The book of Esther has a strong narrative that makes it ideal for having the class act out* the story. Bring simple props for crowns, a scepter, goblets, sack cloth, letters etc. or print out the coloring page on card stock and use the figures as puppets. (Print out two pages so you can use one of the woman figures for Vashti and the other for Esther. The extra men could be a drinking buddy and an attendant.) Arrange the seating in your classroom to have space at the front for a stage, or consider moving your class to the stage in the cultural hall, if possible.
Ask the class who enjoys going to the theater. Are plays generally fiction or non-fiction? Point out that even plays that are about historical events become fictionalized. Ask “Can we still learn truths from a fictional story?” State that the Book of Esther has literary elements that we typically associate with fiction, even though it’s in the bible: there’s a complex plot that has symmetries and role reversals, and there’s plenty of exaggeration. These elements tell us that we don’t have to read this story literally (180 days of showing off the riches of the kingdom? A seven day feast for the whole palace? A one year beauty regimen for the king’s concubines?).
Announce that today we are going to put on a play of the Book of Esther. Invite the class to look for spiritual truths in the play. These truths might relate to pride, feasting vs. fasting, courage, integrity, or something else.
Get volunteers for the following characters, and hand them copies of the script. Be prepared to help with props (or recruit someone to help you beforehand.)
Vashti, the queen
The King, the king
drinking buddies, (optional) a non-speaking part
Attendant(s), a part that can be divided among multiple people
Esther, a Jewish girl who becomes queen
Mordecai, Esther’s cousin and guardian
maidens, (optional) a non-speaking part
Haman, the king’s favored advisor
(optional, a narrator could read the scene settings and the italicized words)
Scene 1, the throne room, a feast [The King, drinking buddies, Attendant, Vashti]
The king is merry with his drinking buddies
The King(to his attendant): Bring Vashti, the queen to our presence. She’s super attractive and we want to look upon her. Make sure she’s wearing her crown.
Attendant (to Vashti): The king commands your presence. His drinking buddies want to see how beautiful you look with your crown on.
Vashti: Nope. I don’t want a bunch of drunk guys leering at me. I’m not going in there. Besides, I’m already hosting a feast for all of the king’s other women.
Attendant (to king): Um. She’s not coming.
The King (angry): What!?! Not coming? What are we going to do to her? She hasn’t followed my command!
Attendant: Well, we can’t have all the women in the kingdom disrespecting their husbands. What a terrible example. If it please the king, let there be a royal command that cannot be altered saying saying that all women must give honor to their husbands, and that Vashti can come no more before King Ahasuerus, and that her royal estate shall be given to another who is better than her.
The King: Okay. Send letters to every province in every language!
Scene 2, the court of the harem [Attendant, maidens, Mordecai, Esther]
Mordecai reads the letter saying the king is looking for a replacement queen. Many maidens are vying for the attendant’s attention.
Mordecai (to Esther): Cousin Esther, you are beautiful and an orphan. Maybe you could be the next queen! Let’s see if you get picked.
Mordecai: Whatever you do, don’t let anyone know that you are a Jew.
Attendant: Yup. This girl is pretty enough to be the queen. She could potentially replace Vashti. We’ll give her a twelve month beauty regimen, compliments of the king.
Mordecai (to Esther): I’ll come to the court of the harem every day to see how you are doing.
Scene 3, the court of the harem [Esther, Attendant, The King, Mordecai]
Twelve months later…
Esther (to attendant): It’s my turn to go to the king. What should I bring with me?
Attendant: Only what I choose for you.
The King: You are the best out of all the girls. I choose Esther to become my new queen!
(Esther is crowned)
Mordecai (to Esther): As I was at the gate, I overheard a plot to assassinate the king!
Esther (to the King): My cousin Mordecai overheard a plot to assassinate you!
The King (to attendant): Investigate this. If this found to be true, kill the conspirators.
Scene 4, the throne room, [The King, Haman, Attendant, drinking buddies, maidens]
Haman is promoted.
The King (to Haman): I now promote you to be over all the princes. All shall bow and reverence you.
(All bow except Mordecai)
Haman (to audience): Ugh. I am so angry because Mordecai will not bow to me! It’s not enough to punish Mordecai. He is a Jew. I must punish all his people! I’m going to cast lots to decide what day to do enact this punishment.
Haman (to king): So…there are these certain people throughout your kingdom. They don’t follow your commandments. If it please the king, let there be a royal decree issued for their destruction. I will pay ten trillion dollars of silver into your treasury if you do this.
The King: Okay. Send letters to every province in every language!
Scene 5, the gate to the court of the harem [Mordecai, Attendant, Esther]
Mordecai reads the letter ordering the destruction of the Jews. He puts on sackcloth and wails throughout the city, up to the king’s gate.
Attendant: You can’t come through the gate wearing sackcloth! Here are some clothes from Esther.
Mordecai: I will not wear those clothes. I’m mourning. This letter orders the destruction of the Jews. Take it to Esther and charge her to go to the king and beg for the life of her people!
Attendant (to Esther): Your cousin Mordecai gave me this letter ordering the destruction of the Jews. He wants you to go to the king and beg for the life of your people. Also, how come you never told me you’re a Jew?!?
Esther (to attendant): Tell Mordecai that whoever goes to the king without being called for by the king is put to death. Only if the king extends his golden scepter to the person will the person live. The king hasn’t called for me for thirty days!
Attendant (to Mordecai): The king’s probably not going to ask to see her anytime soon. Your plan could get her killed!
Mordecai (to Attendant): Tell Esther “Don’t think that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. If you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews in some other way, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.”
