The Emperor's Club

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The Emperor's Club is a 2002 film about an idealistic prep school teacher who attempts to redeem an incorrigible student.

Directed by Michael Hoffman. Written by Neil Tolkin, based on the short story The Palace Thief by Ethan Canin.
In everyone's life there's that one person who makes all the difference.

William Hundert

  • As I've gotten older, I realize I'm certain of only two things. Days that begin with rowing on a lake are better than days that do not. Second, a man's character is his fate. And as a student of history, I find this hard to refute. For most of us our stories can be written long before we die. There are exceptions among the great men of history, but they are rare, and I am not one of them. I am a teacher - simply that. I taught for 34 years. One day I stopped teaching. Those were the facts of my life's chronicle. The last chapter had been written. My book was closed.
  • According to Heraclitus, we cannot step into the same river twice. To put it another way, an opportunity lost stays lost forever. While I agree with the spirit of that saying, I have found that the world does allow for some second chances. When Elizabeth's marriage had ended and she returned from England, the waters were still as swimmingly lovely as when we first met. But if time made concessions for love, it made none for death. And when the school's beloved headmaster, Terrence Woodbridge, passed away, I found a sense of profound sorrow. Although the Sedgewick Bell affair tested our friendship, he had been, for a half a century, the academic and moral compass of our school. A role, that was now mine to fulfill.
  • The worth of a life is not determined by a single failure or a solitary success.
  • However much we stumble, it is a teacher's burden always to hope, that with learning, a boy's character might be changed. And, so, the destiny of a man.
  • Great ambition and conquest without contribution is without significance. What will your contribution be? How will history remember you?
  • I'm a teacher, Sedgewick. And I failed you - as a teacher. But I will give you one last lecture, if I may. All of us, at some point, are forced to look at ourselves in the mirror, and see who we really are. And when that day comes for you, Sedgewick, you will be confronted with a life lived without virtue, without principle. And for that I pity you. End of lesson.


  • Older Deepak Mehta: A great teacher has little external history to record. His life goes over into other lives. These men are pillars in the intimate structure of our schools. They are more essential than its stones or beams, and they will continue to be a kindling force and a revealing power in our lives.


William Hundert: Excuse me?
Louis Masoudi: Huh? What me?
William Hundert: Yes, sir. What is your name?
Louis Masoudi: Uh, Louis.
William Hundert: Just Louis?
Louis Masoudi: Louis Masoudi, sir.
William Hundert: Mr. Masoudi, could you define the word "path" for me?
Louis Masoudi: Well, there are several definitions, I suppose.
William Hundert: Would "a route along which someone or something moves" be among them?
Louis Masoudi: Yeah. Oh, yeah. No. Yeah. I'm s-sorry, sir.
William Hundert: Follow the path, Mr. Masoudi. Walk where the great men before you have walked.
Louis Masoudi: Yes, sir. It's, uh - It's better for the grass.
William Hundert: It's better for you.

William Hundert: And with the demise of the Roman Monarchy, two new forms of government vied to take power in Rome. One was?
Martin Blythe: Republic?
William Hundert: Correct. Republic, or the rule of law, was the one that ultimately succeeded the monarchy. The other was?
Robert Brewster: Tyranny?
William Hundert: In spirit, perhaps, but etymologically, no. What was it?
Deepak Mehta: Oligarchy?
William Hundert: Correct. Oligarchy, or the rule of a few. Tyranny is what we have here in this classroom, and it works.

James Ellerby: William!
William Hundert: Ellerby! How are things in the Latin Quarter?
James Ellerby: Could not be better. I wanted to give you this for recommending me for the job. [Hands Mr. Hundert a book] Now I know you probably already have one but this is a rare first edition. I found it in a marketplace in England.
Book: Ancient Rome by Douglas Hundert
[Mr. Hundert looks in dust jacket to see a picture of his father in the "About the Author" section]
William Hundert: So young when he wrote this...Well, thank you for your consideration.

Terrence Woodbridge: Our Mr. Julius Caesar is a time-honored tradition at Saint Benedict's. It is a two-part competition for our Third Form. The first is a series of quizzes that all students take, narrowing down the competitors to three finalists. The second will be held in front of the entire school whereby the three finalists will be asked a series of questions on Greek and Roman history. An incorrect answer eliminates the contestant. The last man standing will be crowned Mr. Julius Caesar. You father was a winner, was he not, Mr. Blythe?
Martin Blythe: Yes sir.
Terrence Woodbridge: Would you kindly point him out for us?
Martin Blythe: Certainly.
[Martin Blythe shows a younger picture of his father, who looks like Martin wearing a toga and an olive crown]
Terrence Woodbridge: A noble honor indeed.

