Prologue: And now the queen’s banquet hall we do all attend and apply. For now her prayers and preparations come to the test, whether for naught, or can this Gordian knot be untied by her gentle hand? Under the guise of this royal feast, our graceful deer doth lay in wait to ensnare the prowling wolf.
Act III Scene iv
A banquet hall in the palace of Suza, later that night
Enter Hegai, Servant 1 and Servant 2
Hegai: Having feasted well this eve, the king, the queen and the hated Haman shall finish their repose here. Quickly, bring goblets for wine and make them the best in all the palace for her guests.
Servant 1: With all speed.
Exit Servant 1
Hegai: Rouse the wine steward and relay to him that the time has come for his premium; do not let him hold back a better vintage for another occasion. Haste!
Servant 2: It is done.
Exit Servant 2
Enter Esther and maids
Esther: Now, Hegai, come the time for the king’s petition. Our maids and our kin have fasted these days for to supplicate to celestial Jehovah for this moment. Our heart trembles at its discourse, though well practiced are we, rehearsed in words, phrase, expression, tear; none in vain mockery but all to the height of nature and sincerity. All is done in preparation, nowt remains but the doing.
Maid 1: Thou art the queen; let no one who plots against thee stand.
Maid 2: The lion for thy might, the jackal for thy cunning.
Maid 3: Strength to thee and thy resolve my queen.
Hegai: We are thy players; we shall play off whatever tune or beat thou layest down for us.
Esther: We give our thanks, all. What ho! The hour is nigh. Steady my bosom and fast my resolve.
Enter King Xerxes and Haman
Xerxes: Hail, our fair queen. No better entertainment have we from kings in foreign splendor of their courts. Mark you, Haman, how we have been given such treatment as e’en we were guested in our own palace. O how we envy kings that visit us for our hospitality is paralleled.
Haman: Truly, what a rarity it is when the hostess speaks “Our house is thy house” an’ it be truer than no other word spoken.
Re-enter Servant 1 and Servant 2
Esther: Please, my dear guests, recline thyselves an’ receive a cup. None have I spared in our cellars this day for our honore’d king and his man.
Xerxes: Such a sumptuous feast our royal belly cannot hold but a morsel more, but here is wine to flow through the cracks.
Haman: An; steep all that we have consume’d in an excellent vintage.
Esther: If I may dare t’ propose the first offering: grace to our king, long live his years.
Haman: Long live his years.
Esther: (Aside) O, had I but poisoned that cup an’ forfeit my life t’ see him wrack and wriggle in the throes of death. But I’ll not give up a single life to thee, though I count mine own as naught, thou craven dog.
Xerxes: An excellent grape.
Haman: Its equal it has not.
Xerxes: Fill me again, sirrah; its sweetness I cannot abide a single draught.
Haman: Royal lord, I offer the second honor: to our hostess flawless is she in word and deed and grace; she is thy noble’d brow’s most crowning jewel.
Xerxes: To our most crowne’d jewel.
Esther: (Aside) Flawless as thou art flawed. I pray only for perfection in the enfolding of the snare set before thee, that thou wouldst set upon and be trapped withal.
Xerxes: Our gracious queen. Thou didst come inot our presence at court at peril of life, and we did offer to grant thy boon, even up to half our kingdom. We did find ourselves invited to table with noble Haman.
Then at table again we did deign to bestow whatever thou asked that was in our power to grant. In thy response we did find ourselves invited to take thy table a second time.
Now this hour we are light with anticipation and anxious to give thee unprecedented favor, for ne’er before have we been so please’d, and ne’er so with our queen. Come! Half of all ours is thine at thy blink; but name thy desire specific an’ it shall be done with all speed, an’ we shall not feel its loss. Our graceful gazelle, what wouldst thou have of us?
Esther: My high and honore’d lord. Pleasest thou to be pleased: receive these players and their humble wares. They are not the court cast, but a private troupe of mine own for amusement in our apartments. They have prepared a special show for this occasion, at thy bidding.
Xerxes: We shall receive this troupe with grateful eyes.
Enter Hegai and maids
(A dumb show follows, with Hegai and maids in masks. Hegai plays a king, admiring flowers in a garden, and “plucks” one that becomes a woman that he dances with and then crowns her queen. Walking further in the garden, he “plucks” another flower that becomes a man that the king richly endows.
This man sees the queen, requests a dagger from the king’s belt and stabs the queen repeatedly. The queen dies, and the man celebrates; the king gives the man lot of money and exchanges it for the dagger. The king wipes blood upon himself to clean the dagger, and then replaces the dagger in his belt. The body of the queen is borne away in sorrow )
Exuent Hegai and maids
Haman: A moving piece for certain.
Xerxes: An’ one with which we are unfamiliar. Is it an ancient tale?
Esther: No, my lord, it is a tale yet to come.
Xerxes: What soothsaying is this? Speak plainly. We shall have thy meaning.
Esther: If I have found favor with thee, O king, and if it pleases your majesty, grant me my life – this my petition.
Xerxes: What say you? How is ‘t thou art in such peril? What or who conspires to bring threat ‘pon thy person? What kingdom raises it s hand ‘gainst thee? We shall crush it underfoot ‘til it is blown to the sands.
Haman: I forswear my vengeance ‘gainst such plotters. My sword, my guard is all at thy disposal
Esther: My life and my people, noble Xerxes, this is my request. For I and all my like have been sold for destruction and slaughter and annihilation. Had we e’en been sold as slaves man and child I would surely had held my tongue, for we art thy slaves in service as thy subjects. But for their lives I beseech as thou hast sought my petition and thus I lay at thy feet in all supplication and submission.
Xerxes: Is this so? Where is he? Who is this man who has dared do such a thing ‘gainst us.
Esther: I ask not for vengeance, my king, but for mercy. I would not put thy hand ‘gainst any of thine own by my behest; I beg for life not blood.
Xerxes: We shall be satisfied and we shall have our blood. We command thee that thou lay before us all manner of players in this foulness that we would cleanse it from our eyes. As thou hast pledged supplication and submission we shall have thy accounting!
Esther: Forgive me, great king, I would not turn thee ‘gainst thine own.
Xerxes: Any whom have put threat ‘gainst our crown is not our own. We disown him, he is but a scourge to be found out, burned out, stamped out! We are outraged and we will have satisfaction! Hide not this mongele’d dog from us one jot longer! We shall have thy tongue or thy head! Speak unto thy lord and master.
Esther: It is with great trembling and sorrow that I give report unto thee that the person who lays siege unto my person and people doth sit next to thee, hast supped with thee, and enjoys thy company and countenance this eve.
Xerxes: How’s this?
Haman: What say you?
Esther: My cousin Mordecai, of whom my gracious lord hath honored this day through the streets of Susa, did come to offend the pride of this man. Enraged, he did vow to put to the sword every man, woman, infirm and child who more the name of Abraham our ancestor. The thirteenth of this month, by proclamation seale’d by thy signet, I and all my kin are by law to suffer this extermination.
For these happy days I have served thee, mighty king, and if I have please’d thee, then I as thy subject and servant have served thee whole and well. But it is my petition that I may outlive my numbere’d days to serve thee greater, and my people do share in that same affection.
Xerxes: Zounds! Our ears doth burn at the furnace that doth forge thy words! We are embroile’d to o’erflowing! Thou devil, thou scorpion, thou snake of deceit who doth wear our robes an’ drink our finest wine an’ plot under our roof th’ destruction of our greatest joy!
Thou jackal, thou hyena, thou vulture who doth feed upon our house and our people as ‘t were carrion deserted for refuse. Thou beast unhuman, thou eater of corpses, thou spawn of evil – our tongue doth stutter to mouth such passion enflame’d; for all wrath that doth cry for release’d from our breast doth lodge and dam our throat! We strain to breath! We must needs air!
Exit King Xerxes
Haman: My queen! As the king doth rile in the garden hear me, anon. Know thee that I didst never in maliced forethought set my hand ‘gainst thee. Would that I had known thy relation to the Jew thy cousin Mordecai I wouldst have swollwe’d my bile ‘gainst him for thy royal sake.
Esther: Thou needs a queen’s sanction to keep thee from such monstrous vanities? Go to!
Haman: I beseech thee! Enrage’d is thy lord such that he shall not hear my words, my defense, my humble petition. Thou art the star in his eye, thou hast pleaded for thy people, extend thy grace to plead for this poor wretch before thee as well.
Esther: Mordecai did but bruise thy pride and in the wake of thy revenge, thou usurper of the tongue of the king, an entire people doth cry for their lives! We have just complaint against thy threat, ‘gainst thy very life, an’ thou doth beg for sanctuary which cannot be granted for our kin and kind. Unhand us, foul stench! We’ll have none of thee!
Haman: I implore thee—
Esther: The king’s word, which thou hast misuse’d for thy vanity’s sake cannot be revoked. Shall we revoke our right and just wrath ‘gainst thee? Release us from thy grasp!
Haman: I am undone without thy mercy—
Re-enter King Xerxes
Esther: We shall not tolerate this assault! Unhand us! Let us away!
Xerxes: (Aside) What’s this? Shall he e’en molest the royal queen upon the bed while she is with us under our own roof? -- Thou dog! Thou cur! Thou mongrel! This day thou art forfeit! Should we die this hour we should seal an irrevocable warrant for thy death; an’ death ‘pon any who would harbor thee; and death ‘pon their families; an’ death ‘pon their flocks an’ stock!
Haman: O bitter fortunes that doth assail me on my right and left hand. I have nowt means reach for supplication.
Xerxes: A sword! A sword! An enemy dwell within!
Enter Servant 1 and Servant 2 with swords
Haman: My king—
Xerxes: Spit not thy evil serpent’s tongue, for thou hast envenome’d these halls e’er since thou didst don our robes! Put up an’ defend thyself.
Haman: I do protest! I am undone thricely if I do spill royal blood.
Xerxes: Our crown we do put aside, for thy dishonor thou hast serve’d ‘pon our wife ‘t is enough to enflame any of the lowliest of husbands. Have at you!
Haman: My way is blocked.
Xerxes: All these doors shall be shut to thy egress, save for thee prostrate! We shall have our blood this hour.
They fight. A pass. Haman is cut.
Haman: O! I am wounded!
Xerxes: Wounded as thou hast made mine empire. Put up!
They fight. A seconed pass. Haman is cut.
Haman: Thy blade doth bite deep!
Xerxes: Deeply hast thou offended us and our queen! And e’en yet we are not sated! Ten thousand Hamans we could cut to pieces this hour! Have at thee!
They fight. A third pass. Haman is cut.
Haman: I am spent! I have no will nor wit to keep me from the fate that I face. Do with me as thou wilt.
Xerxes: What? So soon thou pestilence? Need we thy permission? We are the king, and we shalt do as we will, thou base wretch. From the dust I drew thee up, and to the dust I shall return thee.
Servant 2: Good king, an’ may thou live forever, but I did hear him speak of a scaffold he did raise in his garden for the purpose to hang ‘pon it the Jew Mordecai. ‘T was said, according to his account, seventy feet high, for to make a spectacle of those in his displeasature.
Xerxes: Truly, thou shalt hang ‘pon it this night, monstrous wretch; for thou art in the maelstrom of our displeasure! See to it done! Rouse what thou may to ensure the task.
Servant 1: Very good, my king.
Exit Servant 1
Xerxes: Sirrah! Thou art familiar with mordecai, our queen’s cousin?
Hegai: Indeed, your grace.
Xerxes: Fetch him at once! No longer shall he sleep outside our palace.
Hegai: I am yours to command, sire.
Xerxes: Bring to us our advisors, scribes and chroniclers. There is state business at hand.
Servant 2: It is done, my king.
Exit Servant 2
Esther: If ‘t pleases the king, and if he regards me with favor, and the thing seem right before the king, and if he is pleased with me, let an order be written overruling the dispatches that Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite devise’d and wrote to destroy the Jews in all the king’s provinces. For how can I bear to see disaster fall on my people? How can I bear to see the destruction of my family?
Re-enter Servant 1 with Shether and Memucan Guards 1 & 2
Xerxes: Alas! Would that we could, my queen. But the seal is set and our name hast proclaime’d this thing; it must be done.
Esther: Is there nowt that can be done? I am no exception to thy law, my king. Surely as thy word may not be undone, but what course is plotted may be replotted.
Re-enter Hegai with Mordecai
Mordecai: I am thy faithful servant my king, may thou live’st forever!
Xerxes: Rise, my good Mordecai. See here thy enemy Haman, who is our enemy in no less fashion as thy own. Of late he has enjoyed a great estate of which he is now forfeit. All its property and value we do bestow upon thee, my queen, the delight of mine eyes. Though we do regret thou must suffer the gallows built in its garden, for the condemne’d Haman must hang from its height for our royal example. See to it.
Shether & Memucan: We shall, highness.
Exit Haman, Servant 1, Shether and Memucan
Esther: For this estate we do charge our cousin over its routine, for in his wisdom there is no equal and in on better hand can we place its care.
Re-enter Servant 2 with Carshena and a scribe
Xerxes: And in trusting this wisdom, we do give mordecai this signet ring, that he place whatever orders he deems fit to cure this curse’d blight ‘pon our dear subjects.
Mordecai: Many thanks, my king; thou art most generous and gracious. Sirrah, attend to unto me and leave not a scruple of this missive.
A Scribe: Good, my lord.
Mordecai: Issue a proclamation to every city, granting Jews the right to assemble and protect themselves; to destroy, kill and annihilate any arme’d force of any nationality or province that might attack them and their women and children; and rights to plunder the property of all those who would attack them.
A copy of the text of this edict is to be issue’d as law in every province and made known to the people of every nationality in their tongue so that the Jews may be ready and prepare’d for that day ‘gainst any hand raised ‘gainst them. Issue this in the citadel of Susa, and disperse’d this law by couriers riding royal horses of the king’s own stables. Seal I this edict with the king’s signet into law by his power and with his royal endorsement.
A Scribe: ‘Tis done, my lord.
Xerxes: Spare nowt to carry this out. ‘T is our royal command.
Carshena: Yes, my gracious lord.
Exit Carshena and Servant 2
Xerxes: With this royal endorsement we doubt that any great number shall rise against thee; but against those that rally, thy people shall defend themselves well in unity and strength and will rout thy enemies. When all is done, this land shall be more favorable to all those who call Abraham their father.
Mordecai: ‘Struth, many who shrink in fear from the delivere’d host may turn and convert from Gentile to Jew even without th’ temple or Levite to receive them.
Re-enter Servant 1, Memucan and Shether
Memucan: My great king Xerxes, may thou live’st forever.
Xerxes: Speak, we are in haste.
Memucan: Good sire, Haman, son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, is dead. Mine own eyes did witness it so.
Xerxes: Farewell to the scorpion in our sandal. We grieve him not.
Esther: If it please the king, let this edict of Mordecai also be carried out for one more day in the citadel of Susa, so that having defended themselves, my kinsmen may seize upon the family of Haman his ten sons and see them hange’d upon the gallows as did the Agagite intend for my dear cousin.
Xerxes: As it is said, it is done. See to it.
Memucan: Thy royal command.
Exit Memucan and a scribe
Shether: My king, here is the robe and circlet thou didst grant to Haman.
Xerxes: These favors that did sit ‘pon the unworthy, we do bestow them upon Mordecai as the first of the booty from the enemies of the Jews.
Mordecai: Great thanks to my king. I am humble’d e’en unto the measure thy grace brings honor to my head.
Esther: Be that as it may, our people shall not plunder their enemies in defending their hearth and home. Instead, they shall feast in joyous celebration at their deliverance by the hand of my cousin Mordecai, premiere of all Jews.
Sirrah! How came that wretch to choose the hour of our people’s destruction?
Servant 1: In truth, my queen, he cared nowt for its time, but did have the pur cast for the month and its day.
Esther : Hence forward, then, we shall remember this day and call it Purim; and on this day we shall feast in the memory of our deliverance, and give gifts to one another as we ourselves would have been plundered.
Mordecai: Forsooth, our generations shall feast in memory of their Hebrew Queen, the fairest, most cunning, and noblest of the king’s subjects in the land of Persia and Media, its 127 provinces stretching from Cush to India.
Xerxes: Now have we undone what has been done, and have done up what has been undone. Retire us now to harvest the fruits of our labors: we have stepped ‘pon the scorpion and rid of him in our house; we have gaine’d a wise and trustworthy advisor to aid us in our stately duties; and we have perserve’d for us and ours, our most gracious, worthy and noble queen. Hail the Hebrew Queen!
All (but Esther): Hail the Hebrew Queen!
Xerxes: Sound the trumpets! Beat the drum! Let all know that this is the favor the king bestows upon all who pleaseth him.
King Xerxes, Esther, Mordecai, Hegai, Shether, Servant 1
And now my dear nobles, ladies and gents
For this fair eve some hours ye have spent;
For the low have been brought high
And the high have been laid low
Such is the way of the God we all know
For thine eyes and thy ears a tale we have spun
And but for your hands this troupe is all done
So give us a cheer in that time honored way
If you liked what you heard and you felt and you saw
Then rumble us up a good hearty huzzah!