Shakuntala

King Dusyanta Character Analysis

King Dusyanta, a member of the Puru lineage, reigns in northern India, with his capital at Hastinapura. He is the hero of the play. He is attentive to his royal duties, especially those of caring for the oppressed and protecting religious practitioners. At the beginning of the play, he visits Kanva’s hermitage and immediately falls in love with Shakuntala. When he learns that their feelings are mutual, he quickly marries her in secret. After his business at the hermitage is concluded, however, he must return to the capital, and Durvasas’s curse ensures that he forgets Shakuntala and the fact that they are married. Accordingly, when Shakuntala travels to the capital to join him, he rejects her, but he is uneasy about their encounter. After he sees the signet ring he’d given Shakuntala, breaking the curse, he is overwhelmed by remorse. A demon-fighting assignment from Indra’s charioteer, Matali, recalls him to his duties. When, six years later, he is rewarded with a visit to Marica’s celestial hermitage, he discovers his son, Sarvadamana, and is reconciled with Shakuntala.

King Dusyanta Quotes in Shakuntala

The Shakuntala quotes below are all either spoken by King Dusyanta or refer to King Dusyanta. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Natural World, The Body, and Spiritual Beauty Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Oxford University Press edition of Shakuntala published in 2008.
Act 1 Quotes

VAIKHANASA. King, this is a hermitage deer. You should not—you must not kill it!

Indeed, indeed, no missile should be shot,
Scorching, like a flame through velvet petals,
This young fawn’s tender head.
Alas, what is the filigree life
In this poor animal’s frame,
Beside the adamantine rain
Of bowshot?

Related Characters: Vaikhanasa (speaker), King Dusyanta
Related Symbols: Deer
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:
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KING. […] Because I’m so eager to hear about the lives of the virtuous, there is another question I should like to ask.

PRIYAMVADA. Don’t hesitate, my lord—there are no bars to what you may ask an ascetic.

KING. Then tell me this about your friend:

How long will she keep her love-starved hermit vows—
Till she changes them for the marriage kind?
Or will she live forever among these hinds,
Doe-eyed among her beloved does?

Related Characters: King Dusyanta (speaker), Priyamvada (speaker), Shakuntala
Related Symbols: Deer
Page Number: 17
Explanation and Analysis:
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SHAKUNTALA. Anasuya! I’ve spiked my foot on a blade of grass . . . And now my blouse is snagged on a branch. Wait while I free myself!

[Using this pretense to remain gazing at the king, SHAKUNTALA finally leaves with her friends]

KING. Suddenly, the city doesn’t seem so attractive. I’ll link up with my followers and camp just outside this sacred grove. The truth is, I can’t get Shakuntala out of my head.

My body forges on, my restless mind streams back—
A silken banner borne against the wind.

Related Characters: Shakuntala (speaker), King Dusyanta (speaker), Anasuya
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:
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Act 2 Quotes

BOTH SEERS. The inhabitants of the ashram have learnt that Your Honor is here, and they have a request to make of you.

KING. Their wish is my command.

BOTH SEERS. They say that, owing to the absence of the great and revered sage Kanva, evil spirits are disrupting their rituals, and so they ask that you should come with your driver and protect the ashram for the next few nights.

KING. It's an honor to be asked.

VIDUSAKA [aside]. This couldn't be better if you'd planned it yourself.

[…]

BOTH SEERS [with delight].

And so you are at one with your ancestors:
For all the descendants of Puru are initiates
In that great sacrifice which protects
The afflicted and alleviates
Their pain.

Related Characters: King Dusyanta (speaker), Vidusaka (speaker), Shakuntala, Kanva
Page Number: 29
Explanation and Analysis:
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Act 3 Quotes

KING. Shakuntala seems to be very ill. [Pondering] Now, is it the heat, or is it the heart, as it is with me? [Gazing with longing] But there’s really no question:

Her breasts are smeared with lotus balm,
Her fibre bracelet slips her wrist,
Her body’s racked—and lovely still,
The summer sears her—but so does love,
And love with greater skill.

