Elliot's Essays

My Reflective Glory

I’m no Shakespeare, but lecturing on him at hundreds of school assemblies has given me a deeper appreciation of the audience problem he faced. As you know, he had to please Queen Elizabeth (and later King James), as well as the other noble “cultural elitists” who attended his plays. But he also had to entertain the woefully uneducated Groundlings who stood on the ground (hence their name) directly in front of the proscenium and who, occasionally in their excitement, would even slobber on the stage (hence our noun slob). A sure sign of Shakespeare’s genius is the fact that both Elizabeth and...

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Pudding Dickens In His Proper Place

In the mid-1980’s, a British pub-restaurant was about to open here in Raleigh called “The Dickens Corner.” I had recently started my citywide reading club devoted to You-Know-Who. I had named it the rather religious-sounding “Dickens Disciples” (denomination? Charles, of course) and publicized it so heavily in the area that the owner of the new restaurant called me asking for Dickensian names for some of the items that would soon appear on his menu.     He already had concocted an Oliver Twist Olive Tapenade and a Tiny Tim Turkey Tetrazzini but confessed that his favorite Dickens character was the heroine of A...

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Shakesp-Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

Perhaps this month’s 9-11 twentieth anniversary made you also remember those other Defining Moments and recall exactly what you were doing at a time of shocking historical change. For my generation, it was President Kennedy's assassination; for my parents' generation, it was the bombing of Pearl Harbor; for my grandparents it was more the Great Crash of the stock market in 1929.  Does it seem odd that these defining moments, which we remember as personally as we do nationally, are all catastrophic—planes flying into skyscrapers, the assassination of a young president, the sudden sinking of our Pacific naval fleet? Are we ever asked to recall...

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Latin Lover

I have always had a fascination with Ancient Rome. When other boys were playing with their toy American soldiers, I had scores of tiny Roman legionnaires. G.I. Joe I found boring; G.I. Julius, however, enthralled me. And I still remember my childhood glee at “decoding” the I, V, X, L, M, and D’s on the cornerstones of downtown buildings to reveal their construction date in cool Roman numeral cipher. In fact, I just had a friend turn 50 last month so in my Roman-numeral inspired birthday card I congratulated him on going straight to “L.”  As a youngster, I loved everything...

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The Bear Facts

I have often been told by those of you who listen to my lectures in person or on recordings that you tend to remember the trivia I mention in passing at least as vividly as you do some of the major themes of my talks. I’m always happy to hear this since I admit to spending at least as much time researching and organizing the supporting trifles as I do on my most important biographical or analytic points.  I always felt that my ultimate triumph would be if I could pass on some trivia concerning the word “trivia” itself. And,...

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