Wilde, Salome, and the ‘homosexual conspiracy’

Maude Allen in the role of Salome.

Maude Allen in the role of Salome.

SALOME HAS always attracted controversy, being banned in England in the decadent 1890s and whipping up a storm of controversy about ‘lesbian performances’ during WWI.

Wilde wrote the play in 1891 in French, based on the Biblical story of Salome, who demands the head of John the Baptist as a reward for dancing for her stepfather, Herod Antipas.

With its themes of adolescent female sexuality, incest, murder, and the sexually provocative Dance of the Seven Veils, the show was always likely be controversial, but it was originally banned in England in 1893 owing to a prohibition on portraying Biblical characters onstage.

The real scandal would have to wait until The Great War and a puritanical British MP who was convinced homosexuality lurked everywhere.

Noel Pemberton Billing was convinced homosexuality was infiltrating and tainting English society, and that somehow this was linked to German espionage. He expounded his views in the journal Imperialist, and among his targets were the circle around Robbie Ross. Ross was Oscar Wilde’s loyal friend and literary executor and someone supported homosexual poets and writers.

Billing took his persecution of Ross a step further in an article entitled The Cult of the Clitoris, which implied that the actress Maud Allan, then appearing in a private production of Salome organised by Ross, was a lesbian and an associate of anti-British spies and conspirators.

This led to a sensational libel case, at which Billing represented himself and won. Wilde’s former boyfriend Lord Alfred Douglas, again disgracing his reputation, testified in Billing’s favour. Billing’s victory saw a further rise in his profile and he was returned to parliament at the next election.

The story of this trial, which caused a sensation in its day, is the subject of a new ‘stage documentary’, Kicking Oscar’s Corpse, which will be perfromed in The Harbour Hotel, New Dock Road, this Sunday at 1pm. Written by Brendan Murphy, the play uses actual court transcripts to recreate the libel suit taken by Maud Allan against Billing.

The cast is Tommy O’Donnell, Aeneas O’Donnell, Brendan Murphy, and Anna O’Donnell. There will also be narration, dramatisation, and projected images. For booking see www.oscarwildefestival.com and Eventbrite.ie

Celebrate Wilde in Galway

Kicking Oscar’s Corpse is one of a number of events take place as part of the Oscar Wilde Festival which opens tomorrow in the Harbour Hotel at 6pm and runs for the rest of the weekend.

The festival will be launched by RTÉ presenter and fashion designer Brendan Courtney, with the launch followed by an opening talk with Galwegian and milliner Eva O’Flaherty, a cousin of Wilde’s. The launch will also be attended by Breaking Bad’s Vivian Nesbitt.

On Saturday there will be numerous events taking place in An Taibhdhearc including Wilde and Dress (4pm ), a talk on Wilde was one of the first celebrities to realise the power of fashion; Wilde Today, looking at how Wilde’s reputation has survived (12 noon ); and a show on Oscar’s mother, Lady Jane Wilde (aka Speranza ).

For tickets contact An Taibhdhearc via www.antaibhdhearc.ticketsolve.com or 091 - 563600. See also www.oscarwildefestival.com


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