Describe the theme of duty vs desire in the narrative of Shakuntala.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I think that there is a demonstration of the theme of desire vs. duty in the story of Shakuntala.  On one level, the rejection of the infant Shakuntala by the sage Vishwamitra is representative of uphoding duty in the face of desire.  Vishwamitra is upset at the violation of his strict code of ascetism in the form of the child and his rejection of her is done in the upholding of duty in the face of desire.  Another instance of the collision between desire and duty is seen in the initial love of King Dushyanta and Shakuntala.  The choice is fundamental in that after they are married, the King must return to his kingdom, promising to return for his new bride.  If desire wins out in this conflict, he stays with her.  Like with her father, duty is superior and, in the process, he embodies the form of duty while she represents, yet again, desire.  In the interaction with the Rishi Durvasa, the theme of desire vs. duty is also evident.  The Rishi is angered with the apparent neglect he suffered as a guest of the ashram, a neglect that was precipitated by Shakuntala's daydreaming of her husband.  In this example, desire is embodied by Shakuntala and the element of duty is represented by the Rishi, who curses her for not understanding the proper extent of duty.  When the Rishi lessens his curse in the understanding of the situation, it is a moment where the theme of desire vs. duty is sought to be minimized as he must still uphold his duty as placing a curse on her, but tries to relent it to an extent with his modification of it.  Interestingly enough, Shakuntala herself embodies a sense of duty in that she imposes her own sense of self- exile to the wilderness when confronted with the reality that her love fails to recognize her.  In these examples, the theme of desire vs. duty is seen in several contexts.

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