Hanging in the stars (1.4.104-114)

BENVOLIO      This wind you talk of blows us from ourselves:

                        Supper is done, and we shall come too late.

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 despisèd 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.

BENVOLIO      Strike, drum.

                        They march about the stage. (1.4.104-114)

The others have been enchanted by Mercutio’s words, blown from themselves (‘Look how our partner’s rapt’, Banquo will say of Macbeth, following their first encounter with the witches; both enchanted and abducted, enraptured), but Benvolio as ever gets it back on track; they need to get on with their plan. But Romeo is still in that heady space of premonition and foreboding – something is about to happen. It’s almost the play’s first invocation of stars since the Prologue’s star-crossed (setting aside Capulet’s earth-treading stars in his party invitation to Paris), and it’s to the idea of the star-crossed – both fated and cursed, that Romeo refers. It’s a premonition of untimely death, rather than life-changing love, but the two are of course inextricably linked in this play. Meeting Juliet will, certainly, end this phase of despising, as well as despisèd life. (In Sonnet 29, it’s the memory of love that is the remedy for dejection and disgrace, when myself almost despising.) Romeo’s premonition is followed, however, by prayer, a surrendering of himself and his fate to God, in the classic Petrarchan image of the ship. The music starts again, the drum supplies a (nervous? racing?) heartbeat, and the next phase – of everything – is about to begin.

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