In the play Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, what is meant by the phrase "then I defy you stars"?

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This quote is actually set up in the Prologue, when the Chorus tells the audience that this play will focus on "A pair of star-crossed lovers" (Prologue, 6). Describing the lovers as "star-crossed" is another way of saying that an inescapable fate brings them together and, therefore, brings them to their tragic ends.

In act 5, scene 1, the readers hear this "star-crossed" idea come up again in Romeo's line,

Is it e’en so? Then I defy you, stars!

Romeo has learned of Juliet's "death" just before this line, and he believes himself to be defying destiny as he quickly decides to join his beloved in death:

Well, Juliet, I will lie with thee tonight.
Let’s see for means. O mischief, thou art swift
To enter in the thoughts of desperate men!

The dramatic irony is that, in making this choice, Romeo runs straight toward the destiny which the Chorus predicts in the Prologue—his own death—which then also prompts Juliet to kill herself as well.

Romeo's actual defiance of the "stars" would have been...

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