In the play "Romeo and Juliet," what does Romeo mean when he says "Then I defy you stars?"

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favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Before Romeo and his friends depart for the Capulets' party, Mercutio and Benvolio do their best to get him to go.  Romeo resists for a long time but finally gives in, saying,

My mind misgives
Some consequence yet hanging in the stars
Shall bitterly begin his fearful date
With this night's revels, and expire the term
Of a despised life closed in my breast
By some vile forfeit of untimely death. (1.4.107-112)

In other words, Romeo seems to have a premonition that the party that night will initiate a series of events that will end with his own early death. It's not a pleasant thought.  However, he still feels somewhat compelled to go by whoever "hath the steerage of [his] course" (1.4.113).  Thus, Romeo has a sense—even before he ever meets Juliet, let alone falls in love with her—that the party will begin the events that lead to his death, like a line of dominoes that cannot help falling down once the first one has been toppled.

Thus, when Balthasar tells Romeo that Juliet is dead, Romeo cries, "Is it e'en so? Then I defy you, stars!" He can hardly believe it, and his first instinct is to curse fate. I imagine him sort of shaking his fist at the sky. It's not that he is somehow going to move against fate, because he is about to go and enact what he imagined just a few nights ago.  Instead, the expression indicates his anger with fate and his curse of it.

jennifer-taubenheim eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The quote, “Then I defy you, stars,” was made after Romeo learned that Juliet was dead. By stars, he meant fate. There are multiple references to fate throughout the play. Earlier, Romeo and Juliet are referred to as “star-crossed lovers” and it is foreshadowed that they will take their own lives. After Romeo kills Tybalt in a fight he never wanted to have, he cries out, “O, I am fortune’s fool!” The quote about defying the stars is the third such obvious reference. In addition, there are numerous examples of fate standing between the lovers in Act 5 scene i-ii. There was no real reason that the friars plan should not have worked, and yet a series of missed opportunities causes the end that we know. With this quote, Romeo is declaring himself in opposition to destiny, although his resulting actions actually bring it about. Romeo commits suicide, prompting Juliet to do the same, which fulfills the tragic destiny of the star-crossed lovers.

ladyvols1 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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

In Act V scene I Romeo has just found out that Juliet is dead. He is beside himself with grief and he curses "I defy you, stars," which means he denies fate.  He denies fate's hold on him and he then plans to kill himself. He goes to buy poison and goes to Juliet's tomb. Later in Act V scene III Romeo again refers to the stars when he talks about the "inauspicious stars," referring again to fate, or as in this case, unlucky stars.  This is of course the beginning of the end for the "star crossed lovers."

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Romeo and Juliet

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