Attendant (to Esther): He said your life is on the line either way, but if you go to the king maybe less Jews will die.
Esther (to attendant): Tell Mordecai “Gather all the Jews to be found, and hold a fast on my behalf. Don’t eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will also fast as you do. After that I will go to the king, although it is against the law. If I perish, I perish.”
Scene 6, the throne room [Esther, The King, Attendant]
Esther comes to the king. The king extends his scepter.
The King: What is it, Queen Esther? What is your request? It shall be given you, even to the half of my kingdom.
Esther: If I have won your favor and if it pleases the king, let the king and Haman come today to a banquet that I have prepared for the king.
The King (to attendant): Bring Haman quickly, so that we may do as Esther desires.
They move to the banquet table and enjoy the wine
The King: What is your petition? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled.
Esther: This is my petition and request: if I have won your favor and if it pleases the king, let the king and Haman come tomorrow to the banquet that I will prepare for them.
[The King and Esther exit]
The next day
Haman to audience: My wife and friends are so excited that I get to dine privately with the king and queen again! But even though I’m so important, Mordecai still doesn’t bow down to me. I followed my wife’s advice and built a gallows. I’m off to tell the king to hang Mordecai.
[The King enters]
The King: Ah, Haman! What shall be done for the man whom the king wishes to honor?
Haman (to audience): Who would the king wish to honor more than me?
Haman (to the king): For the man that the king wishes to honor, let royal robes be brought. Robes that the king himself has worn. Also bring the man a horse that the king has ridden. Oooo! With a royal crown on the horse’s head! Give the robes and the horse to one of the king’s highest officials and have him conduct the man throughout the city proclaiming: “Thus shall it be done for the man whom the king wishes to honor.”
The King: Okay. Quickly, take the robes and the horse, just as you have said, and do all that to the Jew Mordecai who sits at the king’s gate. Leave out nothing that you have mentioned! I couldn’t sleep last night and as I was going through the records I realized I had done nothing to honor Mordecai for uncovering a plot to assassinate me.
Haman stomps off and robes Mordecai. As soon as he’s done, Haman is brought to Esther’s banquet by the attendants.
The King: What is your petition, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled.
Esther: If I have won your favor, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me. That is my petition. And save the lives of my people. That is my request. For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed.
The King: Who is he, and where is he, who has presumed to do this?
Esther: A foe and enemy, this wicked Haman!
Haman (crying at Esther’s feet): Queen Esther! I beg for my life!
The King: What is this? Leave her alone!
Attendant: Look at Haman’s house! He has prepared gallows for Mordecai, who saved the king’s life.
The King: Hang Haman on those gallows and then bring Mordecai to me. Esther, Haman’s estate is now yours.
[Attendant and Haman exit. Attendant returns with Mordecai.]
Esther: Mordecai, you will oversee Haman’s estate for me. Oh king! (falling at his feet and weeping) Please put an end to the evil plan of Haman! If it pleases the king, let an order be written that overrules the decree from Haman that orders the destruction of the Jews. I cannot bear to see the destruction of my people!
The King: Unfortunately I can’t do that. No document written in the king’s name and sealed with his ring can be revoked…Oh! But we can write another decree! Mordecai, here is my ring. Write another decree in my name on behalf of the Jews. Send letters to every province in every language!
Mordecai: Thank you. I will write that the Jews have the right to assemble, the right to protect themselves, and the right to kill any who attack them.
The King: Great! Let’s go get you some new robes.
Many who would have attacked the Jews were now afraid of Mordecai’s power. The Jews killed those who did attack them. Thereafter, the Jews celebrated their victory with the Feast of Purim.
Use the remaining class time to have a discussion about spiritual lessons or themes that people noticed in the play. Did seeing the story acted out help them notice different aspects? Some topics you might discuss:
- How was feasting used in this story? How was fasting used in this story?
- Who showed courage? What happened to them?
- Who was prideful? What happened to them?
- Whose roles get reversed? Why? What does this tell us about justice?
- Were the king’s laws wise? (Because of Vashti’s disobedience to the king’s command, all women were constrained to be obedient. Because of Mordecai’s disobedience to the king’s command, all Jews were to be punished.) What kind of laws would be better? How should we react to foolish laws?**
- Haman offered to pay a ridiculously large sum of money to the king’s treasury so that he could kill the Jews. Is that a moral use of money? Do you see money being used in similar ways today?
- Vashti was disgraced because of her disobedience. Esther was chosen as the new queen in part because of her compliant nature, but she was ultimately disobedient to the king’s laws also. Were these women justified in their disobedience?
- In the beginning of the story, both the king and Esther were happy to say “okay” to whatever they were advised to do by others. Were those always good choices?
End by reading Esther 4:14 and encouraging class members to use their unique position to be a voice for good, even if that requires a breathtaking amount of courage.
*After I got halfway through writing this script, I learned that there is a long Jewish tradition of dramatizing the Book of Esther, and that these plays are called Purim spiels. Wikipedia tells me that Purim spiels often satirically address modern issues. 1) I’ve got a bit of holy envy here because this sounds like a great tradition for making the scriptures fun and relevant. 2) My idea to dramatize Esther was entirely inspired by the structure of the text and a desire to have a non-boring church lesson. 3) The LDS church also has a tradition of dramatizing scripture stories. (The Come Follow Me for individuals and families study guide links to three different videos about Esther. However, none of them put any emphasis on the courage of Queen Vashti, who said “No” to the king, even when the consequence was loss of worldly power.)
**This question is very relevant to current politics and has potential to be polarizing, but it could be a good introspective question. A good response to a controversial comment might be: “I have a different opinion. However, I want to keep the class focused on…”