Six years have passed. Dusyanta has successfully destroyed the demons. He and Matali are returning to earth in the chariot. The king’s mind, body, and soul are calm, and he admires the beauty of the earth below. They see the Golden Peak, “the mountain of the demigods, where asceticism ends in perfect success.” The king wishes to descend to honor its sage, Marica, Indra’s father.
In stark contrast to his devastated appearance in the previous act, the victorious Dusyanta here is in a state of perfect harmony, reflecting the benefits, both to society and to oneself, of faithfully fulfilling one’s duty. In contrast to the reckless chariot ride to an earthly hermitage that opened the play, Dusyanta now rides peacefully to a celestial hermitage.
They enter Marica’s tranquil hermitage. While Dusyanta waits for an audience with Marica, he senses another omen, a throbbing vein in his arm. He wonders at this, since his desire is “hopeless,” then concludes that “once abandoned, fortune / Is incessant pain.” Then he’s distracted by the arrival of a little boy (who later turns out to be Sarvadamana), playing with a lion cub and accompanied by two female ascetics.
Like his arrival at the earthly hermitage, Dusyanta’s arrival here is heralded by a bodily omen, but this time he dismisses it, assuming it’s a relic of abandoned hopes. But then he catches sight of three people—only this time, it’s not Shakuntala with two ascetics, but her son with two ascetics. The omen of the throbbing vein turns out to be genuine, even though Dusyanta doesn’t believe it at first.
The King marvels at a strong sense of connection to the willful, spoiled child. He notices that the boy “bears the marks of a world ruler,” such as delicately webbed palms. He approaches to greet the boy. One of the ascetics remarks, “I’m astonished that you and the boy are so alike!” She explains that Sarvadamana belongs to the Puru lineage, and though a child of the royal line would normally have grown up in a castle, his mother was allowed to give birth to him here because she’s the daughter of a nymph.
Bodily markings indicate Sarvadamana’s fulfillment of prophecy, as does his domineering personality. The King learns that the boy belongs to his own dynasty; the clues are falling rapidly into place as the truth of the play’s over-arching divine scheme comes to light.
The King heartens at this news, and is further excited when the ascetic happens to mention that the boy’s mother’s name is Shakuntala. When the boy drops his protective amulet, Dusyanta picks it up. The ascetics are shocked, because the amulet cannot be picked up by anyone except for the boy’s parents and the boy himself. The king at last realizes that he has “his heart’s desire.”
None of the evidence the King hears convinces him beyond the shadow of a doubt until he picks up the amulet unharmed, confirming that the boy is his son and that Shakuntala is near. Whereas the King despaired in the last act that he would never fulfill his duty of having children, it becomes clear here that he has done so—and that, perhaps even more importantly, he has done so in a way that joins perfectly with his “heart’s desire.”
Shakuntala enters. The King recognizes her at once: “Her robes are dusky, drab, / Her hair a single braid, / Her cheeks drawn in by penance-- / She’s been so pure and constant / In that vow of separation / I so callously began.”
This time, the King has no difficulty whatsoever in recognizing his wife—even though her dress indicates austere asceticism, and her single braid is a sign of separation from her husband. Her spiritual purity shines through her drab appearance, providing another example of the way in which duty (in this case, the duties of asceticism) can actually help love on its way.
Shakuntala doesn’t think that the pale King resembles her husband. Dusyanta says, “My dear, that cruelty I practiced on you has come full circle, since now it is I who need to be recognized by you.” Shakuntala realizes that her “bitter fate has turned compassionate.”
In an ironic and fitting turn, Shakuntala doesn’t recognize the King instantly, but she quickly recognizes that her fate has been reversed.
As Shakuntala breaks down in tears, Dusyanta tells his wife that “In looking on your pale / Unpainted lips, I have at last / Recalled your face.” He offers back the signet ring—“let the vine take this flower back as a sign of her reunion with spring”—but Shakuntala, no longer trusting it, tells him to wear it instead.
Though Shakuntala’s external beauty has faded, her spiritual beauty is all Dusyanta needs to confirm her identity. Shakuntala no longer wants to wear the symbol of their youthful love—besides seeming untrustworthy, it also seems not to fit the maturity of their marriage.
The family of three goes together to see Marica. Marica and his wife, Aditi, the parents of Indra, greet and bless Dusyanta and Shakuntala: “Fortune unites faith, wealth, and order: / Shakuntala the pure, her noble son, the king.” When the King tells the sage the story of his rejection and then recognition of Shakuntala, Marica tells the King not to blame himself, and tells Shakuntala not to resent him—it was all because of Durvasas’s curse.
The royal couple is blessed by a divine couple. Marica explains everything that’s come between the King and Shakuntala, ensuring that there’s no lingering doubt or resentment. It seems that the curse, though previously so devastating for them both, has ultimately brought them together stronger and more purified, despite the ill intent that originally lay behind it.
Marica confirms that their son, Sarvadamana, will be a universal emperor who will later be called Bharata, “Sustainer.” One of Marica’s pupils is sent to tell Kanva the happy news of the broken curse and the reunited family. Now, Marica says, Dusyanta must return to his capital with his wife and boy. He blesses them, particularly wishing that Dusyanta and the god Indra will mutually benefit one another’s realms. The King closes the play with a prayer for freedom from rebirth and death forever.
At last, duty and love—seemingly at odds at the beginning of the play and frequently in conflict throughout—are fully reconciled as the reunited couple go to fulfill their royal duties with the blessing of the gods.