I, Claudius (TV series)

1976 TV miniseries

I, Claudius is a 1976 BBC Television version of Robert Graves's I, Claudius and Claudius the God. Adapted by Jack Pulman, it stars Derek Jacobi, Siân Phillips, George Baker, Brian Blessed, Patrick Stewart, and John Hurt.

Isn't what a man says more important than how long he takes to say it? … As for being half-witted: well, what can I say, except that I have survived to middle age with half my wits, while thousands have died with all of theirs intact. Evidently, quality of wits is more important than quantity.



A Touch of Murder

Claudius: I, Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus... this, that and the other, who was once, and not so long ago, better known to my friends and relatives as Claudius the Idiot, or That Fool Claudius, or Claudius the Stammerer, am now about to write the strange history of my life.

Aristarchus: What a voice. Perhaps we should change places? Only the Romans can afford ushers with a voice like that. Did you have it trained?
Thallus I was an actor, sir.
Aristarchus: That explains it. Resting, are you?
Thallus No, sir. I've given it up... Everyone's an actor in Rome. There isn't enough work.
Aristarchus: And what there is goes to friends... It's the same everywhere.
Thallus The theatre isn't what it was.
Aristarchus: No. And I'll tell you something else. It never was what it was.

Claudius: If Augustus ruled the world, Livia ruled Augustus.

Augustus: Wonderful. Wonderful. What a gift you Greeks have. Incidentally, the battle wasn't like that.
Aristarchus: No?
Augustus: No, not at all. But you described it poetically. I understand that. It was poetic licence. I'm used to that. I write a little poetry myself.

Tiberius: Mother, I'm a happily married man. Julia doesn't interest me. She wouldn't interest me if you hung her naked from the ceiling above my bed.
Livia: She might even do that if I asked her!
Tiberius: Aren't you forgetting something? She's still married to Marcellus, and Marcellus is not dead yet.
Livia: When I start to forget things, you may light my funeral pyre and put me on it, dead or alive.

Livia: Better to call him now when you don't need him that when you do.

Marcus Agrippa: I'm getting a little tired of being taught the arts of war by kids that have only just learned how to piss in a pot.

Augustus: Wait till you see what Marcellus has in store for us. He's got a rhinoceros.
Livia: What on earth is that?
Augustus: A remarkable creature. It has a horn on its nose.
Livia: So has Scipio's wife. He should have used her.

Tiberius: Anyway, where does all this get us? There's not only Marcellus, there's Agrippa too. And Augustus prefers both of them to me.
Julia: [screams off stage] No! No!
Tiberius: Ye gods, what's that?
Livia: It sounds as though there is now only Agrippa.

Claudius: They're trying to get rid of me. Yes, they're poisoning me, I know it. Must get it all down, quickly, before they finish me off. Haven't much time...

Family Affairs

Antonia: It's not fair to accuse Livia of things without any proof.
Julia: Why shouldn't I? She accuses me of all kinds of things without proof.
Antonia: Make sure she doesn't get any, then.

Tiberius: [about Livia] They say a snake bit her once... and died.

Drusus: A man should keep himself clean, not have slaves do it.
Tiberius: And how's he supposed to scrape his own back?
Drusus: He gets his brother to do it.
Tiberius: If he hasn't got a brother?
Drusus: He gets his son.
Tiberius: If he hasn't got a son?
Drusus: Gets his friend.
Tiberius: And if he hasn't got a friend?
Drusus: Then he should go and hang himself.
Tiberius: I've tried it. Better to have a slave scrape your back.

[To young Gaius and Lucius, playing a board game.]
Drusus: I wouldn't take Britain if I were you. There's nothing of value there and the people make very poor slaves.

Augustus: The Senate today have voted to make me a god in Palmyra. They'll put a little statue to me in the temple, and people will bring offerings to me, asking me to bring rain or cure their father's gout. Tell me, Livia: if I'm a god, even in Palmyra, how do I cure gout?!

Drusus: [Dying words] Rome has a severe mother, and Gaius and Lucius a cruel stepmother.

Tiberius: Let me go, you fat drunken cow!
Julia: Fat? Fat? If I'm fat, I'm fat where a woman should be fat, not skinny like a boy!