[Mr. Hundert is having the class recite the play Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare ]
Sedgewick Bell [as Brutus]: Oh Marc Antony, let us be sacrificers and not butchers.
William Hundert: Let us be sacrificers, but not butchers. Your Brutus lacks conviction, Mr. Bell. You are aware of what you are saying, do you not? The fate of the Roman Republic is at stake!
Sedgewick Bell [sarcastically]: Not for me.
William Hundert: Yes, I know not for you, but try to place yourself in the time period. You, Brutus, the noblest Roman of them all, are at the center of a conspiracy to assassinate Julius Caesar! And you believe this is for the good of all Rome. But you are struggling profoundly with the moral and physical implications of what you are about to do.
Sedgewick Bell: I do not agree with their plan.
William Hundert: Brutus does not agree with their plan?
Sedgewick Bell: No, I do not agree with their plan. They should've killed Marc Antony, I mean... Brutus is a pussy.
[Class laughs at Sedgewick]
William Hundert [appalled]: A coward?! Because he has a conscience? Because he believes there is a wrong way and a right way?
Sedgewick Bell: In the end, Marc Antony ended up taking him down, right?
William Hundert: He and Octavian, yes. In a manner of speaking.
Sedgewick Bell: If he did what the other guy suggested, uh...uh...
William Hundert: ...Cassius.
Sedgewick Bell: ...yeah, that is it. If he did what Cassius recommended...Brutus might have gone on to become King!
Sedgewick gives smug look to class
William Hundert: Emperor, as a matter of fact. Which Brutus had no desire to be.
Sedgewick Bell: Whatever! He would have won!
William Hundert: Yes, but at what cost? Do you remember the lessons of Socrates?
Sedgewick Bell: Not really.
[Class again laughs at Sedgewick's flippancy]
William Hundert: It is not living that is important, but living properly. Socrates chose to die an unjust death, a death he freely accepted, rather than break the laws of Athens to which he pledged his loyalty!
Sedgewick Bell: Another genius.

[Classroom. Mr. Hundert is drawing a timeline on the blackboard. Sedgewick Bell orchestrates a prank by getting all the boys to slam their textbooks together to create a noise to startle Mr. Hundert.]
William Hundert: Mr. Bell, will you please finish my diagram for the class?
Robert Brewster: Oh ho, busted!
Sedgewick walks up to Mr. Hundert
William Hundert: Octavian was also known as Augustus and his title was ______? Sedgewick looks at the blackboard like a dog staring at its reflection in water Mr. Bell! An ordinary dung beetle traveling across the floor of this classroom would know the answer to that question!
Sedgewick Bell: Uh, Emperor?
William Hundert: Correct. Can you name any of the subsequent Roman Emperors? There were forty-one.
Sedgewick Bell: I only know seven.
William Hundert: Very well. Recite them.
Sedgewick Bell: Sleepy, Grumpy, Bashful, Doc, Happy, Sneezy...Dopey.
William Hundert: Can you, in fact, name any Emperor of Rome?
Sedgewick Bell: I know four. Let me see...
Sedgewick Bell: [faux-British accent] John, Paul, Ringo and uh, George!
William Hundert: MR. BELL! A word of warning! As the great wit Aristophanes once wrote, loosely translated; "Youth ages. Immaturity is outgrown. Ignorance can be educated and drunkenness sobered, but STUPID lasts forever."
William Hundert: Class please recite, in chronological order, the entire line of succession for the Roman Empire.
Class: [in unison] Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Galba, Otho, Vitellius, Vepasian, Titus, Domitian, Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antonius Pius, Marcus Aurelius, Lucius Verus, Commodus, Pertinax, Didius Julianus, Septimius Severus...
[Mr. Hundert raises his hand to halt recital]
William Hundert: Thank you, class, that will do. Mr. Bell, you may be seated.

Sedgewick Bell: My informants tell me there is a school full of girls over there.
Martin Blythe: Guys, this is getting out of hand. If we get caught, they will kick us out and we do not get our tuition back! I cannot get expelled, I am a legacy! My father was a Mr. Julius Caesar.
Louis Massoudi: Did he ever tell you what question he won on?
Martin Blythe: Did he ever not. What two tribes invaded Rome in 102 B.C? Answer: the Teutons and the Cimbri. That was the last sentence he spoke to me before I got to Saint Benedict's and he let me out of the car.
Martin Blythe: Saint Mary's is by invitation only. I vote we go back to our dorm now!
Sedgewich Bell: Well I vote we check out Saint Mary's. What do you two say?
Louis Massoudi: I am in!
Deepak Mehta: So am I!
Sedgewick Bell: 3-1. See, that is the trouble with democracy Martin.

