Reclaiming the Body and the Spirit in Oscar Wilde’s “Salomé”
From Firenze University Press Journal: Studi Irlandesi
David Cregan, BSFM: Laboratorio editoriale OA
In Irish culture, society, philosophy and theology the Western binary of the body and the spirit have dominated the conversation around the existential qualities of the human condition. The body, and consequently sexuality, have been consigned to the carnal and are, oftentimes, categorized as the antithesis of the spiritual. Consequently, in the Irish cultural context and, as I will argue, the discourse of Irish Studies, sexuality has been inferred as an obstacle to spiritual enlightenment, and its passions a temptation that pulls in the opposite direction of enlightenment. In the social order of contemporary Ireland, Oscar Wilde has become a symbol of a liberated Irish sense of sexual liberation. Wilde’s play Salomé (1893)is unusual in the canon of his infamous social satires, and offers a performance of Irish identity that is more historically rooted in the ancient culture of Ireland.
Through this paper I will explore how the theatre, so important in Irish cultural studies, offers a unique opportunity to recapture a type of Irish identity that wholeheartedly rejects the prudery of colonial propriety in favor of a more ancient sensuality that integrates the sexual and the spiritual. I will do so by incorporating reflections on a production of Salomé that I directed, succinctly applying the theories listed in this paper. Incorporating theatrical practice through play production into tradition-al epistemologies of academic research allows for theory to become practice through theatrical technique and design aesthetic. In my own production of Salomé, produced by Villanova Theatre in the Spring of 2013, I used theories of gender and sexual identity to uncover and explore the questions Oscar Wilde asks about subjectivity. While I will detail some of the directorial technique I used with actors later in the paper, it is important to begin a discussion of theatre practice as research by describing its impact on design. In order to open up a world that creates animosity between the spiritual and the corporeal, the set of my production was entirely open to the back wall of the theatre, never hiding the work of the theatre from the performance of the production.
The establishment of this exposed space created the open context in which systems of thought are symbolically freed from a seemingly seamless historical world. The cultural discourse on sexual and spiritual identity works systematically to normalize the distance between right and wrong, good and bad that allows the individual to see the sexual and the spiritual as opposite. The deconstructive quality of the set in my production of Salomé advances a gender identity research methodology that seeks to establish a new space to explore new ideas. In his article “Origins and Legacies of Irish Prudery: Sexuality and Social Control in Modern Ireland”, Tom Inglis addresses the sensitive issue of sexuality and Irishness from a historical perspective; he writes:
The history of the body and corporeal remains a relatively hidden area of re-search. Most of the recent grand histories, have avoided dealing with the cultural context of cultural constructs of sexuality directly but have focused instead on such issues as censorship, the multifaceted role of the Catholic church, fertility control, and more recently, the sex-abuse scandals involving the Catholic church. (2005, 9).