Related Characters: King Dusyanta (speaker), Shakuntala
Page Number: 34
Explanation and Analysis:
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SHAKUNTALA.
I cannot say I know your mind,
But day and night the god of love
Injects that pain through all my limbs,
Which you prepared—ah sweet unkind—
I cannot say I know your mind.

KING [revealing himself suddenly].

Slender lady, you should know
That same love which tortures you
Consumes me quite—
The sun, that merely dulls the lotus’ glow,
Engulfs the moon in azure light.

Related Characters: Shakuntala (speaker), King Dusyanta (speaker), Anasuya, Priyamvada
Page Number: 37
Explanation and Analysis:
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KING. Timid fawn—don't worry about your elders! The father of your family knows the law, and he shall find no fault in what you've done. Besides:

You wouldn't be the first royal sage's daughter
To take a prince for love—
And receive her father's blessings later.

SHAKUNTALA. Let me go now. I need to ask my friends’ advice.

KING. Yes. I shall release you—

SHAKUNTALA. When?

KING. When?

When, like a bee, I kiss the bud of your unbruised lip
And flood my thirsting mouth with nectar.

[With these words, he tries to raise her face. SHAKUNTALA evades him with a dance]

OFF-STAGE VOICE. Red goose, take leave of your gander. Night is falling!

Related Characters: Shakuntala (speaker), King Dusyanta (speaker), Gautami (speaker)
Related Symbols: Bees, Deer
Page Number: 40
Explanation and Analysis:
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Act 5 Quotes

VOICE [singing in the air].

Have you forgotten—forgotten so soon,
How you settled on the mango bloom,
Turning nectar to honey with kisses?
Have you really forgotten what bliss is?
To change it so quickly
For the wan and sickly
Night-flowering lotus?

[…]

KING [to himself]. Why should this song fill me with desire, when I'm not even separated from someone I love? But perhaps

It's what survives of love from other lives,
Trapped in certain forms and sounds,
And then released by song,
That keys my mood
From happiness to longing.

[He remains in some bewilderment]

Related Characters: King Dusyanta (speaker), Lady Hamsapadika (speaker), Shakuntala
Related Symbols: Bees
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:
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KING [staring at Shakuntala; to himself].

They offer me this flawless girl…
Could I have married her? I no longer know.
Like a bee mithering at dawn
Round a jasmine soaked in dew,
I can neither approach her, nor go.

[He remains thinking]

Doorkeeper [to herself]. Ah, duty always comes first for my lord. Who else would hesitate, faced with such a free and beautiful offer?

SARNGARAVA. So, king, why do you remain silent?

KING. Ascetics, however hard I try, I don’t remember marrying this lady. So how can I accept her when she’s obviously pregnant, and I have no reason to believe it’s anything to do with me?

Related Characters: King Dusyanta (speaker), Sarngarava (speaker), Doorkeeper (speaker), Shakuntala, Durvasas
Related Symbols: Bees
Page Number: 63
Explanation and Analysis:
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SHAKUNTALA [aside]. What's the use in reminding him, when passion can change so monstrously? But I owe it to myself to clear my name. [Aloud] Dear husband—[she breaks off in the middle]—no, my right to address you in that way has been cast into doubt. Puru King, then . . . It becomes you very well to disown a naive and innocent girl with meagre words, after you used them so richly to deceive me in the hermitage.

KING [covering his ears]. Enough of this wickedness!

What are you doing?
Like a torrent in spate,
Dissolving its banks,
Undercutting great trees,
You pollute yourself and your family's name
In your vile attempt to shame
And drag me down.

SHAKUNTALA. Very well! If you really think you're in danger of taking another man's wife, let me show you something that will refresh your memory.

KING. An excellent idea.

SHAKUNTALA [feeling her ring-finger]. No! It can’t be! The ring has gone from my finger!

