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Shakuntala: Act 2 Summary & Analysis

Vidusaka, the King’s overweight companion, complains about what a pain it is traveling with Dusyanta on his hunting trips—and now the King was awake all night meditating on Shakuntala. As the King enters, he’s still wondering if he dares hope that Shakuntala is attracted to him, or if he’s misread her modest signs. When Vidusaka complains that he’s been crippled by the hunt, the King remarks that thinking of Shakuntala is enough to make even him sick of the chase.
Vidusaka, the King’s brahmin friend and a figure of comic relief in the play, reveals that the King continues to obsess over his newfound love. He only has Shakuntala’s physical signs to go on and longs to know her feelings for sure, but again, confusion and hidden feelings cloud what would otherwise be a happy union. Even his favorite pursuits aren’t appealing to him anymore, which foreshadows how his love for Shakuntala will come to interfere with his official duties as the play goes on.
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When the King’s general comes seeking orders, the King tells him that his enthusiasm for the hunt has dampened, and the general is to make sure his party doesn’t disturb the ascetics’ grove in any way. Then Dusyanta turns to Vidusaka for advice. He describes Shakuntala and their interactions the day before, Vidusaka teasing him that he’s “turned the penance-grove into a pleasure-garden.” Dusyanta says that he’ll need a new excuse in order to visit the ashram again today.
The King’s whole object has changed since the day before; he only cares about his proximity to Shakuntala, and resolving the question of whether his feelings are requited. Interestingly, this fixation on Shakuntala actually makes him complete his duties more thoroughly in this instance; does a better job protecting the ascetics’ grove because of his love for her.
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Just then, two seers are ushered in with a message from Kanva. They explain that in Kanva’s absence, evil spirits are disrupting the ascetics’ rituals, so Dusyanta has been asked to stay and protect the ashram for a few nights. Dusyanta eagerly agrees.
Just when the King needs it most, the perfect opening is made, giving him good reason to linger at the ashram. Since the sage isn’t there, it falls within the King’s duties to defend against evil spirits. This occasion brings another form of pretense into the story; the King will stay at the ashram, but he won’t reveal his real reason for being excited to do so.
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Karabhaka, the royal messenger, then comes in with another message. He explains that the King has been requested by his mother, the queen, to attend the upcoming ritual fast to safeguard his succession. The King wonders how “to weigh [his] duty to the ascetics against the request of a revered parent.” Finally he dispatches Vidusaka to take the King’s place in the ritual. Before he leaves, however, Dusyanta, fearing Vidusaka will gossip, pretends that his feelings for Shakuntala aren’t serious.
Though the King must weigh his duty to the ascetics against his duty to his mother, in a larger sense he’s also weighing kingly duty against desire, since nearness to Shakuntala is the bigger motivation for his lingering at the ashram.
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