Shakuntala Act II

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SCENE – A PLAIN, with royal pavilions on the skirt of the forest.

Madhavya. (Emperor's court jester)[Sighing and lamenting.]

STRANGE recreation this! –Ah me! I am wearied to death. –My royal friend has an unaccountable taste. –What can I think of a king so passionately fond of chasing unprofitable quadrupeds? –"Here runs an antelope! There goes a boar!" Such is our only conversation. –Even at noon, in excessive heat, when not a tree in the forest has a shadow under it, we must be skipping and prancing about, like the beasts whom we follow. –Are we thirsty? We have nothing to drink but the waters of mountain torrents, which taste of burned stones and mawkish leaves. –Are we hungry? We must greedily devour lean venison, and that commonly roasted to a stick.

Have I a moment's repose at night? –My slumber is disturbed by the din of horses and elephants, or by the sons of slave-girls hollooing out, "More venison, more venison!" –Then comes a cry that pierces my ear, "Away to the forest, away!" –Nor are these my only grievances: fresh pain is now added to the smart of my first wounds; for, while we were separated from our king, who was chasing a foolish deer, he entered, I find, yon lonely place, and there, to my infinite grief, saw a certain girl, called Shakuntala, the daughter of a hermit: from that moment not a word of returning to the city! –These distressing thoughts have kept my eyes open the whole night. –Alas! when shall we return ? –I cannot set eyes on my beloved friend Dushayant since he set his heart on taking another wife. –[Stepping aside and looking] – Oh! there he is. –How changed! –He carries a bow, indeed, but wears for his diadem a garland of wood-flowers. He is advancing: I must begin my operations. –[He stands leaning on a staff.] –Let me thus take a moment's rest. –[Aloud.]

King Dushyant enters, as described.

King Dushyant: [Aside, sighing.] My darling is not so easily attainable; yet my heart assumes confidence from the manner in which she seemed affected: surely, though our love has not hitherto prospered, yet the inclinations of us both are fixed on our union. –[Smiling.] –Thus do lovers agreeably beguile themselves, when all the powers of their souls are intent on the objects of their desire! –But am I beguiled? No; when she cast her eyes even on her companions, they sparkled with tenderness; when she moved her graceful arms, they dropped, as if languid with love; when her friend remonstrated against her departure, she spoke angrily – All this was, no doubt, on my account. –Oh! how quick-sighted is love in discerning his own advantages!

Madhavya. [Bending downward, as before.] Great prince! my hands are unable to move; and it is with only that I can mutter a blessing on you. May the king be victorious!

King Dushyant: [Looking at him and smiling.] Ah! what has crippled thee, friend Madhavya?

Madhavya: You strike my eye with your own hand, and then ask what makes it weep.

King Dushyant: Speak intelligibly. I know not what you mean.

Madhavya: Look at yon Vétas tree bent double in the river. Is it crooked, I pray, by its own act, or by the force of the stream?
King Dushyant: It is bent, I suppose, by the current.

Madhavya: So am I by your Majesty,

King Dushyant: How so, Madhavya?

Madhavya: Does it become you, I pray, to leave the great affairs of your empire, and so charming a mansion as your palace, for the sake of living here like a forester? Can you hold a council in a wood? I, who am a reverend Brahhmin, have no longer the use of my hands and feet: they are put out of joint by my running all day long after dogs and wild beasts. Favour me, I entreat, with your permission to repose but a single day.

King Dushyant: [Aside.] Such are this poor fellow's complaints; –whilst I, when I think of Canna's daughter, have as little relish for hunting as he: How can I brace this bow, and fix a shaft in the string, to shoot at those beautiful deer who dwell in the same groves with my beloved, and whose eyes derive lustre from hers ?

Madhavya: [Looking steadfastly at the king] What scheme is your royal mind contriving? I have been crying, I find, in wilderness.

King Dushyant: I think of nothing but the gratification of my old friend's wishes.

Madhavaya: [Joyfully.] Then may the king live long! [Rising, but counterfeiting feebleness.]

King Dushyant: Stay; and listen to me attentively.

Madhavya: Let the king command.

King Dushyant: When you have taken repose, I shall want your assistance in another business, that will give you no fatigue.

Madhavya: Oh! what can that be, unless it be eating rice-pudding?

King Dushyant: You shall know in due time.

Madhavya: I shall be delighted to hear it.

King Dushyant: Hola! who is there?

The Chamberlain enters.

Cham. Let my sovereign command me.

