In Shakuntala, bees primarily symbolize erotic attraction, particularly the fleeting, teasing touch of flirtation. In the Prologue, for instance, the actress sings an erotic song in which blossoms are “gently brushed by black woodland bees.” In Act 1, when Shakuntala is attacked by a bee in the sacred grove, King Dusyanta envies the “honey-maker” because it brushes her eyelids, murmurs in her ear, and “[wins] her, / While I am stalled.” After he and Shakuntala come together, he likens himself to a bee, who “[kisses] the bud of your unbruised lip / And [floods] my thirsting mouth with nectar.” At the midpoint of the play, however, the symbol changes somewhat, when the cursed King compares himself to “a bee mithering at dawn” because he doesn’t recognize Shakuntala and can’t decide whether to draw close to her or flee. Dusyanta also includes a likeness of a bee in his portrait of Shakuntala and pretends to shoo it away, recalling the significance of the bee attack in his initial attraction to her and suggesting that perhaps bees might signify the confusion of passion as well as its pleasure.
Bees Quotes in Shakuntala
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—
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!
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
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]
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?
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.