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A Tragedy in One Act
Oscar Wilde. Translated by Joseph Donohue. Illustrated by Barry Moser

BUY Cloth · 108 pp. · 6.125 × 9.25 · ISBN 9780813931913 · $27.95 · Nov 2011
BUY Cloth · 108 pp. · 6.125 × 9.25 · ISBN 9780813931920 · $100.00 · Nov 2011

Unique among his works, Oscar Wilde’s play Salomé (1893) was written originally in French. Joseph Donohue’s new translation of the horrific New Testament story has recast Wilde’s shockingly radical drama in the natural idiomatic language of our own day. Presenting a colloquial and spare American English version of Wilde’s consciously stylized French, Donohue’s approach gives full value to the Irish author’s dark ruminations on evil and perversity in a world on the brink of a new, unsettling Christian dispensation.

The play was first translated into English in 1894 by Wilde’s young friend Lord Alfred Douglas, but Wilde was far from pleased with the outcome. And yet Douglas’s stilted, inaccurate version has somehow retained a long-standing place on the stage and in the study. Donohue’s lucid vernacular transformation of Douglas’s safe, thee-and-thou faux-biblical language has the quality of a startling modern-dress remounting of an overly familiar classic play. This new Salomé is calculated to bring both readers and playgoers into close, disturbing confrontation with one of the most erotic and bloodiest sequences of testamentary lore.

Brilliantly complementing Donohue’s unprecedented approach is a set of engravings by a master illustrator of our time. Barry Moser is an artist who speaks the blunt yet fluent language of present-day communication through the penetrating gestural vocabulary of the graphic arts. The resulting combination of words and images directly engages with Wilde’s characters and their story, setting a bold new standard for the melding of literary and pictorial excellence. At the same time, it leads readers and audiences alike to rediscover perennially significant themes—of love, death, power, and individuality.

A signed and numbered limited edition is available for $100.00.


This is an impressive achievement, rendering into clear and effective modern English an important play not well served by the standard translation. The effect is not unlike that of seeing a painting that has been restored. In the words of Miss Prism, it has been a great inconvenience being without it all these years.

Russell Jackson, Allardyce Professor of Drama, University of Birmingham

Donohue has set himself the task of rendering Wilde's French tragedy in 'an up-to-date, colloquial yet spare English translation' that could be performed on stage today. His work reads smoothly, and he's breathed life back into the play... The ominous Barry Moser engravings also establish the time and place mercifully free of a single Beardsley peacock feather.Shelf Talker: A smooth, effective translation of the infamous 1893 Oscar Wilde play, accompanied by a fascinating essay on the play's history, its successes and scandals.

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About the Author(s): 

Joseph Donohue is Professor Emeritus of English at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and coeditor of an award-winning critical edition of Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. Barry Moser is Irwin and Pauline Alper Professor of Art at Smith College and the illustrator of numerous works of literature, including celebrated editions of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and The Holy Bible.

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