Waiting in the Wings

Thrasyllus: [about Lucius Agrippa] And your other stepson has been given command of the armies in Spain.
Tiberius: Lucius? He couldn't fight his way out of a harem!

Augustus: (furious) Is there anyone in Rome who has not slept with my daughter?!

Julia [to Livia]: This is your doing, isn't it? Oh Livia, you really think that it'll convince my father to let Tiberius? [laughs] You are so transparent. I'm the only one who can see you for what you really are... Well, remember this, Livia, I have three sons and they all come before Tiberius. And when they came to age, you won't be wanted any more. So when my father dies, take my advice: climb on the funeral pyre with him!

Livia: [about Claudius] That child should have been exposed at birth.

Livia: It's a hard thing to see a child banished, especially when you know the banishment is unjust. Yes, you must let my son come home. Can't you see what has been clear to me for so long, that it was Julia's wickedness that drove him away?
Augustus: I'll never bring him back. Never. He drove her to it. She would never have gone down that road if it wasn't for his wickedness. He can stay there and rot!

What Shall We Do About Claudius?

Augustus: Quintillius Varus, where are my eagles?

[Herod and Augustus are watching a gladiatorial contest.]
Augustus: Herod, what about a little bet? I'll take the fat one for twenty gold pieces.
Herod: Caesar, it would be against my religion to bet on the life of a man.
Augustus: Oh, really? I would have thought it against your religion to bet on anything.
Herod: Caesar, it's true: Jews love gambling. But we fear our god more.
Augustus: Which one?
Herod: We have only one, Caesar.
Augustus: I've never understood that, it's quite insufficient. Why don't you take some of our gods? You know, plenty of people do.
Herod: Believe me, Caesar, the one we have is hard enough to live with.

Livia: [to the gladiators] I want a good show. I want my money's worth! I don't want any kiss-in-the-ring stuff, and I don't want my family watching two grown men pussyfooting around each other for half an hour before one of them aims a real blow. There's been too much of that in the past. And don't think you can fool me either, because I know every trick in the book, including the pig's blood in the bladder to make it look as if one of you is dead. There's been too much of that too lately. These games are being degraded by the increasing use of professional tricks to stay alive! And I won't have it! So put on a good show, and there'll be plenty of money for the living and a decent burial for the dead. And if not, I'll break this guild up and I'll send the lot of you to the mines in Numidia.

Postumus: [to Augustus] Oh, grandfather, open your eyes, throw off the blinkers. For years everyone around you has either died or disappeared. Do you think it was all an accident? My father Agrippa, and before him Marcellus, my brothers Gaius and Lucius, my mother Julia - and now me.

Poison is Queen

Tiberius: [to Livia, concerning Claudius] That grandson of yours could wreck the empire just by strolling through it.

Tiberius: [about Augustus] Well don't bother on my account, for Gods know I've done my best. He's never liked me, never. Thirty years I've run his errands for him; I've fought on his bloody frontiers, collected his taxes. He never once put his hand on my arm and said "Thank you, what would I have done without you?" Now he sends me off to Illyricum and he doesn't even plan a farewell dinner; not even a goodbye, just "Get on your horse and ride." Well, damn him! I retired before once and I can do it again! Let his precious grandson run his empire for him. I'm sick to death of it.

Livia: [to Augustus pruning a plant] If you prune any more of that there'll be nothing left.
Augustus: What are you now, an expert on gardening? Is that something else you've become lately?
Livia: I'm only telling you. The gardners all complained you spoiled them last year.
Augustus: And whose garden is this?
Livia: You're not the only one who uses it!
Augustus: How long have we been married?
Livia: Don't you remember?
Augustus: Fifty years, and in all that time you've never been able to tell one plant from another. And now, suddenly, you know all there is to know about pruning. Wonderful!
Livia: I think your brain's going soft, you know that? Nobody can talk to you any more.
Augustus: Anyone can talk to me at any time, except you. You don't talk to people. You bully them.
Livia: This conversation is becoming ridiculous.
Augustus: Wrong, this conversation was ridiculous from the start.

Livia: [to Claudius, concerning the Senate] They won't allow me in because I am a woman, and they won't allow you in because you're a fool. That's strange when you come to think of it: because it's filled with nothing but old women and fools.

Claudius: [To Livia's empty chair] Poison is queen! Poison is queen!

