All the life story accounts that the dinner guests experienced acts as a way of externalizing Marlene’s thoughts and anxieties over her own choices that she has made in her life and the choices that she could have made instead. Eg .was it the right choice to give up her child for being successful.
- Isabella Bird
- Pope Joan
- Lady Nijo
- Dull Gret
- Patient Griselda
- Mrs. Kidd
Pope Joan is one of Marlene's dinner party guests in act 1, scene 1, and the fourth to arrive. Pope Joan is somewhat aloof, making relevant, intellectual declarations throughout the conversation. When the topic turns to religion, she cannot help but point out heresies—herself included—though she does not attempt to convert the others to her religion. Joan reveals some of her life. She began dressing as a boy at age twelve so she could continue to study; she lived the rest of her life as a man, though she had male lovers. Joan was eventually elected pope. She became pregnant by her chamberlain lover and delivered her baby during a papal procession. For this, Joan was stoned to death. At the end of the scene, Joan recites a passage in Latin. Like all the dinner guests, Joan's life and attitude reflect something about Marlene; in particular how she had to give up her female body in order to 'succeed' in her time.
The subject of the painting "Dulle Griet" by Pieter Breughel, in which a woman wearing an apron and armed with tools of male aggression – armor, helmet, and sword – leads a mob of peasant women into Hell, fighting the devils and filling her basket with gold cups. In the play she eats crudely and steals bottles and plates when no one is looking, putting these in her large apron. Throughout most of the dinner scene, Dull Gret has little to say, making crude remarks such as "Bastard" and "Big cock". Her rare speech is coarse, reductive and amusing while her relative silence adds an element of suspense up to the point where she recounts the tale of her invasion.
Lady Nijo is a thirteenth-century Japanese concubine who enters the play near the beginning of act one and proceeds to tell her tale. As the most materialistic of the women, she is influenced more by the period of time before she became a wandering nun than by the time she spends as a holy woman. It may be suggested that it is her social conditioning that Churchill is condemning, not her character, as she is brought up in such a way that she cannot even recognize her own prostitution. She is instructed by her father to sleep with the old emperor of Japan and reflects on it positively; she feels honored to have been chosen to do so when discussing it with Marlene in Act 1. In relation to Marlene, this may suggest that Marlene, like Lady Nijo, has not questioned the role given to her by society and merely played the part despite the consequences; as she does whatever it takes to be successful in an individualistic business environment.
Patient Griselda is one of Marlene's dinner guests in act one. She is the last to show up to the party, so Marlene and the other characters in the scene order without her. Historically, Griselda first came into prominence when Chaucer adapted her (from earlier texts by Boccaccio) for a story in The Canterbury Tales called "The Clerk's Tale." In Chaucer's tale, and also in Top Girls, Griselda is chosen to be the wife of the Marquis, even though she is only a poor peasant girl. The one condition that he gives her is that she must promise to always obey him. After they have been married for several years, Griselda gives birth to a baby girl. When the baby turns six weeks old the Marquis tells Griselda that she has to give it up, so she does. Four years later Griselda gives birth to a son. She has to also give this child up after two years because it angers the other members of the court. Twelve years after she gave up her last child, the Marquis tells her to go home, which she obeys. The Marquis then comes to Griselda's father's house and instructs her to start preparing his palace for his wedding. Upon her arrival, she sees a young girl and boy and it is revealed that these are her children. All of this suffering was a trial to test her obedience to the Marquis. When she recounts her tale at dinner with the other women it appears in an accurate but slightly shortened form. At dinner with Marlene, Griselda says that she understands her husband's need for complete obedience, but it would have been nicer if he had not done what he did. She spends much of her time defending her husband's actions against Lady Nijo's accusations concerning his character.
Isabella Bird is the first dinner guest to arrive at Marlene's celebration. In real life as discussed throughout the first act of the play, Isabella is a world traveler. What the play does not mention is that she wrote several books, including An English Woman In America, A Lady's Life In The Rocky Mountains, and Among the Tibetans. Her adventures take her to all corners of the world. At dinner, Isabella tells everyone that she was first instructed to travel by a doctor who thought it would improve her poor health. Following this advice, she took her first trip, a sea voyage to America as a 23-year-old woman. As mentioned in the play, she lived with her mother and her younger sister for a long time, Henrietta Bird, who she often talks about with great affection throughout the dinner party. She also mentions Jim Nugent at the party, a one-eyed mountain man who was her guide in the Rocky Mountains. Outside of the play, Jim was in love with Isabella but she never paid attention to his advances. In real life, she once wrote in a letter to her sister "He is a man any woman might love, but no sane woman would marry." Jim would later be found murdered. Isabella is an interesting character at the dinner party in the play because she seems to have the most in common with Marlene. Isabella, like Marlene, did not marry young because of her career, but later married Dr. John Bishop, who died two days before their 5th anniversary. She refers to him as "my dear husband the doctor" but, despite her love for her husband, is still disappointed with marriage itself ("I did wish marriage had seemed more of a step"). Isabella gets the last words in act 1 and continues to discuss her final travels to Morocco.