Adapted from the Book of Esther
Ahasuerus, King of Persia
Vashti, his queen
Haman (also called Memucan), advisor to Ahasuerus and a villain
Mordecai, a Jew of Susa
Esther (also called Hadassah), his niece
Bigthan and Teresh, two Persians who plot to kill the King
Zeresh, wife of Haman
Harbonah, eunuch and keeper of the King's harem
Assorted Persians, Jews, palace folk, et al
O once there was a wicked wicked man
Who yearned for Susa's crown upon his brow.
To slay the Jews of Persia did he plan,
In vengeance for the one who would not bow.
The orphaned queen of his contrivance learned,
Exposed him to the king before his face;
Her people's lot from grief to dancing turned,
The villain's lot from glory to disgrace.
But this tale's end was known ere it begun,
With help unseen our heroes won the day;
As lives are pageant for the Holy One,
So you, kind sirs and ladies, hear our play:
Our lot is cast before you for to see,
And so tonight we'll merry merry be.
ACT I. Queen Vashti has refused to obey the King's command, and on the advice of his ministers, Ahasuerus puts her aside in favor of a new queen. All the maidens of Persia are gathered before the King that he may choose the one he finds most worthy. The chosen one is Hadassah, also called Esther, niece and ward of the Jew Mordecai.
ACT II, Scene II. Haman has been raised to a position of power by the King. Enraged at Mordecai's refusal to bow before him, he has determined to wipe out Mordecai's entire people. To this end, he approaches King Ahasuerus:
H: My loyalty thou knowest well, my king,
And on this matter I would speak with thee.
A: I bid thee then, speak on; say what thou wilt.
H: Your Majesty, to hear is to obey.
There is a certain race within thy land,
A mongrel people, scattered here and there,
Dispersed among the various provinces;
The laws they keep are other than the king's,
Nor do these folk obey the crown's commands,
For in their insolence they deem themselves
Above the laws, above the king himself.
What profiteth the king to suffer them?
But rather, an it please your Majesty,
Let laws be written that they be destroyed,
And I shall pay ten thousand silver coins
Into the treasure-houses of the king.
A: Lord Haman, you may do as you see fit.
The silver coins are given unto thee,
As well as this foul race of which you speak.
Call forth the scribes, and take my signet ring,
And we shall send your words in a decree
Throughout the land.
H: I thank your Majesty.
(Aside) Auspicious day! My foes are in my hands.
The king's own seal enforces my commands.
The King and Haman write the decree: that all the Jews of Persia be slain on the thirteenth day of the month Adar, and their possessions to be a spoil. "Then the King and Haman sat down to drink; but the people of Susa were bewildered."
ACT III. Haman's decree, signed by the king, has gone out to all the provinces of Persia. The Jews are in public mourning, "and many lay in sackcloth and ashes."
Esther, now queen, sends for her uncle Mordecai. He tells her that she, as the only Jew who might receive an audience with the King, must go to him and plead for the lives of her people. She is uncertain at first:
E: For, uncle, you know well, as all men do,
That none may come into the inner court
Without the will and order of the King.
And any who may come without his word
Are put to death, unless the King
Hold out his golden scepter in his hand,
And spare his life; and I these thirty days
Have not been called.
M: Niece, think you well on this:
This fear doth strike at all of Persia's Jews,
And though you live within the palace walls
'Twill not protect you. If you hold your peace,
And speak not to the King on our behalf--
Nay, on your own behalf as well, sweet niece,
For all of us are doomed in the decree--
If still you will not speak, then be assured,
The Jews will find deliverance to come
From elsewhere; but to you it will not come.
Thou shalt be lost, thou and thy father's house,
Salvation will not come to you and yours.
And think on this as well: perhaps 'twas meant
For you to be selected as the Queen
That you might save your people at this time.
E: Enough; I am resolved. I charge you thus:
Let all the Jews in Persia gather now,
And fast for me for three days and three nights,
Nor eat nor drink; and likewise I shall fast,
I and my maidens. Then in three days' time
Shall I alone go in unto the King,
And flaunt the law. Come, uncle, you must fly.
Go tell our kin; and if I die, I die.
Esther succeeds in speaking to the king. When he asks what her petition is, she asks that he and Haman come to a private feast that she will make.
ACT IV: At Esther's feast, the king asks what her request is. She asks that he and Haman shall come to a second feast, and then she will make her petition known.
Haman leaves in high spirits, but upon seeing Mordecai sitting at the palace gates, he is again filled with fury. He comes home and gathers his wife and friends to discuss the matter:
H: Have I not gold surpassing every prince,
And wealth that puts their treasuries to shame?
And have I not ten strong and handsome sons,
And daughters fair as Ashtoreth herself?
And am I not the favored of the king,
Who placed his signet ring upon my hand,
And gave me leave to write the laws withal,
Whate'er did suit my whim?
Z: 'Tis true, 'tis true.
H: And but this day was I not bid to come
To Esther's feast? No other man but I
And King Ahasuerus did she invite,
And I am bid to come a second time
To feast with her, together with the king!
Z: My husband, thou art fortunate indeed,
And blessÚd twice am I, to be thy wife.
THE GUYS: And fortunate are we, to be thy friends.
H: All that a man could e'er desire, I have;
Yet all this is as nothing to my mind,
And all the world is darkened in my sight,
While Mordecai the Jew sits at the gates.
Z: Then let the Jew no longer there remain.
My husband, he is but a speck of dust,
A mote that doth disturb thy mighty eye.
Brush him away.
H: Say on, my wife, I pray.
Z: Speak to the king, and win him to this plan:
Let there be raised a gallows in thy house,
Of sturdy wood and fifty cubits high,
And Mordecai the Jew be hanged thereon;
Then mayst thou go be merry at the feast,
And no more shall this Jew hang on thy mind.
H: As sweet a scheme as ever was contrived.
By Ashtoreth, I'll see that it is done;
I'll have it built before the setting sun. (Exeunt.)
ACT V: The King and Haman have come to Esther's second feast, and the King has once more asked Esther what she desires, which he will grant "up to half the kingdom." Esther speaks:
E: If then I have found favor in thine eyes,
And if it please your Majesty the king--
As my petition I do beg my life,
And my request is that my kin be spared;
For I and all my people have been sold,
To be destroyed, to perish, to be slain.
If we had but been sold to be enslaved,
And not for death, I would have held my peace,
For so unworthy is the enemy
That I would not disturb the king withal.
A: Who is he, and where is he, that would dare
To so presume against thee in his heart?
E: My lord, he sits here at thy very hand.
This wicked Haman is my enemy!
A: Lord Haman? He?
H: (aside) O spite, I am undone!
A: I cannot speak, I will go mad with rage-- (He rises.)
I will go to the gardens, and return
When I can keep my fingers from his throat! (Exit.)
H: My queen -
E: Be silent, I will hear thee not.
H: Your Majesty - thou wouldst not have me slain?
E: And wouldst thou not have had my people slain,
Like foxes hunted by the murd'ring hounds?
Think'st thou so lightly of a woman's wrath?
H: The king - when he returns, he'll see me hanged!
E: With these two hands I'd twist the cord myself,
If there were need.
This play is a work in progress. Comments are welcome. -The Management