Act I Scene i
A hall in the citadel of Susa, a capital of Persia
Enter Trest and Brem
Trest: What ho! Brem. Thou art looking well reveled.
Brem: Ay, reveling and feasting doth fit me well. For nigh on six month have we been dazzel’d in display of glory and wealth of our good king Xerxes—
Trest: Drink to his health
Brem: To the king! (They drink) Our sovereign, the grandest of rulers whose hand extends over Persia and Media, 127 provinces from India to Cush; the Grand Empire built upon the foundations of fallen Babylonia, that seat of great Nebuchadnezzar, who languished in his hanging gardens of wonder. O I pity the pillars living in Exbatana, Babylon and Persepolis, the other capitals across our realm. How come we to draw citizenry in this, the winter palace of our king Xerxes—
Trest: Drink to his health!
Brem: To the king! (They drink)
Trest: Thank the winds of fortune that landed our official buties here in Susa, our glorious palace and citadel of the king.
Brem: To the king!
Trest: To the king! (They drink) And now, after months of displaying his wealth, he doth lay such a banquet for the populace of the citadel, from the least to the greatest, for this last seven-day
Brem: Mark you, my good Trest, do not these polishe’d couches of silver, these mosaic stone carpets of marble and mother-of-pearl, these goblets of gold, each of its own make and kind still doth shine with the same luster an’ proclaim the king’s splendor the same nigh on a week, or do they grow more glorious to mine eyes?
Trest: I’faith, either the silver is tarnishe’d, the floor uneven and these goblets untrue, or mine eyes have gone hazy, my legs aquiver, and my aim unsteady from excess of the king’s health
Brem: To the excess of the king’s health!
Trest: To his royal excessive health! (They drink)
Brem: Not only do the men set to eating and drinking in their own way, celebrating in the garden resplendent with linen hangings of white and blue, fastened to marble pillars with words of white and purple with silver rings, but queen Vashti also hath given a banquet for the women in the royal palace—
Trest: By the four winds, speak not that name within these walls if thou doth value what grace thou hast enjoyed these festive days!
Brem: What? Is our good queen a name to be spoken in the hushed tones of conspirators and fugitives?
Trest: Ay, closer to the mark thou could not have come! Draw away and draw fast what I will embark upon thee. When I last filled these two goblets with the sweet nectar of our king—
Brem: --To our king’s nectar—
Trest: Stay you! I did hear from the steward who is on fair terms with Zethar, of the crown’s eunuchs, who in turn was royally commanded fetch the king his wife; she was to be displayed before his nobles, for beauteous and fair is she to the eye, and such adornment she wears ‘t is said would turn the waxing moon to wane in the shame’d comparison.
Brem: Such a display I would sober my eyes to be blinded with her adornment natural and draped, forever seared into my mind’s seeing. Let us away!
Trest: Hear me through! Finishe’d he his narrative, the steward did tell of the eunichs returning with the queen’s refusal fresh ‘pon their ears, repeating her spurn and venom with fear and trembling ‘pon their lips.
Brem: Spurne’d she the king’s command?
Trest: Ay, an’ with such shrewish display that did burn our king with a most empassione’d anger reserved for our most bitter of enemies.
Brem: That such a riot should undo six full moons of revels would set us barren as ‘t were famine. Faugh! I’ve had done with drink and feast ‘til the king’s humor is aright.
Enter Carshena, Shethar and Memucan
Trest: Ay, ‘t is not seemly to rejoice when the king’s afouled. Look you, here comes Shethar, Memucan and Carshena, the king’s inmost advisors
Brem: An’ where counselors brood, so follow the counseled. Hie thee off, then, and somber our countenance amidst such grand resplendence.
Exuent Brem and Trest
Enter King Xerxes
Xerxes: Have we not subjugated all lands between India and Cush?
Carshena: Yes, my king.
Xerxes: Have we not under our seal all that was ruled by the Babylonians Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar and our father Great Darius king of Persia?
Shether: Yes, my king.
Xerxes: Is there a greater kingdom within a month’s march, sooth, a year’s march of any border that o’er shadows our glory?
Memucan: None, my king.
Xerxes: Have we not spent this last six-month displaying the riches and might of our kingdom, and hath any people, nation or province raised their hand against us?
Carshena: No, my lord.
Shether: Our borders are secure, and our provinces well in hand by their governors.
Xerxes: Then, our wise ones, our learne’d ones, explain to us this rebellion that arises in our very capital Susa, in our own palace, s’truth in our own bed from our own distinguishe’d queen. What other allegence has thus swayed her to reject us in this churlish manner under the open sun, under the swirling stars?
Carshena: We know not, my king.
