French Salomé. Yeats had ample opportunity to be influenced by both Hérodiade and Salomé. He met Wilde in either February or March 1889, at the outset of the period leading to Salomé. T. R. Henn, in fact, suggests that Salomé and Charles Ricketts’ illustrations underlie Yeats’ obsession with both the image of the severed head and the theme of virgin cruelty.4 He and Symons were very close at the time Symons was translating Hérodiade. Recalling this period in his autobiographies, Yeats says, “ I think that those [translations] from Mallarmé may have given elaborate form to my verses of those years.” Hérodiade’s speech beginning “The horror of my virginity/Delights me . . .” marked him especially. Mallarmé’s poem strengthened his own aesthetics: “Yet I am certain that there was something in myself compelling me to attempt creation of an art as separate from everything heterogeneous and casual, from all char­ acter and circumstance, as some Herodiade of our theatre, dancing seemingly alone in her narrow moving luminous circle.” 5 Yeats, despite his indebtedness to Mallarmé and Wilde, is the most original of the three. However, I am less concerned here with problems of influence than with the changing form of Herodias’ daughter as central figure in these three works. Taken chronologically, these will suggest how she adds more and more meaningful gyrations to her dance of voluptuous indecision; how the metaphor begins with spectacle in Mallarmé and becomes spectacle and dance in Wilde and Yeats; how the siren herself becomes increasingly cruel and selfdefeating ; and how, finally, in Yeats the metaphor is submerged in an even more elemental and sociological experience.6 Mallarmé’s fragment stays the closest to bas-relief. It is also the closest to opera. There are three parts: “Ouverture Ancienne d’Hérodiade,” a recitative by the nurse; “ Scène,” a dialogue...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 172-181
Launched on MUSE
2018-07-11
Open Access
No
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