I read a phrase in an essay titled "The Wreck of Order in Early Modern Women's Drama"

Ferguson, Kennedy, and Hiscock have seen Salome as a play about the slipperiness of language, particularly women's language in the early modern period.

What does "a play about the slipperiness of the language" mean exactly?

Here attached is part of the context:

Since Herod cannot recognise what is due to him privately versus what is due to him publicly, he is ripe for Salome's plans catering to his overwhelming egotism. After Salome's seeming proof of loyalty, Mariam's arguments with him in the scene following seem like so much carping and not the proper sort of behaviour for recognition of a husband and king whom she had missed while he was gone. Ultimately, Salome's weapon against her brother results from rigid patriarchal understanding: an unreasonable expectation of loyalty on the part of her brother as head of the country and their family and a stunning naiveté about how language really works. Ferguson (243), Kennedy (114), and Hiscock (100) have seen Salome as a play about the slipperiness of language, particularly women's language in the early modern period. After all, women speak out frequently in the play and one of Mariam's faults is seen to be her speaking. Unlike some of these women, Salome speaks frequently but to the point. In an important interaction with Herod about Mariam's future, Salome responds to his ravings nonchalantly; as Herod tries to figure out the best way to kill Mariam, she offers up options, none of which he is willing to commit to. Herod makes the ridiculous claim that when Mariam is killed, if he cannot stand being without her, "You'll find the means to make her breathe again, / Or else you will bereave my comfort quite" (4.7.387-88). Salome, in a triumph of Nixonian double-speak, replies, "Oh ay, I warrant you" (4.7.389). She, like the Iago she is often compared to, speaks the truth, but Herod, Othello-like, cannot hear the truth because it would rip from him all sense of comfort and loyalty in the world that he, by his own machinations, has made a dishonest and disloyal world. When he does decide to remand the issuance of Mariam's death sentence, he offers to do so, ultimately, on the basis of Mariam's physical beauty. Comparing Salome to her, he says, "You are to her a sun-burnt blackamoor: / Your paintings cannot equal Mariam's praise, / Her nature is so rich, you are so poor" (4.7. 461-63). Salome does not respond with anger as one would expect from a woman whose main means of impressing the patriarchy, her beauty, has been devalued; instead, she merely replies, "I'll stay her death; 'tis well determined: / For sure she never more will break her vow, / Sohemus and Joseph both are dead" (4.7.502-04). With her very words, she uses rationality to exercise her will; she clearly sees Herod's irrationality and knows that only her clear-headedness will get her what she wants. Instead of the battle between rationality and passion (or will) that Laurie Shannon sees as part of the theme of the text (148), Salome uses reason to exploit others' passions and fulfill her own ambitions.

closed as off-topic by FumbleFingers, Hellion, fred2, Tim Pederick, choster Mar 26 at 19:50

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  • Nobody will help? – dennylv Mar 10 '14 at 7:58
  • Does it mean too hard or tricky to understand? – dennylv Mar 10 '14 at 8:08
  • I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it would be more appropriate on another stack website. – fred2 Mar 21 at 20:59

The 'slipperiness' of language referred to here is the way in which people can use words in devious ways, using double meanings. The part after your quote, where Salome is described as using 'Nixonian double-speak' reflects this. Her answer 'oh ay, I warrant you' can be understood in two ways:

  1. she is agreeing with the first part of what Herod says- the strange claim that she will be able to make Mariam 'breathe again'.


  1. that Mariam's death will 'bereave [his] comfort quite', i.e. break his heart.

It then goes on to talk about how Salome speaks the truth to Herod, but he refuses to hear it. This is an example of how language can be 'slippery': we believe the meaning we have grasped is the correct one, but it may not be; the understanding has 'slipped' away from us.

The play could be about this theme if misunderstandings about language form a major part of the plot. (I haven't read it so can't advise you on this.)

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