Some Justice

Sejanus: [about Germanicus] Well, if he's profoundly loved he's also profoundly dead. There's nothing wrong with loving the dead. Everybody's loved when he's dead.
Livia: I wouldn't count on that if I were you.

Sejanus: [about Germanicus' friends' charge of murder] They have no proof.
Livia: No, but I dare say they could tell a pretty tale.
Sejanus: A pretty tale isn't proof.
Livia: That's a different song than the one you've been singing for the last five years. You've buried more people with your pretty tales than anyone I know.

Tiberius: Has it ever occurred to you, mother, that it's you they hate and not me?
Livia: There is nothing in this world that occurs to you that does not occur to me first. That is the affliction I live with.

Tiberius: [to Livia] I tell you what I'm going to do. It's your letter: you stick to it. And if it's read in the House, I'll deny all knowledge of it and excuse you on the grounds of mental incompetence brought on by extreme old age!

Plancina: But how will I convince my husband to commit suicide?
Livia: Think of something. Appeal to his sense of honour; men find that irresistible.

Antonia: That child is a monster!
Caligula: I'm not, you horrid old German woman! I'll burn your German house down!

Queen of Heaven

One who is going to die soon will become the greatest god the world has ever known. No temples will be dedicated to anyone but him in the whole Roman world, not even to Augustus.
Claudius: [about Livia] We haven't even spoken for seven years. Did you know the last time she spoke to me was when Caligula burned the house down? Even then, all she said was, "If you haven't got a bucket, piss on it."

Herod: [to Claudius] Your family are all lunatics. You know that, don't you?
Claudius: Well if you feel that way about them then why don't you go back and live with your own family in Judea?
Herod: Because I prefer the lunatics I know to the ones I don't!

Claudius: [to Castor] How's my sister? I gave a reading of my book while you were away. I invited her but she never came.
Herod: Well, that's because Livilla's tastes were never literary.
Claudius: You never came either!
Herod: Ah, but that's because mine always were.
Claudius: [realizing the jest] Herod, you're talented, but dull.

Livia: [about her horoscope] It's a present from Tiberius. Isn't that nice of him? Of course, what he really wanted to know is how much longer I'm going to live.

Claudius: Why do you allow Caligula such familiarity?
Livia: Because it pleases him. And because he will be the next emperor of Rome. You don't believe me?
Claudius: If you say so, grandmother. You know I don't concern myself with higher politics. Still, what about Castor? And Caligula has two older brothers.
Livia: Castor is ill and Thrasyllus says he won't recover. He also says Tiberius will choose Caligula to succeed him.
Claudius: Why?
Livia: Vanity. Tiberius wants to be loved, at least after his death if not before. And the best way to ensure that-
Claudius: Is to have someone worse to follow him, naturally. He's certainly no fool.
Livia: He's the biggest fool in my family. I had always thought that that was you... but I think now I was wrong.

Livia: I want to be a goddess, Claudius...

Caligula: I hear you're dying, great-grandmother.
Livia: You won't forget your promise, will you?
Caligula: To make you a goddess? And what makes you think that a filthy, smelly old woman like you could become a goddess? Let me tell you something: Thrasyllus has made another prophecy. He told Tiberius. He said, "One who is going to die soon will become the greatest god the world has ever known. No temples will be dedicated to anyone but him in the whole Roman world, not even to Augustus." Do you know who that one is? Me. Me. I shall become the greatest god of all. And I shall look down on you suffering all the torments of hell and I shall say, "Leave her there. Leave her there forever and ever and ever." [kisses her on the lips] Goodbye, great-grandmother.

Reign of Terror

Tiberius: My dear - you look like a Greek tragedy.
Agrippina: And you look like a Roman farce.
Tiberius: That tongue of yours has cost you dear and will cost you dearer.
Agrippina: You pitiful worm-eaten old ruin, it's not my tongue that's cost me dear, but the love that people have for me and my family.

Sejanus: I've no need of a trial to prove your guilt.
Gallus: A song sung by every small town corrupt policeman, which is what you are and what you should have stayed. I've watched your career with fascination, Sejanus, it's been a revelation to me. I've never fully realized how a small mind, allied to limitless ambition and without scruple, could destroy an entire country full of clever men.