Xerxes: What! Impotent mouths, all of you? Faugh! We have been defied this day, our wise worms of law, and ‘t were any else than our noble crowne’d lady we would let the sword speak its justice. Lend us thy tongues and speak thy minds. For we art enrage’d like the bull, and all our sight and thoughts are as crimson as blood.
Shether: O noble king, may thou livest forever! Bend to me thy noble ear and hear my words. Truly, should any subject of thy crown, be it slave, merchant, eunuch, noble or royalty openly or in secret defy thy command, speak evil of thy royal person, or attempt to exalt self above they enoble’d brow, they should answer to the khopesh and their rotting shell displayed ‘pon the battlements.
Memucan & Carshena: Ay, my lord
Shether: But thy queen, she is popular and well favore’d in the eye of thy people; to execute her as criminal or traitor would shadow a wealth of virtues and spark true rebellion within our engorge’d borders. ‘T would shadow o’er thy countenance for inviting such rebellion under thy roof, indeed in thy privy chamber.
Xerxes: Thou counsel us to not do, Shether, but lest we be pleased with another fork, we shall take this road before us with fevere’d pitch and slay the harem in its entirety, so great is our rath upon that sex this hour.
Memucan: Faith, my gracious king, my you live forever, hear my words and weigh them with thy royal scales. Queen Vashti hath done wrong, not only ‘gainst thy sovereignty, but also against all the nobles and the peoples of all the provinces of King Xerxes. For the queen’s conduct shall become known to all the women, and so they shall despise their husbands and say, “King Xerxes commanded Queen Vashti to be brought before hijm, but she would not come.” This very day the Persian women of the nobility who have heard about the queen’s conduct will respond to all the king’s nobles in the same defiance.
Carshena: The four winds be merciful! We shall be fat to the borders with shrews!
Memucan: Therefore, if it please the king, let him issue a royal decree and let it be written in the law that cannot be repealed the Vashti is banishe’d from thy royal sight.
Shether: Truly, the royal eye may no longer look upon thy tainted queen, for her sight shall never please thee e’er again.
Xerxes: O our queen! How like a goddess did we raise thee, that all men looked upon thee in wonder and awe that ‘pon this earth stepped mortal nature so purely distille’d. Thou were once the standard of perfection, full of wisdom and flawless in beauty.
Thou lived in our palaces and gardens, and wore gems of every kind: rubies and diamonds; topaz, beryl, carnelian and jaspar; sapphires, emeralds and garnets. Thou had ornaments of gold; they were made for thee on the day of our wedding. We took from the best of our men thy personal guard; thou lived in our capital cities and walked as the finest and best of all the lands.
Thy heart became proud on account of thy beauty, and thou didst corrupt thy wisdom because of thy splendor. Thou believed thou were a goodess and rejected our commands. So we shall throw thee to the earth and make a spectacle of thee before kings. Banishe’d from our sight thou shalt wear gems no more; crown ripped from thy brow, thou shalt become as common as the dust. Let subjects and slaves kick thee up and tread upon thy pride now, O celestial queen.
O our queen, our star, we would not be angered so if we did not love thee so. Our breast is hollow, for we have torn out our life and cast it to the desert sands. We shall not feast nor enjoy wine again, for seasonings spoil when left to th’ elements, and pleasures turn bland when partook alone.
Carshena: Still thy aching breast, my king, and hear once more our counsel: to further our dispose’d queen’s example, let her give up her royal position to one better than she. Then when the king’s edict is proclaime’d throughout all his vast realm, all the women will respect their husbands, from the least to the greatest.
Xerxes: Through what arts, mystic or mundane, shall find you in all this land one better than she, thou magician?
Carshena: Let a search be made from Egypt to the Northern Sea, from Cush to India for beautiful young maidens for the king. Let the king appoint commissioners in every province of his realm to bring these beauteous ones into the harem at the citadel of Susa.
Shether: Indeed, let them be placed under the care of the eunuch Hegai, who is charge of the women; and let beauty treatments be given to them for six months with oil of myrrh and six more months with perfumes and cosmetics.
Memucan: ‘Struth, and before she is presented for thy pleasure, let anything she wants be given to her from the harem to take with her to thy presence.
Carshena: For while your queen was indeed celestial, certainly she was so because of thy enoble’d hand. And now that her star has fallen, let the royal hand place another diamond in the velvet ebony veil of night, to outshine all else that hang above. Then shall we all see thy handiwork and praise thy glory even unto the heavens.
Xerxes: We like the tune of this trio: it beats vigorous time to satisfy our shuddering violence, yet is smooth of melody to soothe our melancholy. Come then, let us pen this song so that it may echo o’er th’ hills and valleys, that all with ear and voice may rise and step in one accord.
Memucan: We are your lordship’s to command.
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