King Dushyant: Raivataka, bid the General attend.

Cham. I obey. –[He goes out, and returns with the General.] –Come quickly, Sir, the king stands expecting you.

Genral Bhadrasena: [Aside, looking at Dushyant.] How is it that hunting, which moralists reckon a vice, should be a virtue in the eyes of a king? Thence it is, no doubt, that our emperor, occupied in perpetual toil, and inured to constant heat, is become so lean, that the sunbeams hardly affect him; while he is so tall, that he looks to us little men, like an elephant grazing on a mountain: he seems all soul. –[Aloud, approaching the king.] –May our monarch ever be victorious! –This forest, O king, is infested by beasts of prey: we see the traces of their huge feet in every path. –What orders is it your pleasure to give?

King Dushyant: Bhadraséna, this moralizing Madhavya has put a stop to our recreation by forbidding the pleasures of the chase.

Bhadrasena: [Aside to Madhavya.] Be firm to your word, my friend; whilst I sound the king's real inclinations. – [Aloud.] O! Sir, the fool talks idly. Consider the delights of hunting. The body, it is true, becomes emaciated, but it is light and fit for exercise. Mark how the wild beast of various kinds are variously affected by fear and by rage! What pleasure equals that of a proud archer, when his arrow hits the mark as it flies? –Can hunting be justly called a vice? No recreation, surely, can be compared with it.

Madhava: [Angrily.] Away, thou false flatterer! The king, indeed, follows his natural bent, and is excusable; but thou, son of a slave girl, hast no excuse. –Away to the wood! –How I wish thou hadst been seized by a tiger or an old bear, who was prowling for a jackal, like thyself!

King Dushyant: We are now, Bhadraséna, encamped near a sacred hermitage; and I cannot at present applaud your panegyrick on hunting. This day, therefore, let the wild buffaloes roll undisturbed in the shallow water, or toss up the sand with their horns; let the herd of antelopes, assembled under the thick shade, ruminate without fear; let the large boars root up the herbage on the brink of yon pool; and let this bow take repose with a slackened string.

Bhadrasena: As our lord commands.

King Dushyant: Recall the archers who have advanced before me, and forbid the officers to go very far from this hallowed grove. Let them beware of irritating the pious: holy men are eminent for patient virtues, yet conceal within their bosoms a scorching flame; as carbuncles are naturally cool to the touch; but, if the rays of the sun have been imbibed by them, they burn the hand

Madhavya: Away no, and triumph on the delights of hunting.

Bhadrasena: The king's orders are obeyed. [He goes out.]

King Dushyant: [To his attendants.] Put off your hunting apparel; and thou, Raivataca, continue in waiting at a little distance.

Cham: I shall obey. [Goes out.]

Madhavya: So! You have cleared the platform; not even a fly is left on it. Sit down, I pray, on this pavement of smooth pebbles, and the shade of this tree shall be your canopy: I will sit by you; for I am impatient to know what will give me no fatigue.

King Dushyant: Go first, and seat thyself.

Madhavya: Come, my royal friend. [They both sit under a tree.]

King Dushyant: Friend Madhavya, your eyes have not been gratified with an object which best deserves to be seen.

Madhavya: Yes, truly; for a king is before them.

King Dushyant: All men are apt, indeed, to think favourably of themselves; but I meant Shakuntala, the brightest ornament of these woods.

Madhavaya: [Aside.] I must not foment this passion. –[Aloud.] What can you gain by seeing her? She is a Brahmin's daughter, and consequently no match for you!

King Dushyant: What! Do people gaze at the new moon, with uplifted heads and fixed eyes, from a hope of possessing it? But you must know, that the heart of Dushyant is not fixed on an object which he must for ever despair of attaining.

Madhavya: Tell me how.

She is the daughter of a pious prince and warrior, by a celestial nymph; and, her mother having left her on earth, she has been fostered by Kanva, even as a fresh blossom of Malati, which droops on its pendant stalk, is raised and expanded by the sun's light.

Madhavya: [Laughing.] Your desire to possess this rustic girl, when you have women bright as gems in your palace already, is like the fancy of a man, who has lost his relish for dates, and longs for the sour tamarind.

If you know her, you would not talk so wildly.

Madhavya: Oh! certainly, Whatever a king admires must be superlatively charming.

King Dushyant: [Smiling.] What need is there of long description? When I meditate on the power of Brahma, and on her lineaments, the creation of so transcendent a jewel outshines, in my apprehension, all his other works: she was formed and moulded in the eternal mind, which had raised with its utmost exertion, the ideas of perfect shapes, and hence made an assemblage of all abstract beauties.

