The invisible dance : persistence of the Turkish harem in Oscar Wilde's Salomé
Various representations of the figure of Salomé and the Biblical legend have been produced in the European, specifically in the English literature and arts throughout the nineteenth century. Oscar Wilde’s 1891 dramatic version of the legend in many ways epitomizes the full potential of the legend and capitalizes on the period’s fascination with the Orient. The climax of the orientalism of the play, the Dance of the Seven Veils, offers a unique reflection on European fantasies about the harem and invites a comparison to Ottoman representations of this same cultural space. This project seeks to analyze the relation between the Dance of the Seven Veils as presented by Wilde, and the figure of dancing woman in the harem of the Ottoman Empire. It is the slippage between the two which has informed various representations of the Oriental female figure in the West. The gap that emerges between the Western representations and the real practices in the harem, allows for a focused critique of Orientalist practices while recovering, in some ways, the actual experience of Muslim women.The vision of the harem that the Dance of the Seven Veils in Wilde’s Salomé offers is informed not by an actual encounter, but by the image of the harem as understood in nineteenth century English culture. At the same time, it participates in Victorian feminist debates on liberating the oppressed harem woman from her veils, her sexualization, and her objectification. Ultimately the dance functions as a reaffirmation of conventional gender roles as understood in Victorian society.