[Mr. Hundert's office. He hears knocking to the tune of "Shave and a Haircut"]
William Hundert: Enter.
[Sedgewick Bell enters Mr. Hundert's office]
William Hundert: Mr. Bell.
Sedgewick Bell: Mr. Hundert.
William Hundert: Do you know why I called you in here?
Sedgewick Bell: Student of the Month?
William Hundert: Hardly.
[Mr. Hundert hands Sedgewick Bell his test]
William Hundert: I awarded you one point because you spelled your name correctly. Mr. Bell, I do not know what you think you are doing but this is unacceptable work. You must apply yourself...
Sedgewick Bell [interrupting and not paying attention]: You are not married, are you, sir?
William Hundert: Yes, I am unmarried. Now what does that have to do with anything you are talking about?
Sedgewick Bell: That is why you like making us wear dresses.
William Hundert: I have made arrangements to meet with your father. Is there anything you would like me to tell him for you?
Sedgewick Bell [shocked that Mr. Hundert would go to such an extent]: Tell him...I said hello.

William Hundert: That is why I am here Senator, I have come to see you about your son.
Senator Hiram Bell: Sedgewick? Oh Jesus, what the devil has he done now?
William Hundert: Sir, Sedgewick is not paying attention in class. Nor is he doing his reading assignments. I am sure Sedgewich is a bright boy, but..
Senator Hiram Bell [chuckling]: That is a horse that can talk! So basically what you are telling me is my son Sedgewick has got his head up his ass.
[Mr. Hundert stammers]
Senator Hiram Bell: Let me ask you something. What is the good of what you are teaching these boys?
William Hundert: The good?
Senator Hiram Bell: Yeah, the good.
William Hundert: Senator, the Greeks and the Romans established systems of popular involvement and the rule of law protecting the rights of everyone, respectively, which, I should not have to tell you, the Framers of the U.S. Constitution used as a model for the American constitutional republic. Besides that, I believe that the boys are put into direct contact with men from history such as Plato, Aristotle and Cicero. As a teacher it is my job to mold your son...
Senator Hiram Bell [interrupting and enraged]: Mold him? Mold him! Great God in Heaven you ain't going to mold Sedgewick! You are a teacher. Teach him why the world is round, teach him his times tables, teach him who killed whom in what battle and why. I sir, I will mold my son!

William Hundert: I met with your father.
Sedgewick Bell: So I have been told. He called me up and we had a real heart-to-heart.
William Hundert: I am giving you this.
Sedgewick Bell: What is it?
William Hundert: It is my textbook on classics when I was a high school student. Study Chapter 2. It has most of the material on tomorrow's quiz.
Sedgewick Bell: What for?
William Hundert: In preparation for the Mr. Julius Caesar competition. Sedgewick, I am giving you my book because I believe in you. You can be the top of your class if you wanted to be. It is up to you.

[Mr. Julius Caesar semifinals]
Mr. Hundert: This is the final quiz. It will carry much weight in determining your final standing in the rankings for the Mr. Julius Caesar final. You have three hours. Good luck.
[Time progresses. Eventually each student finishes and submits the quiz. As time runs out the only ones still working are Martin Blythe and Sedgewick Bell. Martin submits his quiz. Sedgewick is still writing.]
Mr. Hundert: Mr. Bell, I really need the quiz now. I am sorry but your time has expired.
[Sedgewick raises his index finger whilst writing hurriedly]
Mr. Hundert: Mr. Bell, time is up!
[Sedgewick frantically works. Mr. Hundert slams a book shut, "getting his revenge" for the earlier class prank. Sedgewick is startled enough to surrender his quiz]
[Foyer. Boys excitedly wait to see the three finalists. Mr. Hundert posts notice]
Louis Massoudi: Yeah, man!
Sedgewick Bell: I gotta call my dad!
Martin Blythe: Rats!

