William Shakespeare died on this very day in 1616, 505 years ago – and because his baptism record states 26 April, many have assumed that 23 April could have been the day he was born, too. And this suits those with a patriotic bent as well, because it’s also St George’s Day.
It’s no secret that I’m a massive Shakespeare fan. I dreaded the prospect of reading it at school, because it seemed to me as confusing as a foreign language – but as soon as my fabulous third form English teacher, Mrs Medway, allocated the parts in class for Twelfth Night and we started to read it aloud, I adored it. I realised immediately that an almost miraculous translation happens in the performance of Shakespeare: the words thatappear to make little sense on the page can come alive when spoken, and be charged with the meaning and passion he intended for them…perhaps not so much in the hands of a class of 14 year olds, but you just have to watch a moment or two of Mark Rylance, Judi Dench or Kenneth Branagh in full Shakespearean flow, and you get all the beauty, the emotion and the tragedy that Shakespeare can put into just a few words.
So that’s why William Shakespeare is Number 1 on my Fantasy Dinner Party guest list. I’d love to find out how one person was able to write about the breadth and depth of human experience that he did, and the emotions, and dilemmas, and the joy and despair. I’d love to know what he’d make of how little this human condition of ours has changed, and how much the world we live in has done – it’s barely-recognisable for a man who lived in Elizabethan England.
Number 2 on the list is Jane Austen. From another era, but equally gifted in capturing characters and human frailties that you can still encounter every day, I would love her to know what an impact she’s had on the world; how beloved her writing is; and how she’s inspired millions of women (and men) to write.
Mother and Daughter
Numbers 3 and 4 come as a pair – Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth I. Mother and daughter, both were educated, bright and brilliant women in a man’s world, who figured out how to use the male fixation on virginity and purity to their great advantage – although it ended rather better for daughter than for mother. I would love to see them together as adults, as much as anything else – and to see what they thought of how far women’s rights and status has moved on in the world since they left it.
As a student and lifelong lover of the classics, I need someone from the ancient world to attend as well. Julius Caesar? Interesting, probably, but a bit of a big-head I reckon – same for most of the Latin writers around the dawn of the Common Era. Ovid? No. A great writer, but a shocking ladies’ man, and given the other guests, I think I’d probably have to ask him to leave. Boudica? I get the feeling she was pretty angry most of the time…so I think I’ll go with Livia Drusilla. She was Caesar’s daughter-in-law, and the first Empress of Rome – elevated to the status of confidante and advisor to her husband, the Emperor, which was quite remarkable for the time.
And finally – and it is a great finale – my last guest would be National Treasure and Honorary Father of all Things Clever and Learned, Mr Stephen Fry. I believe his interest in these guests would be as keen as mine, and he would have so many brilliant questions to ask them – as well as being a source of great entertainment, anecdote and genius himself.
If there is a heaven, and I get to it one day, I hope that this is the dinner table waiting for me! Who’s coming to your Fantasy Dinner Party?