Claudius: [after being asked by Antonia to hide a letter for Tiberius inside his history of Carthage] Well, I suppose I could, but I don't want to give him this copy. It's got elephants drawn all over it.
Antonia: You are the biggest fool any mother was ever punished with. Who cares about your stupid history of Carthage? Nobody's going to read it anyway, and certainly not Tiberius. The only way you'd get him to read it is if you drew naked women all over it, and then he'd only look at the pictures!

Tiberius: [about Macro] Do you know him personally?
Caligula: No, but I've slept with his wife several times.
Tiberius: And is deception with the wife regarded these days as a sound introduction to the husband?!

Tiberius: I shall make you my successor, Gaius Caligula! I’ve decided. You shall stay here with me. Rome deserves you. I will nurse you like a viper in her bosom.
Caligula: Is that a joke, uncle?
Tiberius: Not yet, but it will be.

[Planning the deaths of Sejanus and his followers with Caligula]
Tiberius: You and I will draw up a list during dinner. A long list. The city will be purged! As surely as if she had gorged herself on figs for a year! I will open Rome's bowels! The streets will run like a sewer!

Guard: I can't do it. I can't just kill them: they're underage.
Macro: They're on the list. Now get on with it.
Guard: The girl is a virgin. It's unprecedented to kill a virgin. It will bring bad luck to the city.
Macro: Then make sure she's not a virgin when you kill her. Now get on with it!

[Antonia is sitting outside Livilla's locked door]
Livilla: [screaming and pounding from the inside] Mother! Let me out! Let me out!
Claudius: For Heaven's sake, let her out! How long are you going to leave her in here?
Antonia: Until she dies.
Claudius: Dies? Dies?! Have you gone mad?! She's your daughter! How can you leave her to die?!
Antonia: That's her punishment.
Claudius: How can you bear to sit out here and listen to her?!
Antonia: And that's mine. Leave me, Claudius. I shall not move from here until they open the door and find her dead. Leave me.
Claudius: No... No...! [leaves, sobbing]

[On hearing the fate of Sejanus's children]
Claudius: [sobbing] Rome, you are finished! Finished! You are despicable.

Zeus, by Jove!

Caligula: [to Claudius] Go in peace. I was thinking about killing you, but I've changed my mind.

Lentulus: Gentlemen, posterity will envy us!
Herod: (under his breath) Posterity will call you an ass, you idiot.

Claudius: What's the matter with us, Herod? These are the children of my noble brother Germanicus. How could it happen?
Herod: Well, you know what they say about the tree of the Claudians: it bears two kinds of fruit: the sweet and the bad.
Claudius: Well, they've certainly had a terrifying crop this season.

[Antonia has decided to kill herself]
Claudius: [in tears] Don't do it, please...!
Antonia: My mind is made up. I don't want to stay here anymore. I was born into a world of people. It's become a kennel of mad dogs. I've seen my splendid son Germanicus murdered, and my grandsons, Drusus, Nero, Gemellus. My granddaughters are degenerate beyond redemption, and your sister Livilla died by my own hand. That was the worst. I should have died then myself.
Claudius: Wait a while! Caligula's sick in his mind. Sooner or later...
Antonia: No, Rome is sick, sick to its heart. He's just the rash it's come out in.

Hail Who?

Sometimes I think that I'm going mad. Do you - be honest with me - has that thought ever crossed your mind?
You set the standard of sanity for the whole world.
Caligula: Do you think I'm mad?
Claudius: Mad?
Caligula: Yes. Sometimes I think that I'm going mad. Do you — be honest with me — has that thought ever crossed your mind?
Claudius: Never. Never. The idea is preposterous. You set the standard of sanity for the whole world.

Caesonia: Claudius, we must help him — the emperor.
Claudius: He's your husband: you help him.
Caesonia: Claudius, he's sick. He needs good people around him.
Claudius: He's killed them all!

