What are some of the major themes in "The Recognition of Shakuntala"?  (What is the book saying about love in particular?)

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maadhav19 | College Teacher | (Level 2) Assistant Educator

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Kalidasa's The Recognition of Shakuntala is the story of how the king, Dushyanta, meets and secretly marries Shakuntala, the daughter of a sage. When he leaves, he gives her his ring, but she loses it and when she shows up in court with his son, Bharata, she doesn't recognize her until the gods intervene.

One of the themes may be the importance of paying attention to details. Shakuntala loses the ring because she is distracted while attending to the irritable sage Durvasa, and he curses her. But a more important theme is the theme of honesty and integrity. When Shakuntala and Bharata appear before Dushyanta, he at first does not recognize them or his secret marriage because the ring is lost, but then the gods call him out.

Given that Shankuntala must rely on a token, the ring, to remind Dushyanta of their love and their secret marriage vows before he will recongize her and his son, I'd say that this story takes a rather cynical view on love. It is written so that the characters are not entirely resposible for the mess their relationship is in (ie. a sage's curse seems to be the problem between them), but the point seems to be that they cannot act on their love without some public recognition of it. A more idealistic view would say that love conquers all: because they love each other, they can overcome the sage's curse.  

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teachsuccess | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Another major theme of the play is that the course of true love is often fraught with complications and misunderstandings.

In the story, King Dushyanta is so smitten with the beauteous Shakuntala that he promises to make her his queen. Of course, King Dushyanta already has a whole host of wives, but he aims to make Shakuntala the head of them all. However, in his infatuation, the king neglects to consider the complications Shakuntala will bring to his already crowded household. When Queen Hamsapadika pouts over King Dushyanta's preoccupation with the younger wives, he sends his clown Madhavya to pacify her. After all, King Dushyanta has to have Queen Hamsapadika's cooperation if he wants to ease Shakuntala's entry into the household.

For Shakuntala's part, she needs to ask her foster father, Kanwa, for permission before she can legally marry King Dushyanta. In the meantime, King Dushyanta marries Shakuntala in secret, and he gives her a ring to seal the deal, promising that he will receive her as a queen when she comes to the palace. Meanwhile, Shakuntala is so ecstatic at her change in fortune that she neglects to properly perform the rites of hospitality for a visiting sage, Durvasas. Enraged, Durvasas curses Shakuntala. Accordingly, she will not be recognized by King Dushyanta unless she has the ring he gave her before his departure.

On her journey (true to the curse), Shakuntala loses the ring in the woods. So, when she stands before King Dushyanta at his palace, he refuses to acknowledge her. Without the ring, Shakuntala cannot move the king with her pleas. She engages in bitter recriminations against the king and accuses him of playing fast and loose with her affections. Meanwhile, the king accuses Shakuntala of trying to pass herself off as his queen. To complicate matters, Shakuntala is pregnant with the king's child. A court priest convinces the king to let Shakuntala stay at the palace until the baby is born. The priest reasons that, when the baby is born, it can then be examined for evidence of its royal heritage.

King Dushyanta consents to this plan, but Shakuntala is carried off to the heavens before she can give birth. In the meantime, the ring of recognition is found when a fisherman confesses that he retrieved it from the belly of a carp. When he sees the ring, King Dushyanta is immediately freed from the constraints of the curse. He now remembers who Shakuntala is and mourns for her loss.

Meanwhile, the nymph who took Shakuntala to heaven sees King Dushyanta's misery and sends a chariot to earth to convey the king to heaven. When he arrives, King Dushyanta sees a little boy wrestling with a lion cub. In the midst of his match, the boy's amulet falls off, and King Dushyanta picks it up for him. Mysteriously, the king finds himself drawn to the boy. Meanwhile, the heavenly attendants have begun to guess that King Dushyanta is the boy's father. Since the amulet is dangerous to all but the boy and his parents, King Dushyanta is acknowledged as the boy's true father. With his paternity determined, the boy can now join his mother, Shakuntala, at the palace with King Dushyanta.

So, it can be seen that a major theme of the story is that the course of true love is often fraught with complications that are caused by human miscalculation and error.




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