Related Characters: Shakuntala (speaker), King Dusyanta (speaker)
Page Number: 65
Explanation and Analysis:
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Act 6  Quotes

CHAMBERLAIN [observing the KING]. Whatever the conditions, exceptional beauty always entrances us. Even though wasted with remorse, the king looks wonderful.

Instead of jewels, he wears a single band
Above his left-hand wrist; his lips are cracked
By sighs; brooding all night has drained his eyes
Of lustre; yet, just as grinding reveals
A gem, his austerity lays bare
An inner brilliance and an ideal form.

SAMUMATI [aside, staring at the KING]. I can see why Shakuntala goes on pining for him, even though he rejected and humiliated her.

KING [pacing about slowly, deep in thought].

Useless heart—buried in sleep
When my doe-eyed girl
Tried to wake it.
Now it beats in pain
To each pang of remorse,
And shall never sleep again.

Related Characters: King Dusyanta (speaker), Sanumati (speaker), Chamberlain (speaker), Shakuntala
Related Symbols: Deer
Page Number: 75
Explanation and Analysis:
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KING [sighing].

I rejected my love when she stood before me,
Yet now I'm obsessed by her painted image:
I crossed the stream of living water
To drink from a mirage.

VIDUSAKA [aside]. It's too late for the river now, but there's no dispelling the mirage.

Related Characters: King Dusyanta (speaker), Vidusaka (speaker), Shakuntala
Related Symbols: Bees
Page Number: 81
Explanation and Analysis:
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KING.

I planted the seed of myself,
Then, without lawful reason,
Abandoned my fruitful wife,
Blighting that golden season.

SANUMATI [aside]. Yet your line will not be broken.

CATURIKA. [whispering to the DOORKEEPER]. This story about the merchant has only compounded His Majesty's suffering. Go and fetch noble Madhavya from the Palace of Clouds to console him.

DOORKEEPER. A good idea! [Exits]

KING. Dusyanta's ancestors are unsettled and ask:

‘Who will feed us in the afterlife
As he does now, if there is no heir?’
And thus distressed, they drink the offering
Mixed with tears. [He faints]

CATURIKA [looking at him in consternation]. You’ll be all right, my lord!

Related Characters: King Dusyanta (speaker), Sanumati (speaker), Caturika (speaker), Doorkeeper (speaker), Shakuntala
Page Number: 86
Explanation and Analysis:
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KING. Indra honors me, indeed. But why this rough treatment of Madhavya?

MATALI. Quite simple. I saw you were depressed for one reason or another, and sought to rouse you by making you angry.

Stir the embers and the fire leaps up,
Threaten the snake and its hood expands—
Everything in nature, if provoked, responds.

KING [aside to the VIDUSAKA]. Friend, I cannot ignore the Lord of Heaven's command. Inform Minister Pisuna what's happened, and tell him this from me:

Concentrate your mind on protecting the realm:
My bow and I have godly business to perform.

Related Characters: King Dusyanta (speaker), Matali (speaker), Shakuntala, Vidusaka
Page Number: 89
Explanation and Analysis:
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Act 7  Quotes

MATALI [looking at the king]. Your Majesty could sit at the foot of this ashoka tree, while I find the right moment to announce your arrival to Indra’s father.

KING. Whatever you advise. [He sits.]

MATALI. I shall go now. [He exits.]

KING [sensing an omen].

My desire is hopeless, yet this vein
Throbs in my arm—
Once abandoned, fortune
Is incessant pain.

OFF-STAGE VOICE. Don’t act so rashly! How he reverts to his nature!

KING [listening]. This is no place for uncontrolled behavior. Who can they be reprimanding? [Looking in the direction of the voice, surprised] Ah! And what kind of child is this, guarded by two female ascetics, and so much stronger than his years? […] Why am I drawn to this child, as though to my own son?

Related Characters: King Dusyanta (speaker), Matali (speaker), Sarvadamana
Page Number: 94
Explanation and Analysis:
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KING [seeing Shakuntala]. Ah, it is the lady Shakuntala!

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.

SHAKUNTALA [seeing the KING pale from suffering]. He doesn’t look like my husband. Who is this who dares to pollute my son with his touch, in spite of the amulet?

