Failed Directives and Fatal Commissives

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


In this paper I will take a look at Oscar Wilde’s controversial play Salome not from the usual literary and historical perspectives, such as the social situation at the fin de siècle, attempts to stage the play, censorship, its symbolism, etc., but as a text that shows interesting linguistic-pragmatic features, which, it could be argued, bring about the outcome of the drama. The model used in the analysis is the Austin/Searle theory of speech acts, specifically the speech act categories of directives, in which the speaker attempts to make the hearer do something, e.g., commands and requests, and of commissives in which the speaker puts him/herself under an obligation to do a specific act, e.g., promises, swearing an oath. The paper addresses communicative failure in the play. This failure may be divided into two types. Firstly, the failure of characters to understand each other, for example, the difficulties in understanding what the prophet Jokanaan is saying. Secondly, and the focus of the paper, the failure of the four main characters, Herod, Herodias, Salome, and Jokanaan, to communicate with each other in that they fail to perform successful directives. However, Herod’s “success” in communicating is seen in his swearing an oath to give Salome whatever she wants if she dances for him and in fulfilling his promise. But his success in communicating is fatal: It costs the lives of Jokanaan and of Salome herself.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPerspectives in Pragmatics, Philosophy and Psychology
PublisherSpringer Science and Business Media Deutschland GmbH
Number of pages17
StatePublished - 2024

Publication series

NamePerspectives in Pragmatics, Philosophy and Psychology
ISSN (Print)2214-3807
ISSN (Electronic)2214-3815

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2024.


  • Authority/power
  • Commissives
  • Communication failure
  • Directives
  • Oscar Wilde
  • Salome

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Philosophy
  • Applied Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language


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