Caligula: Your emperor is amongst you once again. All his wars successfully concluded, and the victorious armies brought back to Rome. He had thought, in his divine innocence, that the roads might be lined with cheering crowds. He had thought the streets might be strewn with flowers. He had thought there might be messengers to greet him telling him of triumphs to be awarded. And what did he find, this conqueror of the Germans, this victor over the mighty Neptune? The streets empty of crowds and flowers, no triumphs awarded, no games, no celebrations... [furious] but three miserable old ex-consuls waiting at the gates to greet him, and a room full of cowardly stay-at-home senators who spent all their time in the theatre and at the baths, while he has spent six months living no better than a private soldier! Yes, your emperor has returned... [draws his sword and raises it threateningly] ... but with this in his hand!
Senator: [hesitant] But Jove, you ordered no triumphs.
Caligula: Well, of course I ordered no triumphs! Do you think I'd order triumphs for myself?!
Senator: But you ordered us not to order any.
Caligula: Yes, and you took me at my word, didn't you? Typical! It didn't occur to you that I might be leaving it up to you for your love to show itself freely? It didn't occur to you that it might be my natural humility speaking? "I ordered you not to celebrate." But you ordered celebrations for the anniversary of Actium, didn't you? Didn't forget to celebrate the defeat of my great-grandfather Mark Antony! How many bottles of wine did you open, toasting his murder while I was doing battle with the sea? [to Praetorians] Show them our booty! Show them the plunder we gathered from old Neptune!
[They open chests and pour out a pile of seashells]
Senator: Seashells?
Caligula: Yes, spoils of the sea. Loot from old Neptune. [laughs] He won't take me on again in a hurry!
[the senators gather and talk amongst themselves]
Senator: Jove, while you were away, we built a new temple to you on Palatine Hill.
Caligula: That won't save you! Down on you knees, all of you! Bend your heads! I shall sever each one at the neck!
[He raises his sword to behead the senators. Claudius and Caesonia stops him.]
Claudius: Merciful god! Would you spoil the great day of your return with the spilling of blood? When they come to write the history of this memorable day, should they have to mix it with the murder of these fools?
Caesonia: [cautiously] Claudius is right, my lord, my husband. Think of your little daughter. One day, when she is older, she will read the account of your return. Must these fools intrude on such a glorious page in history?
[Caligula relents, takes Caesonia in his arms]
Caligula: Your soft words have appeased my wrath. As we know, prayer has softened the hearts of gods. [to the senators] You may go. I shall inspect the temple in the morning.

Marcus: To tell the truth, lord, nature calls. It must have been something I ate last night...
Caligula: Don't look at me. If I decide to doctor your food, you won't have to wait until morning to find out!

Caligula: [to an unruly crowd] If you only had one neck, I'd hack it through!

Cassius Chaerea [before killing Caligula]: The watchword, butcher, is liberty.

Fool's Luck

Senators, I shall do nothing unconstitutional. I shall appear at the next session of the senate, where you may confirm me in my position or not as you wish.
Senator: You are not fit to be Emperor.
Claudius: I agree. But nor was my nephew.
Senator: So what difference is there between you?
Claudius: He would not have agreed. And by now your head would be on that floor for saying so.

Claudius: Senators, it is true that I am hard of hearing, but you will find it is not for want of listening. As for speaking, again, it's true I have an impediment. But isn't what a man says more important than how long he takes to say it? It's true again I have little experience of government. But, then, have you more? I at least have lived with the imperial family who has ruled this empire ever since you so spinelessly handed it over to us. I've observed it working more closely than any of you. Is your experience better than that? As for being half-witted: well, what can I say, except that I have survived to middle age with half my wits, while thousands have died with all of theirs intact. Evidently, quality of wits is more important than quantity. Senators, I shall do nothing unconstitutional. I shall appear at the next session of the senate, where you may confirm me in my position or not as you wish. But if it pleases you not to, explain your reasons to them [points to the Praetorians], not to me.

Herod [to Claudius]: Trust no one, my friend, no one. Not your most grateful freedman. Not your most intimate friend. Not your dearest child. Not the wife of your bosom. Trust no one.

[After Silanus tries to murder Claudius]
Claudius: Why, Silanus? Why?
Silanus: Tyrant!
Claudius: Tyrant? I don't understand. What harm have I ever done you? I brought you back from Spain, I made you a minister, I connected you by marriage with my family.
Silanus: Yes! To put me in bed with your wife and service her like a bull!
Claudius: [outraged] What do you mean? What do you mean?!
Silanus: You're all the same! Don't toy with me, Caesar, I'm not a slave. Do what you have to do.
Claudius: I ask you again: what do you mean?
Silanus: You know what I mean! How predictable you Emperors are! All your reigns begin and end the same. From vices timidly concealed to vices openly displayed. One follows the other as surely as decay follows death.
Claudius: [to Praetorians] Fetch the Lady Messalina, and fetch her mother!
Silanus: Oh, get it over with Caesar! We've seen this play before, don't make us sit through it till the end.
Claudius: You will explain that calumny on my wife and on her mother. And if you do not or will not to my satisfaction, you will surely die for this attempt on my life!

