I, Claudius: Season 1, Episode 10

Hail Who? (15 Nov. 1976)

TV Episode  -   -  Drama | History
8.2
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Caligula has not only made his horse a senator but has turned the palace into a brothel, selling off senators and their wives for sex. Although scared of him - and getting thrown into a ... See full summary »

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Title: Hail Who? (15 Nov 1976)

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Cast

Episode cast overview, first billed only:
...
...
Jo Rowbottom ...
Sheila White ...
Sam Dastor ...
Norman Eshley ...
Marcus Vinicius
Freda Dowie ...
Anne Dyson ...
Lockwood West ...
Senator
Bruce Purchase ...
Sabinus
James Fagan ...
Asprenas
...
Sergeant
...
Sally Bazely ...
Robert Bateman ...
Singer
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Storyline

Caligula has not only made his horse a senator but has turned the palace into a brothel, selling off senators and their wives for sex. Although scared of him - and getting thrown into a river for his pains - Claudius is seemingly the only person who can put any sort of brake on the mad emperor, intervening to save mens' lives on at least two occasions, the second when Caligula fails in his attempt to defeat Neptune and push back the waves, blaming his generals for his failure. Although Claudius has been living in peace with ex-prostitute Calpurnia Caligula thinks it would be fun to mismatch him with the beautiful but wanton Messalina and has them marry each other. Finally, sickened by his excesses the Praetorian guard under Cassius Chaerea kills Caligula. A sergeant finds Claudius cowering under a table and, in the absence of any other claimants, he is declared the emperor of Rome. Written by don @ minifie-1

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Drama | History

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15 November 1976 (UK)  »

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[first lines]
[Claudius receives a letter with a small box]
Claudius: It's from Herod.
Calpurnia: What does he say?
Claudius: Oh, it's written from J-Jerusalem.
Calpurnia: Read it to me; his letters are so amusing.
Claudius: [reading] "My dear old friend, what is all this I hear about your living in three rooms in the p-poor quarter of town? Is it serious?"
[Calpurnia laughs]
Claudius: "Why did you not write to me? Is it that absurd p-pride of yours? Well, I shall attend to that shortly. Meanwhile, knowing how loath you are to accept m-money, and being the ...
[...]
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Hail Clau-Clau-Claudius
30 September 2012 | by (Cieszyn, Poland) – See all my reviews

"Caligula never missed a chance of making profits: setting aside a suite of Palace rooms, he decorated them worthily, opened a brothel, stocked it with married women and boys, and then sent his pages around the squares and public places, inviting all men, of whatever age, to come and enjoy themselves" (Suetonius)

After "Zeus by Jove," which was an interesting yet shocking combination of 'lunatic' by' demon,' we get a slightly different episode which, on purpose, begins with Claudius, his girlfriend - a Roman prostitute, Calpurnia (Jo Rowbotton) and...loaded dice, a gift from Herod Agrippa. Caligula is, of course, the emperor of Rome, at the center of attention, the one closest to the historical accounts. When we practically compare the duration of his short reign (A.D. 37-41) to other Roman emperors who ruled for more than 20 years, it seems that one episode about Caligula would suffice. But when we analyze "Hail Who?" it is not hard to realize that this is THE episode that will give a far more accurate glimpse of this mad emperor than any previous one.

The title, "Hail Who?" which occurs to be quite ambiguous and even provocative with its question form, draws our attention to the pinnacle of emotional burst, the contrast of surprise and mockery and the climax of the whole storyline. This episode, though depicts the reign of the same lunatic, does not dwell in the cruelty and disgusting final scene of "Zeus by Jove" but rather addresses the more historical facts. John Hurt portrays a madman to be pitied, particularly in his position of power. Here we see debauched Caligula organizing a brothel in the imperial palace, here we see laughable Caligula leading a campaign in Germany that ends with victory over...Neptune and the sea shells' trophies, here we see raging Caligula filled with vanity in the Senate; here we see mocking Caligula whose watchwords to Cassius Chaerea (Sam Dastor) range from "Give us a kiss" to "Bottoms up," here, we see the ruler who makes fun of his reign and makes a horse a senator (Incitatus

  • a historical fact mentioned also by Guccione in his half-porn


production); here we see disguised Caligula in drag performing the most bizarre dance of the whole series. The reactions of the people find some realization at the end in the same manner as it often happens in history. Soon, within the darkness of tyranny, such a day comes when the dice are thrown and the watchword is: 'Liberty"...

One of the key aspects of the episode is not so much the focus on the insanity of the ruler but the reactions of the people around him. Claudius' and his 'political correctness' (I may allow myself for this modern term in this context on purpose) is contrasted with Marcus Vinicius (Norman Eshley) and his 'political incorrectness.' To survive tyranny is not to reveal the slightest bit of your awareness, your intellect. Here, let me quote Derek Jacobi who says about the character of Claudius: "He is clever enough to use his disabilities rather than they use him and through that use, he manages to survive." That never hits to the point more clearly than here. The dialogs between Claudius and Caligula do not, actually, constitute historical bases but rather build up the one more aspect of why the hero, Claudius, will really be able to survive all storms. His 'prayer' softens the heart of a 'god' and his clever answers of disguised feelings save his life in the most alluring, dangerous moments. Beware most when the tyrant asks you to tell the truth...and Claudius knows that... At least he is still here...and gets the most of it... The funniest moment of the episode surely appears to be Claudius filthy of mud rhyming Homer. The theatrical touch of this scene and the satire on the ruler's mechanisms get sharper. There is also room for debauchery, particularly in the scene of the imperial brothel...but there is one scene that needs a special mention:

Caligula's dance as a drag queen. This scene constitutes one of the basic undertones of why Rome actually fell. It first fell from the inside, morally. In a beautifully ambiguous performance, John Hurt excellently highlights his character's pitiful motives, his exhibitionism and bi-sexual nature: we are not disgusted by him like in the finale of the previous episode but we rather see him as a creature absolutely incapable of ruling. The dance ends with unrestrained, fake applause of the three men who watched the dance relieved that calling for them in the middle of the night had nothing to do with execution. Claudius is among these men and, after the performance, he is rewarded for his efforts by the emperor (if it is any kind of reward)...yes, a beautiful young girl is introduced to him - this girl is his wife to come...at last we see her. Her name is...disaster...no...the greatest Roman whore...Valeria Messalina (Sheila White). Yes, it is a very famous name for everyone, even those having the least knowledge of the 1st century Roman Empire. Much anticipation! Truly bad omen! (oh! How much there is for the old Claudius to regret this decision).

The final scene of the episode is, surely, one of the most memorable moments thoroughly...yes, Caligula is assassinated and Hail Who? ... Hail Clau-Clau-Claudius found hiding behind a curtain! Long live the emperor! Smile! If you've acted a fool for all these years...now act an emperor! The drama and ambiguity of this single scene (a historic one for the story) reveals the power of irony and spectacle that greatly influence human life and history in general. Here, the series reaches its climactic contrast of history, here, the drama finds its clown. Yet, isn't life a constant stage?


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