Themes and Motifs in Romeo and Juliet:

Romeo's Pilot Metaphors


At Capulet's door, after Mercutio's Queen Mab speech has gone on and on, Benvolio says that if they don't go into Capulet's soon, they will be too late. To this, Romeo replies:

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.   (1.4.104-113)
This is a foreshadowing of what actually happens in the rest of the play. A fateful chain of events ("consequence") does begin its appointed time ("date") that night, and that chain of events does terminate the duration ("expire the term") of Romeo's life with premature ("untimely") death. But, despite his premonitions, Romeo does go into Capulet's house. We might assume that Romeo's pilot ("He, that hath the steerage of my course") is God, but Romeo seems more melodramatic than religious. Previously, Benvolio urged him to kill his love for Rosaline by going to Capulet's party, where he would see ladies far more beautiful. Romeo agreed to go only to affirm that Rosaline was the most beautiful of all. So perhaps now Romeo is thinking that his pilot is Cupid, who will just kill him with the sight of the supremely beautiful and unattainable Rosaline. [Scene Summary]


In the first balcony scene, when Juliet asks "By whose direction found'st thou out this place?" (2.2.79), Romeo answers, "By love, who first did prompt me to inquire; / He lent me counsel and I lent him eyes" (2.2.81). Love was his pilot. It was love who made him ask himself where Juliet might be and who told him that he should find her; in return for love's good advice, Romeo gave love (who is blind) eyes to find her. Romeo goes on to say, "I am no pilot; yet, wert thou as far / As that vast shore wash'd with the farthest sea, / I would adventure for such merchandise" (2.2.82-84). [Scene Summary]


Laying himself down beside Juliet, Romeo bids farewell to his life as he embraces her and death. He says, "Arms, take your last embrace! and, lips, O you / The doors of breath, seal with a righteous kiss / A dateless [eternal] bargain to engrossing [all-consuming] death!" (5.3.115). Holding up the cup of poison, Romeo speaks to it, saying "Come, bitter conduct, come, unsavoury guide! / Thou desperate pilot, now at once run on / The dashing rocks thy sea-sick weary bark!" (5.3.116-118). In this metaphor, the "pilot" is the poison and Romeo's life is the ship ("bark") which the pilot will run upon the rocks to be dashed to pieces. [Scene Summary]