Mr. Hundert: That was quite an interesting performance.
[Sedgewick shows crib notes; tissue paper concealed inside his toga]
Sedgewick Bell: [sullen] I knew you saw. How come you did not call me out?
Mr. Hundert: It is a complicated matter.
Sedgewick Bell: Was it on account of my father?
Mr. Hundert: That had nothing to do with your father.
Sedgewick Bell: Sure, Mr. Hundert, sure.
[Mr. Hundert proceeds to his office. He is met by Mr. Ellerby]
Mr. Ellerby: William! Quite the performance! You know, I was thinking we could move the Mr. Julius Caesar competition to Alumni Weekend, instead of just any old day. That way we could have some former winners see the competition. Just some ideas which would auger well for your headmastership.
Mr. Hundert: Sedgewick Bell cheated.
Mr. Ellerby: What?! [inside office, where Hundert reveals the confrontation] Well, the pressure to succeed can be oppressive. Whether we think it was wrong or right, Woodbridge felt it in the school's best interest to give Sedgewick a pass. I mean, William, you did not put the boy on stage. He got that far on his own. And for that, you should be praised.
[Later, by himself, Mr. Hundert is looking over Sedgewick's fudged grade]
William Hundert: [as narrator] This began a long and rocky truce with Sedgewick Bell. Any trust we had in each other was snuffed out, as was any consideration by him with integrity and diligence. The subsequent years showed a series of pranks, crudeness and disrespect in general. [Scenes show Sedgewick dumping water on other students or vandalizing the Julius Caesar statue] As for the other students, his effect on them was almost hypnotic. He went through the motions in his classes, and his grades were an avalanche of C-s, Ds & Fs.
[1976. Sedgewick graduates Saint Benedict's (but barely)]
Mr. Woodbridge: Sedgewick Hiram Bell!
[Sedgewick walks across stage and shakes his rear end to an applauding audience]
William Hundert: [as narrator] Although his father's connections and status guaranteed him a place at Yale, it was in the spring of 1976 with a sense of profound sadness that I handed Sedgewick Bell his diploma.

Miss Johnston: We have debated long and hard about taking you out of your classroom.
Mr. Castle: As you know, a headmaster's job is a rigorous one. One must be prepared to do battle 24 hours a day, sometimes it can feel like more.
William Hundert: Well, after rowing the lake every day for the past seven presidential administrations, with exceptions to inclement weather of course, I feel fit enough.
[Polite chuckles]
Miss Johnston: Mr. Hundert, what we are saying is this. What kind of fundraising experience do you have?
William Hundert: What are you getting at?
Miss Johnston: This is hard fact about Saint Benedict's. Enrollment is down. In light of what has happened recently, attendance at the military academies have spiked, and families are considering schools like Saint Benedict's as too old fashioned in this day and age. We need to stop doing outmoded ideas and look to the future. So..
William Hundert: Then who? Someone from the outside?
Mr. Castle: James Ellerby. Mr. Ellerby has proposed some very exciting fundraising possibilities.
William Hundert: Miss Johnston, I've been assistant headmaster for 17 years. I fail to see how Mr. Ellerby's qualifications as a fundraiser...
Miss Johnston: It's not just about fundraising. James Ellerby is a forward-thinking man. He's reached out to the community. He's built relationships to some of the most important alumni. He's a wonderful communicator, with impeccable moral standing and an unwavering commitment to this school. So...
William Hundert: Then you leave me no choice but to tender my resignation.
Mr. Castle: I would ask you not. You are a teacher, and the finest one we've ever had.
William Hundert: Please excuse me.
Mr. Castle: Please understand, Mr. Hundert, you will be welcome back here at Saint Benedict's anytime. The door will forever be open.

William Hundert: I should have known Ellerby was conducting a cloak & dagger behind the scenes campaign for years to take the top spot. He is godfather to children of two different trustees, for crying out loud.
Elizabeth Hundert: Here is to Saint Benedict's, and your unexpected retirement. [Hunderts toast] Now that that chapter is over in our lives, any future plans?
William Hundert: I have always wanted to go into my father's line of work; to write. I have a good idea for a fictional book about the rise of the Roman Republic.
[Scenes show Mr. Hundert struggling with writer's block while Elizabeth tries to be supportive. One day Elizabeth enters his study]
Elizabeth Hundert: James Ellerby is on the phone.
[Headmaster's office. Mr. Ellerby shows Mr. Hundert a newspaper article depicting a full-grown Sedgewick Bell]
James Ellerby: The merger a few years back made him CEO of one of the foremost conglomerates in America.
William Hundert: What does that have to do with this meeting?
James Ellerby: The library is badly in need of repairs. Sedgewick Bell's company has offered to build a new multimillion dollar library, entirely paid by Sedgewick, to be named in honor of his late father. However, that is contingent on one condition: that he have a reunion of your 1972 fall class with you hosting a rematch of the Mr. Julius Caesar competition.
William Hundert: Why now?
James Ellerby: He claims he wants to regain his honor and display his knowledge after all this time. If this library is built it would be the largest donation in the history of the school.
William Hundert: And a retired classics teacher with no fundraising experience is the linchpin in all this?
James Ellerby: Amazing how the wheel turns, William.
[Scene changes to a road on Long Island. Mr. Hundert has been picked up in a limousine]
James Ellerby: [narrating] Bell Industries owns a 5-star resort on the Gold Coast. You and all your students will be put up there.


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