What if you invited Elizabeth I and Martin Luther King Jr. to dinner, and they didn’t get along? I was thinking about this after one of those ‘who would you invite to dinner if you could have anyone you wanted?’ things. My first instinct for those is always to invite my favourite movie stars – but what if they just talked to each other and laughed at in-jokes all night? No fun. And have you seen the great Late Night with Seth Meyers clip where Jon Snow from Game of Thrones is a very awkward dinner guest? (if you haven’t it’s hilarious: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BabsgCQhpu4) Even fictional characters can’t guarantee you a good time.
I started thinking about how I could make this work. I decided to have two dinners (after all, my imagination-my rules right?). Dinner one – historical heroes. Dinner two – fiction favourites. Ten people on each list. Each person has to be someone I’d want to have a conversation with, and the goal is to arrange a dinner party where everyone would have fun and get along, but also stand out as someone unique with something different to offer. Easy, right?
I’m going to start in this blog with my Guest list for Historical Heroes
[Disclaimer – I’m a historian and this was tricky; there are too many people I want to talk to]
This is what i came up with:
Martin Luther King Jr. I know he’s probably a shoo-in for most people’s lists, but I find him fascinating and inspiring and his Letter from a Birmingham Jail was highly formative in shaping my sense of what justice looks like. I think he’d make an interesting guest.
Cleopatra. The language might be a bit difficult – I might have to brush up on my 5th form Latin. Royalty, conflict with Rome, romance and politics – she has a lot to offer on the conversation front.
Wiremu Tamihana Tarapipihi Te Waharoa. Maori king-maker and military strategist from the 1860s in New Zealand. He’d possibly have some similar ideas to MLK but also, as a chief and kingmaker, be able to contribute to discussions with royalty.
Sophie Scholl. Member of the White Rose resistance group that used nonviolence to protest against Hitler. She was executed for treason at the age of 22.
Shakespeare. Pretty self explanatory. We need a bit of wit and entertainment at this dinner party (I can’t keep it up all night by myself, after all).
Queen Elizabeth I. Royalty knows how to converse with most people so I think she’d be fine. She also had a large curiosity about the world and its peoples so I think she’d enjoy the evening. And, according to that movie, weren’t she and Shakespeare mates?
Florence Nightingale. I played her mad sister in a school play and teach about her in history lessons. She was a woman of great determination and conviction. She was unafraid to go against the expected norms of society – this seems to be a common thread for most of the guests at this party – a little Revel of Rebels.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Purely selfish choice. His music tugs at my soul and releases joy and sorrow in equal measure. He also, according to ‘Amadeus’, knows how to have a good time (might have to keep an eye on his wine glass).
Dorothea Dix. Journalist and prison and lunatic asylum reformer of the 19th Century. She’s always seemed committed and a risk-taker, an early social justice warrior. Would be interesting to hear to what extent she agrees with others of her century.
I wondered about William Wallace? Another who stood for freedom. Might get a bit frosty with an English Queen. Hmmm. No. Maybe swap him out for…
Alexander the Great. Yes! Had a few peacemakers and resistance leaders, might be fun to mix things up with an empire builder.
I wanted to go for Richard III because I’m a Ricardian and the idea of talking to an unjustly tarred medieval king appeals, but then things might get a bit awkward and political with other guests (ahem – Tudor alert). Putting him on my back up list in case someone doesn’t RSVP.
Okay I’m pretty excited for this dinner party!
What about an ice-breaker? Probably need one with such an eclectic bunch.
We played a game on our school trip with a ball of yarn – it was about making connections. You started by holding the ball and saying something about yourself, eg “I am Clementine and I play piano”. When someone else says they play piano (e.g. Mozart at this party – eep, no pressure Clem..) then you hold on to a piece of the yarn and throw the ball to them. They say a different thing about themselves and toss the ball of yarn to the person who shares that in common with them, keeping hold of the string at the same time. You end up with a mass of connections. It’s a great game for a group to play because you get to know a lot of the small things about each other.
Here’s how I reckon it could work in this instance:
I’m the host so I begin. I take a breath to summon courage and say I play piano – Mozart waves his hand. He says he had a complicated relationship with his father – Elizabeth sighs and puts up her hand. She says she ruled over an expanding empire – Alexander punches the air. He boasts he was a great military strategist – Wiremu Tamihana raises his hand. He says he fought against the oppression of the white man – Martin Luther King nods and puts up his hand. He says he believes in standing up to injustice no matter the cost – Sophie Scholl’s chin goes up and she holds up her hand. She says she used the written word to challenge the social order – Dorothea Dix puts up her hand. She says she was an army nurse – Florence keeps her arm by her side but raises her hand. Holding the ball of yarn, she looks at Shakespeare and Cleopatra. Hmm. She could say that she was English – that could connect with Shakespeare, but she’d like to connect to the Egyptian Queen. She smiles. She says – I was a woman pushing the bounds of what my society wanted, and was scorned and then admired by men for my actions. Cleopatra puts her hand up. She looks at Shakespeare. He is the last one to make a connection to. She tilts her head, smiles, and says – you wrote about me. He catches the yarn, and bows.
Who would you invite to a dinner of Historical Heroes? I’m looking forward to making my guest list for Fictional Favourites – any recommendations?