The Revolt of Vashti

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by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

(FROM THE DRAMA OF MIZPAH)


                                AHASUERAS

   Is this the way to greet thy loving spouse,
   But now returned from scenes of blood and strife?
   I pray thee raise thy veil and let me gaze
   Upon that beauty which hath greater power
   To conquer me than all the arts of war!

                                  VASHTI

   My beauty! Ay, my beauty! I do hold,
   In thy regard, no more an honoured place
   Than yonder marble pillar, or the gold
   And jewelled wine-cup which thy lips caress.
   Thou wouldst degrade me in the people’s sight!

                                AHASUERAS

   Degrade thee, Vashti? Rather do I seek
   To show my people who are gathered here
   How, as the consort of so fair a queen,
   I feel more pride than as the mighty king:
   For there be many rulers on the earth,
   But only one such queen. Come, raise thy veil!

                                  VASHTI

   Ay! only one such queen! A queen is one
   Who shares her husband’s greatness and his throne.
   I am no more than yonder dancing girl
   Who struts and smirks before a royal court!
   But I will loose my veil and loose my tongue!
   Now listen, sire—my master and my king;
   And let thy princes and the court give ear!
   ’Tis time all heard how Vashti feels her shame.

                                AHASUERAS

   Shame is no word to couple with thy name!
   Shame and a spotless woman may not meet,
   Even in a sentence. Choose another word.

                                  VASHTI

   Ay, shame, my lord—there is no synonym
   That can give voice to my ignoble state.
   To be a thing for eyes to gaze upon,
   Yet held an outcast from thy heart and mind;
   To hear my beauty praised but not my worth;
   To come and go at Pleasure’s beck and call,
   While barred from Wisdom’s conclaves! Think ye that
   A noble calling for a noble dame?
   Why, any concubine amongst thy train
   Could play my royal part as well as I—
   Were she as fair!

                                AHASUERAS

         Queen Vashti, art thou mad?
   I would behead another did he dare
   To so besmirch thee with comparison.

                         VASHTI (to the court)

   Gaze now your fill! Behold Queen Vashti’s eyes!
   How large they gleam beneath her inch of brow!
   How like a great white star, her splendid face
   Shines through the midnight forest of her hair!
   And see the crushed pomegranate of her mouth!
   Observe her arms, her throat, her gleaming breasts,
   Whereon the royal jewels rise and fall!—
   And note the crescent curving of her hips,
   And lovely limbs suggested ’neath her robes!
   Gaze, gaze, I say, for these have made her queen!
   She hath no mind, no heart, no dignity,
   Worth royal recognition and regard;
   But her fair body approbation meets
   And whets the sated appetite of kings!
   Now ye have seen what she was bid to show.
   The queen hath played her part and begs to go.

                                AHASUERAS

   Ay, Vashti, go and never more return!
   Not only hast thou wronged thine own true lord,
   And mocked and shamed me in the people’s eyes,
   But thou hast wronged all princes and all men
   By thy pernicious and rebellious ways.
   Queens act and subjects imitate. So let
   Queen Vashti weigh her conduct and her words,
   Or be no more called ‘queen!’

                                  VASHTI

   I was a princess ere I was a queen,
   And worthy of a better fate than this!
   There lies the crown that made me queen in name!
   Here stands the woman—wife in name alone!
   Now, no more queen—nor wife—but woman still—
   Ay, and a woman strong enough to be
   Her own avenger.

 

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