Femme Fatale-ity

Salomé is the perfect architype of a femme fatale: a beautiful, mysterious woman with nefarious intentions for the men she attracts. She outwits all of the men in the play, brazenly defying their commands and desires, occasionally to the point of causing their demise. And yet, I cannot help rooting for her as I read the play. She is an intoxicating character. I was tempted to believe that this sympathy was coming from my own modern perspective, but I don’t think that that is the whole picture.

There is a definite feeling of sympathy for Salomé when we first see her in the play. Her very first lines are about the way in which Herod has been looking at her all night. This gaze is implied to be some form of sexual desire, which continues throughout the play. However, unlike conventional femme fatale roles, Salomé is not blamed for Herod’s sexual desires. Instead, Herodias chastises Herod directly, and not her daughter. Herod even admits to his blame late in the play when he says, “It may be that I have loved you too much” and “I have looked at you too much. But I will look at you no more” (601). This is a more open-minded take on the femme fatale, who is usually demonized for her sexuality by men and especially by other women.

However, it is not a completely open-minded take, as Salomé is still criticized by Jokanaan, and still dies in the end. But her death at the end of the play feels to me very abrupt and out of place. Surely, Herod has some desire to kill Salomé, but after the long speeches and fervent arguing that takes place between the trio earlier in the play, the simple command “Kill that woman!” feels rather out of place (605). I’m interested in hearing everyone else’s thoughts on this ending and how it affects your thoughts on the play’s characters.

2 thoughts on “Femme Fatale-ity”

  1. I think your point about Herodias directly criticizing Herod for his attraction, and not Salome, is really interesting. I think that this play is different from many of Wilde’s other works because Salome doesn’t show any sign of remorse, or even conscience in her actions. She knows what she wants, and does not care about who is in the way, or that her wants might be wrong or even evil. She is persecuted for her actions, but she does not wish to change. It is Herod who shows remorse for his actions and his own attraction, to the point where he has to have Salome killed because he can’t stand looking at her.

  2. Mary, I definitely agree that the ending felt out of place. At one level, Herod is almost enacting Jokanaan’s prophecies by ordering her to be killed, crushing Salomé beneath their shields. Another intriguing conclusion that I have thought about is that Jokanaan to Salomé is Salomé to Herod. Herod views this strange behavior from Salomé, claiming ownership of Jokanaan’s head and kissing his dead mouth in a “taste of love” (575). I considered that while Herod probably killed Salomé because his paranoia over the evil omens and her odd behavior towards Jokanaan, it is possible that Herod would do the same to Salomé. He renders her immobile by killing her, so now she cannot object to his gaze.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *