We begin by each character outlining who she is, in the order in which they first appear in the book. My name is Ahasuerus. I am the great king of an eastern empire, where many Jews live. My word is literally law. But I am not a very admirable character. As the story opens, I am hosting an enormous drinking party in the capital city of Susa. I decide I want my queen, named Vashti, to come in, wearing her crown, and parade herself in front of the party-goers so they may see how beautiful she is. But Vashti refused. My court nobles were aghast. They said that from now on wives everywhere would disobey their husbands. So I removed her royal title and exiled her for life. That tells you a lot about me, doesn’t it? I ordered the people of Susa to get drunk, I tried to humiliate my queen, and then I threw her away like yesterday’s news.
This tells you a lot about the danger of the world in which the Jews live. I am the Law, but I hold grudges and am prone to anger. So my law is the same way. My law brings no assurance of stability or justice to those under its mandates. My law is not fair, not reasoned, not impartial. But of course, neither am I. I am a man with no center. There is nothing I stand for. I personify a Gentile society for the Jews: unpredictable, dangerous, and potentially lethal, all wrapped up in me.
My name is Mordecai. I am introduced as a “Jew in the citadel,” of the tribe of Benjamin. I am the guardian of my orphaned cousin, Esther. I am the only character whose Jewish identity is emphasized. In the story, I am a Jew who stands for all Jews. I am neither stupid nor a fool. I learned of a plot to kill Ahasuerus and told Esther, who had become the new queen. She told the king. So, I saved the king’s life but I also made Esther a real player with the king and court. Already queen, then she became the king’s protector. Later I learned of Haman’s plot to kill all the Jews, so I asked Esther again to go to Ahasuerus. Her credibility would make it difficult for the king to fail to extend the golden scepter when she approached uninvited.
I value loyalty and constancy of purpose. But I am very private. I do not reveal my inner thoughts. Everyone was mystified why I would never bow to Haman, even at risk of my own life. But no matter: my character is one of total loyalty to the Jews and I represent what the ideal Jew should be living outside Israel.
My name is Esther. I am Mordecai’s cousin. It is true that I was acclaimed as a very beautiful woman, which was the main reason the king selected me to replace Queen Vashti. I contrast with her. Vashti refused to come when the king called, I went to the king without being summoned. Vashti was exiled, I am favored. Vashti was rebellious against the king, but I was humble before him – well, at least at first. I am a complex character in the story. I start off as an ideal woman of that time, obedient to my providers. Even when I was drafted into the king’s harem I hardly reacted. When I was told to go Ahasuerus, I simply followed instructions. I did and said nothing on my own. I was like a pawn, never taking control of my life, always being acted upon. However, when I learned that only I could go to the king to beg him not to allow all us Jews to be killed, my passive obedience and submissive nature dramatically changed. I was no longer merely a pretty young thing who was always obedient. I became truly Queen Esther, a strong leader of the Jewish community and in fact, the real royal authority of the whole empire. I became assertive, politically active, and full of self-confidence. By the end of the story, I am one who commands and is obeyed. My beauty, it turned out, was matched by my brains. My name is Haman. I am the “bad guy” of the story. I am the source of everything that Mordecai and Esther must defend against. I am a harsh, murderous enemy of the Jews. All my energies are directed against Mordecai and the rest of the Jews in Persia. I am furious that Mordecai never bows to me. I want him to die. I embody power without conscience, and I have no tolerance for the Jews’ obstinate devotion to their God. But in the story, I am not just the symbol of evil. I am a buffoon, a court fool whose every scheme backfires. I have a pompous faith in my derivative authority. Not even my wife really believes in me. I am a small-minded man who is somehow the prime minister of the whole empire. I have wealth and an exalted position, but they mean nothing to me whenever I see that Jew Mordecai. Hence, I am irrational evil personified.
