Context: Struck by a fit of apoplexy, King Henry IV is placed on a bed by his courtiers, who have little hope he can survive. Beside him they place the crown, symbol of his kingship. Prince Hal, who has led a riotous life, but who will prove to be one of England's great kings, comes to the sickroom. Dismissing the courtiers, he sits to watch by his father's side. Thinking the old king has died, Hal falls to meditating on the burdens which have come to him. He reaches for the crown, places it upon his head, and, vowing nothing shall keep him from his rightful heritage, steps into another room, to weep. His father, rousing and missing the crown, recalls the young prince to him. Prince Hal defends his action, but the king speaks bitterly of his son and his early, riotous life. He accuses the prince of foolishly stealing what shall be rightfully his within a few hours; and he complains that Hal has never loved him: "Thy life did manifest thou loved'st me not,/ And thou wilt have me die assur'd of it." The dying king continues his complaints, believing that he is leaving England in the hands of a son who will be the ruin of the kingdom. He fears that once he is dead, Hal will dismiss the good officials and repeal all the good decrees. It will be a question when Hal is crowned, laments the king, of elevating vanity and destroying the royal dignity. He fears that England will become "a wilderness again." He prophesies that from every kingdom the worst men will flock to England and his son's court:
HENRYAnd to the English court assemble now,From every region, apes of idleness!Now, neighbour confines, purge you of your scum.Have you a ruffian that will swear, drink, dance,Revel the night, rob, murder, and commitThe oldest sins the newest kinds of ways?Be happy, he will trouble you no more.England shall double gild his treble guilt,England shall give him office, honour, might;For the fifth Harry from curbed license plucksThe muzzle of restraint, and the wild dogShall flesh his tooth on every innocent.O my poor kingdom, sick with civil blows!