According to Merriam Webster dictionary, a femme fatale is an attractive and seductive woman, especially one who will ultimately bring disaster to a man who becomes involved with her. This idea of vengeful women such has femme fatales has been shown in the arts, mainly in the theatre, for centuries even though this term was well identified in the twentieth century. Clytemnestra proves to be one of the first examples of a femme fatale by murdering her husband to seek revenge for the death of her daughter he sacrificed.
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As shown in the play Agamemnon, by Aeschylus, Clytemnestra is shown as self-sufficient, and clever. She uses her traits, combined with her seductive charm, to trick Agamemnon.
The audience is aware that the murder is obviously planned way before his arrival, showing us how rigid, conniving, and willing she is to go the extra mile to get what she wants. When Agamemnon finally returns to his home, Clytemnestra coaxes Agamemnon into believing he is safe at home by being both obedient and bashful. She had it all planned out to the tee, she did not aggressively attack him the second he arrived and did not scold him for bringing another woman into their house. She simply played the part of a well-behaved housewife until she reveals her plan. Clytemnestra is the example of a classic Femme Fatale.
Clytemnestra would be considered every man’s worst nightmare. Now, to fully understand Clytemnestra as a femme fatale, one must understand how her character was written according to how the playwright visions the character. According to the backstory of the play, Clytemnestra was the wife of Agamemnon, who was the king of Mycenae, and sailed to Troy as the leader of the Greek army to help his brother Menelaus win back his wife Helen who had been taken by Paris of Troy. But, before he left Greece, Agamemnon had to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia to the goddess Artemis, to please him and avoid confrontation with him. Artemis promised he’d allow the winds to blow in Agamemnon’s favor for the war in Troy. While Agamemnon was fighting the war in Troy, Clytemnestra began plotting the murder of her husband with her new lover, Aegisthus.
When the king finally returns, the two lovers eventually over the cores of the play, attack him and cut his throat. Although she has been portrayed as a villain in this Greek tragedy, no one could blame her for wanting the revenge of her daughter’s death. This plot allows the audience to paint a picture of a justified mother who is seeking revenge for her daughter’s death and shows that Clytemnestra has been planning this revenge for years and years. Even the old men in the play are scared of Clytemnestra and grow concerned that she is plotting revenge against Agamemnon, but they do not understand to what extent her murder fantasies go to. In the last few lines of the introduction, the chorus states that they …will know the future when it comes, which proves that they had no idea what was going on nor did they even want to.
Later in the play, Agamemnon returns to the city, where Clytemnestra greets him. She then delivers a long monologue about her love for him, how she was scared that he would not return home from war, and her reasons for sending their son, Orestes away. She even goes into detail about how she was worried that the men of the city would attack her while Agamemnon was away at war and kill Orestes in order to take over the throne. So not only did she gain sympathy for being all alone, she also explains why she chooses to send their son away cutting any suspicion down, though the real reason for him being sent away is so that he would not be able to impede on her plans for vengeance. Clytemnestra uses this to convince Agamemnon that she is still dedicated to their love. She plays the perfect obedient housewife to make sure he is calm and unsuspicious of her plans.
Something rather important that stands out too, is that Clytemnestra purposely avoids talking about any of their daughters and she does not bring up Iphigenia ever to Agamemnon, or her death because that would have most likely lead to a fight between the two of them. If that were to happen it could have shown how Clytemnestra’s grief for her daughter has only grown stronger over the years. Something also worth noting is how Clytemnestra plays to Agamemnon’s patriarchal value. This was common in ancient Greek society, to only have men in charge, therefore only sons would have been important in the continuation of the family name. Clytemnestra knew that Orestes would have been the next heir to the crown thus being the only child that Agamemnon would really care about. She was clever in doing this in front of everyone in the house to gain more empathy and look even less obvious when murdering her husband.
The plan officially begins once Clytemnestra gets Agamemnon to go into the house, but before he does Agamemnon introduces a woman named Cassandra, who is represented as the prize for winning the war. The audience sees the contrast in how cold Agamemnon treats Clytemnestra after her long monologue versus how sweet he treats Cassandra. It is understandable why Clytemnestra would feel anger towards him in this moment. After the murder takes place, Aeschylus has Clytemnestra confessing to the murders and giving a long monologue to the men of Argos.
In this monologue she talks about why she killed Agamemnon and Cassandra and explained that she did this for three different reasons. The first most important, and most prominent reason is seeking revenge for her daughter’s death, then on to punishing Agamemnon for bringing Cassandra into their house, and lastly, to break the ancient curse on the house of Atreus. Aeschylus makes it very clear that he believes she is motivated by the loss of her daughter by having her advocate for her own actions, sacrificed his own child, our daughter, the agony I labored into love. She is obviously more than just a woman driven by the grief of her daughter; she is clever and determined to seek revenge on her husband.
Clytemnestra is one of the first representations of a what we now know is a femme fatale. Clytemnestra was undoubtably a strong woman and just as smart as any of the men of her time period. She used her charm and sexuality to seduce Aegisthus (her lover) into planning Agamemnon’s murder with her along with ultimately take the throne. It is important to also note, that both murders were completed completely on her own showing her strength and willingness for revenge. Clytemnestra fits the mold of a femme fatale by spending her time and energy over the last ten years plotting and planning the murder of her husband and she follows through with this plan by using her womanly gifts. In Aeschylus’s Agamemnon, Clytemnestra fits all the descriptions of a classic femme fatale even when the description had not yet been thought of during Ancient Greece.
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