Scene 1 – Haman and Ahasuerus HAMAN: O mighty king, I beg you to hear me! There is a terrible thing going on! Your throne itself is at risk! AHASUERUS: Wait, let me finish this glass of wine. First things first, you know! Now, what is this terrible threat? HAMAN: There are certain people scattered among the people of your kingdom. They are called Jews. They follow their own law and they do not keep the king’s laws. AHASUERUS: That is serious! It must not be tolerated! HAMAN: Exactly, O great king! As usual, you go straight to the point. AHASUERUS: What do you suggest? Should we just remind them who’s in charge here? HAMAN: Well, yes, great king. I counsel a permanent solution. You should issue a decree for their destruction. AHASUERUS: That will be expensive! HAMAN: I will pay a million dollars to cover it. AHASUERUS: Wow! Sounds like a good deal! Here, you take my ring with my official seal and issue whatever order you wish. HAMAN: I will have the order written in every language of the empire. I will seal it with your ring and send copies to all the king’s provinces, giving orders to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all Jews, young and old, women and children, in one day, the thirteenth day of the month of Adar. Then O Great King, you and I will sit down to drink! AHASUERUS: I am looking forward to that!
Scene 2 – Mordecai and Esther. Mordecai is pacing back and forth, very upset. Esther enters.
ESTHER: Mordecai, dear cousin, what upsets you so? MORDECAI: Here! Read this edict from your husband, the king! Sealed with his ring! He hands a document to Esther, who takes it and looks it over. ESTHER: I never knew about this! How could such an order be given? We Jews have never rebelled against the king! MORDECAI: It must be Haman’s doing! He hates all of us. The king is an empty suit and would never think of this on his own. But he will sign anything that Haman places before him. ESTHER: What do you want me to do? I cannot go to the king unless he sends for me. Anyone who enters his court uninvited is simply executed unless the king extends his golden scepter. And the king has not sent for me for a month! MORDECAI: The king does not know you are Jewish. He saw you only as a beautiful woman who struck his fancy. But do you think that will save you? If you enter his court uninvited, he may order you executed. But if you do not enter, you will still die on the thirteenth day of the month of Adar along with all us other Jews! Even if deliverance of the Jews comes from someone else, you and your father’s family will still perish. ESTHER: I did not think of it like that. Still, I am helpless in the court of the great king! MORDECAI: But Esther, listen. There is no one but you! Who knows? Perhaps the real reason you have been made queen is for just such a time as this. Esther paces back and forth for a moment, then: ESTHER: Here are my orders. Go, gather all the Jews in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf. Neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will also fast. After that I will go to the king, though it is against the law; and if I am executed, well then, I am executed. MORDECAI: Yes, Esther, it shall be done as you say. I will do all that you command! Closing, all four characters AHASUERUS: Esther did come to see me uninvited. Of course, I held out the golden scepter to welcome her. It never occurred to me to withhold it. ESTHER: But I did not tell him then to withdraw his order to kill the Jews. Instead, I invited him and Haman to a banquet, which they eagerly accepted. HAMAN: I was flattered to be included at a private dinner with only the king and his queen. That meant that I was a very important person! I was happy! But later when I saw that Jew Mordecai at the gate, the queen’s invitation turned sour. I decided to build an enormous gallows and hang Mordecai on it. MORDECAI: It did not help that the king wanted to honor me for saving his life and so ordered Haman personally to lead a procession in my honor through the city, announcing I was favored by the king. ESTHER: As we reclined at the banquet, I begged the king to spare my life and the lives of my people. I told him that I and my people were to be annihilated. AHASUERUS: I was stunned! I demanded of Esther, “Who has presumed to do this?” She pointed at Haman and said sharply, “Adversary, enemy, Haman!”
HAMAN: I knew I was in big trouble. The king left the room. To beg for mercy, I fell onto the couch where Esther reclined. At that moment the king came back.
AHASUERUS: I was already furious that Haman had included my queen in his plot, but when I saw him climbing onto her couch, my rage was unbounded. “You assault my queen as I stand here?” I shouted. “Even in my own house?” I turned to my servants and told them, “Hang him on the same gallows he has had built!” And they did. ESTHER: My king later awarded me all of Haman’s property, including his servants. I begged him to write an order that the Jews could defend themselves on the day in the month of Adar. And it was done. I also ordered that all Haman’s ten sons be hanged as well. MORDECAI: The king made me prime minister of the empire. When the day in Adar came, my power was so great that all the governors and officials supported the Jews, who destroyed all their enemies that day.
ESTHER: I decreed among all the Jews that their deliverance would be celebrated for all generations to come as the Feast of Purim, and it was done. Now you know my story.