Explain the following passage from act 1, scene 4 of Romeo and Juliet.

Romeo: I fear, too early: for 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.

But He, that hath the steerage of my course,

Direct my sail! On, lusty gentlemen.

Expert Answers

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Romeo and his friends are on their way to the party at the Capulet's house. His friends have just said that they are going to be late.

There is a word for word translation of this on enotes: http://www.enotes.com/romeo-text/act-i-scene-iv

The gist of the passage is that Romeo says he is afraid that they will arrive too soon because he is afraid that going to the party will lead to dire consequences. He says he fears that the events of the evening will start a chain of events that will eventually cost him his life (an untimely death). This is the "consequence" that is "yet hanging in the stars."

What he says suggests that he has a choice to go in or not. It also suggests that he feels that if he does go in, and if fate has its way, he will die before his time.

The first part of this passage is all about what Romeo is afraid will happen if he goes to the party. In the last two lines, he has decided to go on despite his misgivings.

He uses the metaphor of a ship, and says he hopes that "fate" or God (He) will direct his course. So he ignores his intuition and gives up control over his actions by surrendering to that "fate" or God or whatever is in control of his life.

(Much in the reading of this line depends on whether the capitalization of "he" is an editorial decision, or one evident in the original folios). In my Arden Shakespeare, the word is in the lower case. This implies that he is giving his control over his life over to fate, and not to God. This is important because surrendering to fate and to God are two very different things. If he is surrendering to some unknown pilot, not God, then he is saying that he has no power to control his destiny, and he is giving up his free will. He is saying that he does not want to have the power to control the direction of his life.

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