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Femme Fatale in Literature :: Crime, Scandal, Spectacle

Femme Fatale in Literature

Oscar Wilde’s Salome:

Famed nineteenth-century author, Oscar Wilde provided his own interpretation of the biblical seductress, Salome, as a femme fatale in his short play, Salome. Throughout the entirety of the play, other characters emphasize the seductive danger of even looking at Salome. The page of Herodias, Salome’s mother, remarks that Salome “is like a woman rising from a tomb. She is like a dead woman. You would fancy she was looking for dead things” (Wilde). This foreshadows Salome as the cause of imminent death around her. The young Syrian in particular cannot keep his eyes off her, and the page of Herodias observes that “[he is] always looking at her. [He] look[s] at her too much. It is dangerous to looking at people in such fashion. Something terrible may happen” (Wilde). The page of Herodias repeatedly warns the young Syrian that his admiration and lust for Salome will end in disaster.

Salome overhears the preaching of the prophet, whom her step-father has imprisoned, and asks to see him. As he continues to preach, Salome recognizes that he condemns her mother for her marriage to Herod. Realizing that Salome is Herodias’ daughter, the prophet pleads that she “come not near [him]!” (Wilde). Salome, displaying the sexual appeal of a femme fatale appeals to the prophet, saying “There is nothing in the world so white as thy body. Let me touch thy body” (Wilde). The prophet rejects her advances, claiming that “by woman came evil into the world. Speak not to me. I will not listen to thee. I listen but to the voice of the Lord God” (Wilde). As Salome continues to both insult and seduce the prophet, the young Syrian, who had been so enamored with her, commits suicide. Salome’s role as a femme fatale becomes real, but only continues with the appearance of her step-father, King Herod.

Herod, like the ill-fated young Syrian, expresses fascination at Salome’s appearance. His wife, Herodias reprimands him that “[he] must not look at her” (Wilde). Herod commands that Salome dance for him. However, both Herodias and Salome reject his orders. In order to convince Salome to dance for him, Herod bribes her to dance, saying “If you dance for me, [Salome], you may ask of me what you will, and I will give it [to] you, even unto the half of my kingdom” (Wilde). While Herodias continues to beg her daughter to disobey Herod, Salome decides to dance for Herod. Herod claims to “pay the dancers well. [He] will pay [her] royally. [He] will give [her] whatsoever [her] soul desire[s]” (Wilde). Yet, when Salome demands the head of the prophet, in defense of her mother, Herod balks. “No, no, Salome. You do not ask me that. Do not listen to your mother’s voice. She is ever giving you evil counsel. Do not heed her” (Wilde). As Salome receives the head of the prophet and kisses his bloody lips, Wilde indicates that more than one femme fatale is at play in this situation. While Salome is the body of the seductress that tempts Herod into killing the prophet, the mind behind the plot belongs to her mother. The combination of the two women created the ultimate femme fatale with the beauty and brains leading to death and ruin. Though Salome ultimately dies because of her request, Herod fulfills her demands and kills the prophet.

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