This well-known line is actually a rearrangement of the original quote from the play. It can be read in the context below. The meaning is the same, but Shakespeare phrased the line differently than it is usually used today.
‘It’s not in the stars to hold our destiny but ourselves’ is used to assert that one’s fate is not in the stars or in God’s hands. But, instead, it is within “ourselves.” Or, it is within a person’s control how their life turns out. One should not blame God or some other uncontrollable force for how their life turns out, it’s all in one’s hands what happens in their future.
This is an opinion that is contrary to what many believed during the time that the play was written and is still antithetical to some belief systems today. Some readers may find themselves disagreeing with the quote.
When this quote appears in Shakespeare’s play, the character uses it in a propagandistic fashion, encouraging the listener, Brutus, to push back against the “stars” or force that would determine his life for him.
Important Vocabulary To Know
- Destiny: the events of one’s life that are predetermined to occur. In this case, Shakespeare’s character Cassius asserts that destiny is within one’s control. Some believe that there is nothing one can do to alter one’s fate, Cassius does not.
- Fault: in the original quote, seen below, Shakespeare uses the word “fault.” It is used by Shakespeare to place blame or control on someone. In this case, he’s suggesting that “we” have control over “our” fate. Fate’s “fault” is in one’s own hands.
- Stars: the word “stars” is used in both the original and adapted quote. It can be interpreted as a reference to God as the controller of one’s destiny (or not as the quote suggests) or as a reference to a more general alignment of one’s life. To this day, it’s common to hear that one’s “destiny is in the stars” as if the stars themselves contain information about the future. In the context of the play, Caesar as a God-like figure is the controller of men’s lives.
Where Does Shakespeare Use the Quote?
William Shakespeare used this quote in the play, Julius Caesar. It can be found in Act I, Scene 2, on lines 140 and 141. It’s spoken by
Here is the quote in full, along with the surrounding lines:
Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus, and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs and peep about
To find ourselves dishonorable graves.
Men at some time are masters of their fates.
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
As noted above, the lines, which are often incorrectly quoted, can be seen in their traditional arrangement here. Cassius says: “is not in our stars / But in ourselves.”
When Cassius uses this quote, he’s thinking about the difference between normal “petty men” and Caesar, who is a “Colossus.” The normal, everyday people are walking under his legs and peeping out, hoping to catch a glimpse of his glory and the kind of life he’s living. These men, like the speaker himself, can only look forward to dying as slaves or dishonorably. It’s here that Cassius uses the phrase, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, / But in ourselves.”
He goes on, saying that it’s in their control to determine what kind of lives they want to live. If they accept that they have no control over their fate, then they’re going to die, as Cassius suggested. But, they don’t have to. He wonders in the following lines:
“Brutus” and “Caesar”—what should be in that
Why should that name be sounded more than
This is a complex way of asking why one person’s name, in this case, Julius Caesar’s, be more critical and more proclaimed than another, like Cassius or Brutus. He adds that “Brutus” is as fair a name as “Caesar.” They are just as heavy and just as nice to say as one another.
Why Does Shakespeare Use “It’s not in the stars to hold our destiny but ourselves?”
Shakespeare’s character Cassius uses the phrase to inspire the listener, in this case, Brutus, to reconsider his place in the world. He doesn’t have to die at Caesar’s feet or live within his shadow. Instead, he can take control of his destiny and create a new life for himself and others that do not place him as a slave and Caesar as a “Colossus.”
A version of this quote appears in William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. The version that’s actually in the play’s text requires slightly more interpretation than the above version that’s more popular today.
This quote means that it’s not in anyone else’s control what happens in another person’s life. It is only in one’s own control how their life turns out. There is nothing predetermined.
Cassius uses a version of this quote in Julius Caesar. He uses it as part of a monologue while talking to Brutus about their future and the role that Caesar should or shouldn’t play.
- Read: Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
- Read: Shakespeare’s 154 Sonnets
- Read: Shakespeare’s Best Plays