You Know What They Say
"My father taught me many things here -- he taught me in this room. He taught me -- keep your friends close but your enemies closer.
: Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer
Alice knows that if she ever turned her back on Bob, he might stab her in the back
. Surely, Bob is too dangerous to keep around... but, on the other hand, so long as Alice keeps an eye on Bob, she'll always know what he's doing. So, what better way for Alice to keep an eye on Bob than to keep Bob around Alice?
Often times, Alice keeps Bob close by appointing him to a position of power, such as her personal adviser. Alternatively, Alice might associate herself with Bob's friends, or in rare occasions, might even try to form a relationship with Bob himself
. Anything that can work to keep Bob under check at all times.
This trope does not necessarily apply only to villains or traitors, but also to any character who could become a dangerous loose cannon if left unmonitored, such as a Blood Knight
. It is safer to keep these characters around you, so you always are aware of their actions and motivations, than to risk letting them slip under the radar. In the case of the aforementioned Blood Knight, it is safer to keep the Blood Knight in your army than it is to discharge him and not know where he is or whom his next target might be.
This trope is risky to pull off, since it can backfire and Bob will have a much easier time stabbing Alice in the back than he would have if she stayed far away from him.
Anime and Manga
- Bleach. Captain Shinji Hirako of the 5th Division distrusted Sosuke Aizen and made Aizen his lieutenant so he could keep an eye on him. This massively backfired as Aizen used his position to perform evil experiments and eventually turn Hirako and a number of other high level Soul Reapers into hollows.
- In Death Note, L's primary tactic at one point is to actually keep Light handcuffed to him so he can't act as Kira.
- Michael Corleone of The Godfather Part II is the Trope Namer, who learned this trope as a lesson from Vito and practices it with Roth and Don Altobello.
- In Blade 2, Blade knew that Scud was a traitor the whole time, but kept him around for this reason.
- In The Chronicles of Magravandias, Valraven, the emperor's most valued general, is married to Princess Varencienne for this purpose.
- Robert Heinlein's The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. When the conspiracy learns the names of all of the Lunar Authority's spies, Wyoming Knott wants them to be killed but Professor Bernardo de la Paz has other plans.
Professor de la Paz: The thing to do with a spy is to let him breathe, encyst him with loyal comrades, and feed him harmless information to please his employers. These creatures will be taken into our organization. Don't be shocked; they will be in very special cells. "Cages" is a better word. But it would be the greatest waste to eliminate them - not only would each spy be replaced with someone new but also killing these traitors would tell the Warden that we have penetrated his secrets.
- Leonard of Quirm in the Discworld books, the Disc's equivalent of Leonardo da Vinci. He's not a villain as such, just unconsciously very dangerous: an amiable old man who is brilliant and naive enough to invent all sorts of misusable devices (implied at one point to include nuclear bombs, which he thinks could be useful in civil engineering "when the mountains get in the way.") Lord Vetinari has him locked in a cell in the palace with a supply of art materials to keep him occupied.
- In Babylon 5, G'Kar alludes to this trope and then says that humans probably stole it from the Narn.
- In CSI: NY, Detective Mac Taylor alludes to this trope:
Detective Mac Taylor: You know what they say: keep your friends close and your enemies closer - and if that doesn't work, kill 'em.
- As quoted by Jack Donaghy on 30 Rock:
Jack: The Italians have a saying, Lemon: "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer." And although they've never won a war or mass-produced a decent car, in this area they are correct.
- In Dino Attack RPG, Sgt. Ronald E. Army is a Blood Knight who spent years thinking that he was a general. Rather than discharging Army, the president allows Army to maintain his rank for this reason, since it was safer to keep Army in the military than to let him become a loose cannon.
- In LEGO Knights' Kingdom, King Mathias knows that Vladek is a dangerous, brooding, scheming fellow who would usurp the throne if given the chance. So, he appoints Vladek to the position of his personal adviser so he can always keep an eye on Vladek and make sure he's not up to no good. Unfortunately, this backfires, since Vladek doesn't remain content being the king's adviser.
- Discussed and defied in Penny and Aggie when Meg, after humiliating Penny in front of a boy she likes, invites her and her friends to a Slumber Party. Penny accepts, explaining afterward to her friends that Meg is practicing this trope, but that she plans to use it against Meg. At the party, Penny takes embarassing candid photos of her and shares them with her classmates, thereby ending Meg's reign as queen bee.
- This is Roy's reason for keeping Belkar as a member of The Order of the Stick. Roy doesn't trust any prison enough to keep Belkar from breaking out and going on a rampage, whereas so long as Belkar is working for the Order, the other members can keep him in check and direct his sociopathic tendencies towards evils that are more dangerous than him.