On the holiday of Purim, which falls today, there is a longstanding tradition of performing a shpil, or humorous play, based on the story of the book of Esther—in which the heroic title character and her cousin Mordecai thwart the wicked Haman’s scheme to slaughter all the Jews of Persia. Curt Leviant has translated into English a mid-to-late-19th-century Purim shpil from northern Italy, itself an Italian translation of an earlier version in Yiddish. The entire play is in verse, a fact that the author emphasizes repeatedly. Thus, the king of Persia:
You heard my name is Ahasuerus.
Pronounce it, please, as Ah-ha-swear-us.
I declare it all the time:
my name impossible to rhyme.
Chorus: One cannot rhyme a name so long,
Not in poem, shpil, or song.
As Leviant notes, an unusually important role is given to Haman’s wife, Zeresh, who gives the following oration after her husband’s plan has been foiled:
You’re a bunch of anti-goyim,
Jew-bilating on your Purim.
Anti-goyness is a crime
of which you’re guilty all the time.
Don’t like the way I’m being treated.
Once this so-called shpil’s completed
I’ll get even, count on me
and members of my family.
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