King Henry The Fourth: Part One "My Nearest And Dearest Enemy"

William Shakespeare

"My Nearest And Dearest Enemy"

Context: King Henry IV, beset with political problems and rebellion in the north and west of his kingdom, is also plagued by what he assumes to be the dissipation of his son and heir apparent, Prince Hal. At this point, with Worcester, Northumberland, Percy, Glendower, Mortimer, and Douglas actively moving against him, he commands his son to appear before him to face the charges of prodigality. Hal, fresh from his exploits with Falstaff at the Boar's Head Tavern in Eastcheap, is berated by his father for his failure to assume any responsibility in the face of the danger to the throne. Hal has "rudely lost" his "place in the council"; he has become "almost an alien to the hearts/ Of all the court and princes of my blood." Indeed, according to Henry, his son has developed much the same reputation as the base Richard II earlier, when "the skipping king . . . ambled up and down/ With shallow jesters and rash bavin wits." Most galling to the king, however, is the apparent indifference of the heir apparent, who seems to have no regard for the cause to which his father has devoted his very life:

. . .
. . . Percy, Northumberland,
The Archbishop's grace of York, Douglas, Mortimer,
Capitulate against us, and are up.
But wherefore do I tell these news to thee?
Why, Harry, do I tell thee of my foes,
Which art my nearest and dearest enemy?
That thou art like enough, through vassal fear,
Base inclination, and the start of spleen,
To fight against me under Percy's pay,
To dog his heels, and curtsy at his frowns,
To show how much thou art degenerate.