This dialogue was originally presented at a CRC event in 2015: Re-imagining Church - No Longer Male and Female but One in Christ which was facilitated by Kathy Galloway, Jenny Morgans and Emma Percy.
A TALE OF TWO WIVES
Vashti: I am the bad wife. I disobeyed my husband. I was a queen, a wife, the manager of a splendid household. I was beautiful. But all that really matters about me, apparently, is that I said no!
Esther: I am the good wife. I never disobeyed anyone: I was a Jew, an orphan, a woman. How could I have possibly disobeyed any of the men who commanded me? It would have been suicidal.
Vashti: In the third year of his reign, my husband held a great banquet for all his officials and ministers. There were hundreds of them there; all the nobles and governors, all the army generals from all over the empire. The whole proceedings went on for six months! The whole palace was redecorated in the most tasteful fashion-no expense spared. He did love to show off, did Ahasuerus!
Esther: My cousin Mordecai raised me as his daughter, and he loved me. But we were from a family of prisoners of war; we had to be very careful not to offend anyone powerful. We had to do our best to fit in. So when the king’s eunuchs came hunting for all the most beautiful and virginal young girls, I had to go too. But Mordecai warned me not to reveal my background, and I obeyed him to the letter.
Vashti: The last banquet was the worst. For months, the place had been full of drunken men. ‘Don’t hold back on the wine’ he told the officials, ‘just let everyone do what they want’. And they did - I don’t need to spell it out for you, do I? Everyone in the whole city was invited to the last banquet, a huge garden party – a huge riot, more like! I got to entertain the wives. You know what it’s like when a bunch of women who don’t know each other get together without any men, but with plenty of alcohol? The whole thing was exhausting!
Esther: I realised immediately that it would be advantageous to get on the good side of Hegai, who was in charge all of these young girls. So I was very obedient and helpful to him, and became his favourite. I got extra food and seven maids from the palace, and the best place in the harem. And every day, Mordecai visited the harem to find out how I was. I spent a whole year being oiled and perfumed and groomed in the harem for all the concubines in waiting, hundreds of us-each evening, one was chosen-but the next morning, she didn’t come back here, she was promoted to the king’s personal harem.
Vashti: On the seventh day, the king was what has been described as ‘merry with wine.’ In other words, he was pissed! The magnificent seven, his eunuchs, appeared at my door, informing me that I had to put my crown on and go with them, because the king wanted to show off my beauty to all the people and officials. To parade me in front of a hall full of men who’d been drinking non-stop for seven days, like I was his prize heifer, or one of his fancy statues. What would you have done? No husband who respected his wife could ask that. So I just said No, I said No.
Esther: When my turn came, I took nothing with me except what Hegai advised me. The king liked me, I could tell immediately. I was beautiful, young and submissive-I think he particularly liked that, I gather he had trouble with his previous wife. So he married me, and celebrated with a great feast for all his important retainers. He declared a national holiday, and gave lots of gifts-he was in a very good mood indeed. But he still didn’t know who I really was. So when Mordecai discovered a plot to assassinate him, I told the king, giving all the credit to Mordecai for foiling the plot, and the would-be assassins were hanged. Then the king was even more pleased with me because I had saved his life!
Vashti: My husband was beside himself with rage because I disobeyed him! He rounded up all his lawyers to see what he could do to punish me. Well, you know what happens when you bring lawyers into a situation-rather than finding a way to let him cool down his wounded ego, they just raised the stakes some more. According to them, if I got away with saying no, then every woman in the empire would take it as a green light to say no to their husbands, and there would be female rebellion everywhere! What disregard they show to women. You could laugh, because you dare not cry. They just used it as a way to legitimize absolute masculine authority, no matter what the situation or provocation. And Ahasuerus just went along with it. I was stripped of everything. My story ends there, I disappear from history. But perhaps not for ever-perhaps there will come a time when there will be a greater readiness to listen to the bad wives, to the women who just say No.
Esther: My story did not finish there. I became famous as the saviour of my people when they were in great danger. It is not a pretty story-it is a story of male scheming and abuse of power, and many people died in the course of it. But by being careful, by my persuasion and skill, by being the good wife, I have become the most powerful person in the empire-apart, of course, from the king.