Śakuntalā begins with a prologue that frames the rest of the play. After a poem praising Shiva, an actor acting as the director of the play has an exchange with the lead actress in which he doubts the quality of the performance and she reassures him with a song.
The first act opens with Dushyanta, the king, stumbling on a hermitage as he hunts. He listens as a monk tells him he should not hunt there, and he proceeds, finding Śakuntalā—a beautiful maiden. While he initially believes her to be a commoner, it is later revealed that she is a water nymph who was adopted by one of the monks at the hermitage. The play makes it clear that she is an object of sexual desire and a symbol of beauty. Dushyanta introduces himself under a false identity, and the two begin to fall in love.
One of the king's companions, a fool, gives a monologue noting how smitten the king is and providing him an excuse to stay at the hermitage. The king attempts to hide his true feelings for Śakuntalā, given that at this point he still believes her to be a commoner.
Śakuntalā and Dushyanta confess their love for each other. While Śakuntalā is initially worried about rushing into a marriage, she eventually decides to give in to her feelings, and the lovers consummate their relationship between the third and fourth scenes.
The king returns to his palace to attend to some duties, and Śakuntalā, distracted by love, fails to feed a sage who arrives at the hermitage. Full of anger, the sage curses her so that Dushyanta will not remember her unless she can provide an object to remind him of their love. The king has given her a ring, so she does not worry about finding a suitable object.
Śakuntalā arrives at the palace, having lost the ring. Dushyanta fails to recognize her, and she is thrown out of the palace and abandoned by the monks who traveled with her.
A fisherman finds the ring in the mouth of a fish. He is interrogated by the police because the ring bears a royal symbol on it, and the ring eventually makes its way back to the palace, where Dushyanta sees it and remembers Śakuntalā.
Finally, Śakuntalā and Dushyanta are reunited in heaven, along with their son. The gods are pleased and send the three back to earth to live together.
Dushyanta, the king of India, is hunting one day when his chariot takes him into the sacred grounds of a religious establishment. A hermit stops the king and reminds him that he has sworn to protect the religious people who live there. The king leaves his chariot and wanders through the hallowed groves. As he walks, he hears voices and then sees three young women passing through the grove to water the plants growing there. When a bee, angered by their presence, flies at one of the young women, she playfully calls out for Dushyanta to rescue her, not knowing that the king is anywhere near.
Dushyanta, stepping from his hiding place, announces himself, but not as the king; rather, he says that he is the king’s representative appointed to oversee the safety of the grove and its inhabitants. While they talk, Dushyanta learns that akuntal, the young woman who had cried out, is no ordinary maid but the child of a Brahman and a water nymph. Dushyanta falls in love with her. akuntal also feels the first pangs of love for the king and believes that the Hindu god of love has struck her with his five flower-tipped arrows.
Mathavya, the king’s jester, complains to his master that the king and his retinue spend too much time in hunting and that this life is too hard on him. Ostensibly to humor the jester, but actually to have more time to seek out akuntal, the king calls off any further hunting and orders his retinue to camp near the sacred grove in which akuntal lives with her foster father, a hermit wise man named Kanwa. A short time later, word comes to the camp that the king’s mother wishes him to return to the capital to take part in certain ceremonies, but Dushyanta is so smitten with...
(The entire section is 1,580 words.)