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.

This passage reflects the themes of fate and free will that are intertwined across the play while foreshadowing the future tragedy that will unfold. As Romeo states, he cannot banish the sensation that, should he attend the Capulets' party, he will set himself upon a path towards ill fortune. Despite those misgivings, he chooses to attend the party nonetheless.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Romeo’s speech in this passage provides foreshadowing of the deaths to come. Speaking to his cousin Benvolio and their friend Mercutio, Romeo counters Benvolio’s claim that they will be late. The three youths are on their way to crash the Capulets’ masked ball.

Romeo, however, is not really...

See
This Answer Now

Start your subscription to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your Subscription

Romeo’s speech in this passage provides foreshadowing of the deaths to come. Speaking to his cousin Benvolio and their friend Mercutio, Romeo counters Benvolio’s claim that they will be late. The three youths are on their way to crash the Capulets’ masked ball.

Romeo, however, is not really in a festive mood. Responding to Mercutio’s fanciful speech, which mentions dreams, Romeo tells his companions that he had a troubling dream. It generated misgivings about some unknown future event. He fears that someone, perhaps himself, will die. As he cannot verify the possible victim, in the last two lines, he hopes that God will protect him.

Romeo is rather fatalistic about this possible occurrence. He says that the outcome is “yet hanging in the stars.” While he refers to fate, the use of “stars” here resonates with the celestial motif that runs through the play. For example, later he compares Juliet to the rising sun. Here he is worrying that the party or “revels” will be the catalyst for whatever horrible event he anticipates.

Romeo mentions “time” as both a finite quality, or the “term” of a person’s life, and the inappropriate end of that life, through “untimely death.” Not only would this event come too soon, he worries, but would happen in a horrible way, or “some vile forfeit.” Romeo presents a paradox, as he tells them he is currently miserable—living a “despised life”—but also is in no hurry for this life to end. Breaking out of his gloom, he expresses his hope that God will steer or guide him. He uses the metaphor of a sailing ship that God will keep on course.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In act 1, scene 4, Romeo, Benvolio, and Mercutio are heading towards the Capulet party. In the course of their conversation, Romeo voices discontent about a dream he had, and this passage relates to Romeo's discontent.

Remember, destiny is one of the critical themes in Romeo and Juliet, one which is established as early as its prologue, when the chorus refers to Romeo and Juliet as "star-cross'd," and Romeo's concerns here further establishes this theme. As Romeo states, he cannot banish the feeling that his decision to attend the Capulet party has set him on the path towards an ominous future and that fate is working against him. In this respect, his words here foreshadow later developments in the play, and the sequence of events that culminates in the suicides of the play's two protagonists, Romeo and Juliet themselves. Of course, Romeo does not know all this, yet he feels a powerful anxiety nevertheless, an anxiety that proves entirely justified by the tragedy that follows.

Yet despite his anxiety concerning this path he would set upon, as the last two lines express, Romeo is determined to walk it all the same. In this respect, you might see the degree to which free will and destiny are intertwined within the play, even as they remain in tension with one another. Romeo has the chance to turn back, heeding his misgivings. He chooses not to, and the ill fate he perceived eventually unfolds.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

On the way to Capulet's party in Act I, Scene 4, Romeo tells Mercutio that he has had a dream, but before he can speak about it, Mercutio launches into his monologue about Queen Mab. Only at the end of the scene, in an aside, does Romeo reveal his thoughts. An aside is a dramatic device where a character tells his thoughts only to the audience. Other characters are still on stage, but they do not hear what is said. It is usually only a brief comment, as opposed to a monologue or soliloquy which is longer.

In these lines Romeo foreshadows the events to come, especially his own death at a very young age. He recognizes that by going to Capulet's party fate may intervene to change his life. Fate is described as: "Some consequence yet hanging in the stars." He fears this "consequence" will end in his death. Nevertheless he goes on. Fate is personified in the following lines:

But he that hath the steerage of my course
Direct my sail. On, lusty gentlemen.
Romeo, of course, is right. He meets Juliet at the party propelling the plot toward the ultimate tragedy of the two young lovers.
Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The quote beneath the question is Romeo's last speech in Act I scene 4, before he leaves with Benvolio, Mercutio and other friends to attend the Capulet's ball. Romeo is saying this in response to Benvolio's urgings that they all hurry up in case they arrive too late. What is key to realise in this speech is that even at this early stage in the play, before he has even met Juliet, Romeo begins to show some kind of awareness of the forces of destiny and he senses that some event will happen that night at the ball that will result in "vile forfeit of untimely death." Note the following reference he makes:

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...

The "stars" were considered to be very important in Shakespeare's day in terms of mapping out your future and being linked to one's destiny. Romeo clearly senses that his doom is linked to the ball that he is about to go to in one way or another.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Another quote from Romeo and Juliet worth mentioning is:

"O serpent heart hid with a flowering face!
Did ever dragon keep so fair a cave?
Beautiful tyrant! Fiend angelical!
Dove-feathered raven, wolvish-ravening lamb!
Despisèd substance of divinest show,
Just opposite to what thou justly seem’st.
A damnèd saint, an honorable villain!
O nature, what hadst thou to do in hell
When thou didst bower the spirit of a fiend
In moral paradise of such sweet flesh?
Was ever book containing such vile matter
So fairly bound? Oh, that deceit should dwell
In such a gorgeous palace!"

This is Juliet speaking about Romeo, after he has killed her cousin, Tybalt. The imagery in this extract is animalistic and violent as she refers to Romeo as a 'serpent' and a 'wolf'. But she is metaphorical and paradoxical in her language as she says that he is a 'dragon' who 'keep[s] so fair a cave'. Basically, she thought he was wonderful and handsome but now Romeo has killed her cousin, she is angry and confused. She thinks, how can someone who appears so good (aesthetically and in his actions) do something so terrible. This quotation is representative of Juliet's naivity as well as the fact that she is torn throughout the play in her decisions. She loves Romeo but wants to please her family. She can't do both and has to go one way or the other. The contrasts in this quote represent the decisions she has to make as she supposedly grows from a child to a woman.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on