An assistant of Kanva says that King Dusyanta is so powerful, he had only to enter the ashram in order to quell the disruptive demons. He then speaks to Priyamvada, offstage, who reports that Shakuntala has been stricken with heatstroke. The King, meanwhile, is depressed that there’s no longer anything keeping him at the ashram. He decides that gazing on Shakuntala is the only thing that will revive him. Indeed, when he peers through some branches and sees her resting on a rock, his “eyes are in paradise.”
The King quickly achieves his goal of defeating the evil spirits who threatened the ashram—to his regret. But the sight of Shakuntala alone—once again from a concealed position—relieves his depression. It’s also notable that Shakuntala’s strong emotions manifest in a bodily form; she may not yet express her love openly, but her symptoms of heatstroke are nonetheless a visible symbol of them.
Priyamvada and Anasuya are fanning Shakuntala with a lotus leaf, but she hardly seems to be aware of it. Noting how ill she looks, Dusyanta wonders, “Now, is it the heat, or is it the heart, as it is with me?” The girls question Shakuntala about the source of her illness, since it appears she’s “feeling exactly what women in love are said to feel.” The King, full of doubt, anxiously waits for her response. Shakuntala says that from the moment she saw Dusyanta, she’s been filled with longing for him, so her friends must help her. The King rejoices.
Lovesickness is understood literally, not metaphorically; Shakuntala’s unsatisfied longing for Dusyanta causes her physical suffering, in keeping with the theme of inner states being manifested in the external world. Hearing Shakuntala’s admission finally relieves the King’s own doubt and depression about his beloved’s feelings.
Shakuntala’s friends ponder how best to help her. Priyamvada says it’s obvious that the King shares her feelings, because “he’s as thin as she is from lack of sleep.” They decide that Shakuntala must write a love poem, which Priyamvada will slip to the King among some flowers. Shakuntala composes a little song, etching it into a lotus leaf with her nails. As she recites her poem aloud, the King suddenly reveals himself in their presence.
Shakuntala’s friends come up with a plan that will allow her to speak her feelings to the King, albeit in an indirect, modest way. This turns out to be unnecessary, however; as soon as Shakuntala reveals her feelings explicitly, the King also reveals himself openly. The drama of this moment underscores the play’s central tension between concealment and open expression of emotion.
As Dusyanta sits next to the embarrassed Shakuntala, Priyamvada says that since it’s the King’s duty to relieve the pain of his subjects, he must take the suffering Shakuntala under his protection. Soon the friends leave on the pretense of helping a wandering deer. Shakuntala weakly tries to summon them back and then to leave herself, but the King soothes her. He reminds her that Kanva “knows the law, and he shall find no fault in what you’ve done.” She wouldn’t be the first royal daughter to accept a prince and receive her father’s blessings after the fact.
Priyamvada rather coyly casts Shakuntala’s lovesickness in terms of Dusyanta’s duty to care for his suffering subjects. Now that Shakuntala and the King have declared their love for one another, they can consider themselves married—according to the gandharva form of marriage, which could be legally contracted in secret between members of the princely class, even without a formal ceremony. This secret marriage is another form of concealment in the story, and it’s also an early example of how it might be possible to serve the goals of both love and duty at the same time.
When Gautami, the senior female ascetic, comes in search of Shakuntala, Shakuntala sorrowfully takes leave of Dusyanta. Dusyanta grieves their separation, regretting not having kissed her. Then the King himself is summoned away to dispel demons who are disrupting the evening rites.
The married couple’s nighttime separation foreshadows the much longer separation to come. Once more, the two are separated by the conflict between their love and the summons to their respective duties.