BOY [running to his mother]. Mamma, this stranger is calling me his son!

KING. My dear, that cruelty I practiced on you has come full circle, since now it is I who need to be recognized by you.

Related Characters: Shakuntala (speaker), King Dusyanta (speaker), Sarvadamana (speaker)
Page Number: 98
Explanation and Analysis:
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MARICA. When Menaka came to Aditi, transporting her daughter from the nymphs' ford in such obvious distress, I saw, in meditation, that you had rejected your forest wife because of a curse, spoken by Durvasas. I saw too that the curse would lift when you caught sight of this ring.

KING [sighing with relief]. So—I am not to blame.

SHAKUNTALA [to herself]. It's good to know my husband didn't reject me for no reason at all. And yet I don't remember being cursed. Or perhaps it fell unnoticed through the emptiness of separation that engulfed me then. My friends did urge me to show the ring to my husband.

MARICA. Daughter, now you know the truth. Feel no resentment towards your lord:

When his memory was cursed,
Your husband was cruel to you,
But that darkness has lifted
And your power's renewed;
The mirror was tarnished,
The image obscure,
But with polishing
It all becomes clear.

Related Characters: Shakuntala (speaker), King Dusyanta (speaker), Marica (speaker), Durvasas
Page Number: 103
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
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King Dusyanta Character Timeline in Shakuntala