A God in Colchester

Mnester: Permit me to introduce myself. My name is Mnester, I'm an actor. Most people have heard of me.
Scylla: My name is Scylla, and I'm a whore. Everybody's heard of me.

Mnester [reciting a poem]
The golden hair that Gala wears is hers.
Who would have thought it?
She swears it's hers, and true she swears:
For I know where she bought it!

Mnester [reciting a poem]
You ask me how my farm can pay,
Since little it will bear.
It pays me thus: 'tis far away,
And you are never there.

Scylla: The difference between you and me, actor, is you're a snob and I'm not. And the difference between this great lady and myself is that my work is her hobby. My hobby happens to be gardening, for which I don't expect to be paid.

Quintus Justus: What am I to do?
Pallas: What can a dead man do? Go and get buried.

Old King Log

By dulling the blade of tyranny, I reconciled Rome to the monarchy.
Claudius: By dulling the blade of tyranny, I reconciled Rome to the monarchy.

Claudius: Let all the poisons that lurk in the mud hatch out.

Claudius: But what is said about us in our lives is not always what history says. And doubtless history will have its say, as it always does. And about that, I have done something. Oh, not something that need concern you, but something.

Nero: What a pretty thing a fire is!

Narcissus: Unable to poison Claudius' food, Agripinilla must have poisoned hers. It was in a dish of mushrooms, which he loved and out of which she had been eating. He had finished his own and had called for more, which he often did. Then she offered him hers, out of her own dish. At first I thought nothing of it. When you're used to seeing someone eat out of a dish it doesn't occur to you that it may contain something different in just one part. And then, she lifted the mushroom onto her fork and held it out for him to take. I knew then there was something different about it. And I knew too, as certainly as I knew that, that he knew. He knew it was poisoned, that his end was near, and he didn't care. He welcomed it.

Claudius: Britannicus... what will happen to him?
The Sibyl: Nero will kill him.
Claudius: And Narcissus?
The Sybil: Agrippinilla will kill him. Then Nero will kill her.
Claudius: It all sounds depressingly familiar.

The Sibyl: Farewell, Tiberius Claudius, God of the Britons, one-time Emperor of the Roman world. Farewell.


Actor Character
Derek Jacobi Claudius
Sian Phillips Livia
George Baker Tiberius
John Hurt Caligula
Brian Blessed Augustus
Patrick Stewart Sejanus
Margaret Tyzack Antonia
Patricia Quinn Livilla
John Paul Marcus Agrippa
Sheila White Messalina
Christopher Biggins Nero
Ian Ogilvy Drusus
David Robb Germanicus
John Castle Postumus
Fiona Walker Agrippina
Frances White Julia
James Faulkner Herod
Kevin McNally Castor
John Rhys-Davies Macro
Christopher Guard Marcellus
Stratford Johns Piso
Bernard Hepton Pallas
John Cater Narcissus
Barbara Young Agrippinilla
Beth Morris Drusilla
Actor Character
Simon MacCorkindale Lucius
Sheila Ruskin Vipsania
Angela Morant Octavia
Graham Seed Britannicus
Jo Rowbottom Calpurnia
Sam Dastor Cassius
Kevin Stoney Thrasyllus
Freda Dowie Caesonia & Sibyl
Irene Hamilton Plancina
Darien Angadi Plautius
Peter Bowles Caractacus
Norman Eshley Marcus
John Bennett Xenophon
Patsy Byrne Martina
Douglas Melbourne Gemellus
Karin Foley Helen
Earl Rhodes Gaius
Richard Hunter Drusus Caesar
Russell Lewis Young Lucius
Robert Morgan Young Caligula
Cheryl Johnson Claudia Octavia
Isabel Dean Lollia Paulina
Liane Aukin Aelia
Moira Redmond Domitia
Bernard Hill Gratus

About I, Claudius

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