Carefully documented in the megilla, the Purim story has a twisted plot and complex characters. Here’s a summary of the main players and what they did:
The king of Persia and its vast empire, which ranged from Ethiopia across to India and held its capital in Shushan. He was dangerous in the sense that he had no true beliefs but was instead an easily-influenced populist who told people what they wanted to hear. For example, he signed an order authorizing Haman’s Jewish genocide, and then another allowing Jews to defend themselves. Selfish and easily swayed, his chief concern was maintaining his power and aggregating and displaying his wealth.
The queen of Persia, and Achashverosh’s first wife. Renowned for her beauty, Vashti was by right the true ruler of the Persian empire, but was prohibited from ruling by her power-hungry husband. She refused to appear naked before Achashverosh and his colleagues at a drunken party and was subsequently exiled/killed.
A sycophant adviser to Achashverosh who suggested banishing Vashti when she refused to appear before the king’s court. Some Midrashic sources believe that this is another name for Haman. His spiteful suggestion triggered the king’s search for a new queen, ultimately bringing Esther to power.
Bigtan and Teresh
Members of the royal court who plotted to kill the king. Their scheming was overheard by Mordechai who reported the incident, effectively saving the king’s life.
The Hitler of his time, Achashverosh’s viceroy and the story’s villain. Haman turned a personal prejudice into a racial vendetta, and used his power with the king to secure a decree allowing the mass murder of Jews on a day randomly chosen by lots (pur in Aramaic, hence the holiday’s name Purim). Having been ordered to venerate Mordechai as the king’s way of thanking him for saving his life, he built a gallows to hang his Jewish nemesis from.
An elder of the Jewish community, and Esther’s uncle. He refused to bow to Haman, earning him the powerful man’s hatred and catalyzing his heinous, murderous plans. He also made a habit of sitting at the palace gates; this paid off when he overheard a plot to take the king’s life – his actions were recorded in the royal chronicles, later leading him into Achashverosh’s clothing and onto his horse. He planned the Jews’ rebellion and guided Esther into her role as savior, and was eventually rewarded by Achashverosh and became his Prime Minister.
Married King Achashverosh and used her position to fight the decree that the Jews were to die, and was instrumental in Haman’s downfall. Beautiful Queen Esther is the Purim story’s heroine – though some argue that she is falsely publicized as one of the Bible’s feminist icons (as at no point did she act on her own intuition or intellect: she was ordered into marriage and commanded by her uncle to risk her life by approaching the kind and acting on behalf of the Jews).
Haman’s wife, a horrible woman who nourished the evil in her husband. She conceived the plot to build a special gallows for Mordechai. Zeresh met her end when she poured a bucket of excrement out of a window over a person she believed to be Mordechai – when it was actually her husband.
A little-known character with a great love of irony. When Esther revealed the truth of Haman’s murderous plot to Achashverosh, the king stormed out to the palace gardens to get some air. When he returned, he saw the accused manhandling the queen while begging for his life. Upon seeing this, the king pronounced his death sentence. Charvona, a courtier, suggested that Haman meet his end on the gallows he built for Mordechai.