The timeline below shows where the character King Dusyanta appears in Shakuntala. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Prologue
The Natural World, The Body, and Spiritual Beauty Theme Icon
Duty vs. Love Theme Icon
...him away, “Just as the headlong rush of a spotted deer / Carries this king, Dusyanta, into our play.” (full context)
Act 1
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King Dusyanta, holding a bow and arrow and being driven in a chariot, enters the scene,... (full context)
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Vaikhanasa, in response to the King’s merciful action, pronounces a prophetic wish: “May you have a son / With all your... (full context)
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As they drive toward the hermitage, King Dusyanta comments to his driver that it’s obvious they’re near the holy groves—the deer stroll... (full context)
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Right away, the King sees some hermitage girls going to the sacred grove to water the trees. He hides... (full context)
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Dusyanta is surprised to see Kanva’s beautiful daughter doing menial tasks. He watches her more intently.... (full context)
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...looks as though it’s been married to a beautiful, sinuous vine.” At a distance, the King agrees, observing how “youth pushes up through all her limbs.” (full context)
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...that Shakuntala is thinking along these lines because she, too, wants a suitable husband. The King thinks that if only Shakuntala were the daughter of a brahmin and a woman of... (full context)
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Shakuntala’s friends say that she should call on King Dusyanta for help, since he’s the protector of ascetic groves. The King hesitates a moment,... (full context)
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...the religious life?” They all wonder who the mysterious man is, and Anasuya questions him. Dusyanta claims that he’s a newly appointed “Minister for Religious Welfare” who’s come to make sure... (full context)
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Dusyanta asks how it’s possible that the chaste sage Kanva has a daughter. Anasuya explains that... (full context)
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Dusyanta is “eager to hear about the lives of the virtuous” and asks how long Shakuntala... (full context)
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The King observes that Shakuntala is exhausted from watering and offers her his signet ring as a... (full context)
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Just then an offstage voice warns that King Dusyanta’s chariots have endangered the sacred grove, scattering the deer and sending an elephant on... (full context)
Act 2
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Vidusaka, the King’s overweight companion, complains about what a pain it is traveling with Dusyanta on his hunting... (full context)
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When the King’s general comes seeking orders, the King tells him that his enthusiasm for the hunt has... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
Act 3
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An assistant of Kanva says that King Dusyanta is so powerful, he had only to enter the ashram in order to quell... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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As Dusyanta sits next to the embarrassed Shakuntala, Priyamvada says that since it’s the King’s duty to... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
Act 4
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...Shakuntala’s secret marriage is working out. But Anasuya worries what will happen now that the King’s business at the ashram has concluded: “Who can say whether he’ll remember what’s happened in... (full context)
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...“the sight of a memento can lift the curse.” The girls relax, recalling the ring Dusyanta has given Shakuntala. (full context)
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Shakuntala is full of grief in Dusyanta’s absence. Anasuya frets about the King’s failure to even send a letter, worrying that he’s... (full context)
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...chanting the news: “For the world’s welfare your daughter / Bears the lustrous seed of King Dusyanta.” Kanva is happily sending her to her husband with an escort of seers. (full context)
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...left.” She tearfully says goodbye to Priyamvada and Anasuya, and they remind her to show Dusyanta the ring he gave her, in case he’s slow to recognize her. (full context)
Act 5
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In the capital, the King overhears a song that fills him with desire: “Have you forgotten—forgotten so soon, / How... (full context)
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Then a chamberlain walks in, reluctant to disturb the King. However, “a king can’t put off his duty.” He reports that a group of forest... (full context)
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As her party approaches the King, Shakuntala’s right eyelid trembles—an evil omen. The King, seeing Shakuntala at a distance, wonders, “Who... (full context)
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One of Kanva’s messengers informs the King that Kanva isn’t displeased with Shakuntala’s secret marriage, since the two are so well matched... (full context)
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One of the ascetics lifts the despondent Shakuntala’s veil so that Dusyanta will know her, but he continues to regard her in silence, finally admitting that he... (full context)
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The more Shakuntala tries to spark Dusyanta’s memory, the more he accuses her of using “honeyed words” to deceive him: “Females of... (full context)
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The ascetics prepare to go, telling Dusyanta it’s up to him to take or leave Shakuntala, since “a husband’s power is absolute.”... (full context)
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Dusyanta consults with a court priest, wondering if it’s worse to “[collude] in the ruin of... (full context)
Act 6 
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Two policemen enter, leading a fisherman. He’s been accused of stealing a ring with the King’s name engraved on it. The fisherman, frightened, insists that he discovered the ring in the... (full context)
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...due to “the scandal of Shakuntala.” It turns out that when he saw the ring, Dusyanta remembered that he really did marry Shakuntala and “rejected her out of sheer delusion. And... (full context)
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The King enters, dressed as a penitent, and the chamberlain observes that the king still looks wonderful... (full context)
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The King sends word that, after a sleepless night, he’s not fit to sit in judgment over... (full context)
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Vidusaka tries to cheer the King, arguing that if indeed Shakuntala was carried away by nymphs, then surely Menaka will take... (full context)
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Then a maidservant, Caturika, enters, carrying a portrait of Shakuntala painted by the King. As Dusyanta resumes work on the painting, he laments that he rejected the living woman... (full context)
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...has been lost at sea, and because he was childless, his wealth goes to the King. Dusyanta reflects, “How terrible to be childless!” The wealth of Dusyanta’s own family will undergo... (full context)
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...explaining that an invisible spirit has seized Vidusaka and dragged him onto the palace roof. Dusyanta rushes to his aid, but can’t see his friend. Just as he’s about to shoot... (full context)
Act 7 
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Six years have passed. Dusyanta has successfully destroyed the demons. He and Matali are returning to earth in the chariot.... (full context)
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They enter Marica’s tranquil hermitage. While Dusyanta waits for an audience with Marica, he senses another omen, a throbbing vein in his... (full context)
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The King marvels at a strong sense of connection to the willful, spoiled child. He notices that... (full context)
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The King heartens at this news, and is further excited when the ascetic happens to mention that... (full context)
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Shakuntala enters. The King recognizes her at once: “Her robes are dusky, drab, / Her hair a single braid,... (full context)
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Shakuntala doesn’t think that the pale King resembles her husband. Dusyanta says, “My dear, that cruelty I practiced on you has come... (full context)
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As Shakuntala breaks down in tears, Dusyanta tells his wife that “In looking on your pale / Unpainted lips, I have at... (full context)
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...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,... (full context)
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...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... (full context)