Madhavaya: She must render, then, all other handsome women contemptible.

King Dushyant: In my mind she really does. I know not yet what blessed inhabitant of this world will be the possessor of that faultless beauty, which now resembles a blossom whose fragrance has not been diffused; a fresh leaf, which no hand has torn from its stalk; a pure diamond, which no polisher has handled; new honey, whose sweetness is yet untasted; or rather the celestial fruit of collected virtues, to the perfection of which nothing can be added.

Madhavaya: Make haste, then, or the fruit of all virtues will drop into the hand of some devout rustic, whose hair shines with oil of Ingudi.

King Dushyant: She is not her own mistress; and her foster-father is at a distance.

Madhavya: How is she disposed towards you?

King Dushyant: My friend, the damsels in a hermit's family are naturally reserved: yet she did look at me, wishing to be unperceived; then she smiled, and started a new subject of conversation. Love is by nature averse to a sudden communication, and hitherto neither fully displays, nor wholly conceals, himself in her demeanour towards me.

Madhavya: [Laughing.] Has she thus taken possession of your heart on so transient a view?

King Dushyant: When she walked about with her female friends, I saw her yet more distinctly, and my passion was greatly augmented. She said sweetly, but untruly, "My foot is hurt by the points of the Kusha grass:" then she stopped; but soon, advancing a few paces, turned back her face, pretending a wish to disentangle her vest of woven bark from the branches in which it had not really been caught.

Madhavya: You began with chasing an antelope, and have now started new game: thence it is, I presume, that you are grown so fond of a consecrated forest.

King Dushyant: Now the business for you, which I mentioned, is this: you, who are a Brahmin, must find some expedient for my second entrance into that asylum of virtue.

Madhavya: And the advice which I give is this: remember that you are a king.

King Dushyant: What then?

Madhavya: "Hola! bid the hermits bring my sixth part of their grain." Say this, and enter the grove without scruple.

King Dushyant: No, Madhavya: they pay a different tribute, who, having abandoned all the gems and gold of this world, possess riches far superior. The wealth of princes, collected from the four orders of their subjects, is perishable; but pious men give us a sixth part of the fruits of their piety; fruits which will never perish.

[Behind the Scenes.] Happy men that we are! we have now attained the object of our desire.

King Dushyant: Hah! I hear the voices of some religious anchorites.

The Chamberlain enters.

Cham. May the king be victorious! –Two young men, sons of a hermit, are waiting at my station, and soliciting an audience.

King Dushyant: Introduce them without delay.

Cham. As the king commands. –[He goes out, and re-enters with two Brahmins.] –Come on; come this way,

First Brahmin. [Looking at the king.] Oh! what confidence is inspired by his brilliant appearance! –Or proceeds it rather from his disposition to virtue and holiness? Whence comes it, that my fear vanishes? –He now has taken his abode in a wood which supplies us with every enjoyment; and with all his exertions for our safety, his devotion increases from day to day. –The praise of a monarch who has conquered his passions ascends even to heaven: inspired bards are continually singing, "Behold a virtuous prince!" but with us the royal name stands first: "Behold, among kings, a sage!"

Second Brahman: Is this, my friend, the truly virtuous Dushyant?

First Brahmin: Even he.

Second Brahmin: It is not then wonderful, that he alone, whose arm is lofty and strong as the main bar of his city Gate, possesses the whole earth, which forms a dark boundary to the ocean; or that the gods of Swarga (heaven), who fiercely contend in battle with evil powers, proclaim victory gained by his braced bow, not by the thunderbolt of INDRA (king of heaven)

Both: [Approaching him.] O king, be victorious!

King Dushyant: [Rising.] I humbly salute you both.

Both: Blessings on thee!

King Dushyant: [Respectfully.] May I know the cause of this visit?

First Brahmin: Our sovereign is hailed by the pious inhabitants of these woods; and they implore---

King Dushyant: What is their command?

First Brahmin: In the absence of our spiritual guide, Kanva, some evil demons are disturbing our holy retreat. Deign, therefore, accompanied by thy charioteer, to be master of our asylum, if it be only for a few short days.

King Dushyant: [Eagerly.] I am highly favoured by your invitation.

Madhavya: [Aside.] Excellent promoters of your design! They draw you by the neck, but not against your will.

King Dushyant: Raivataca, bid my charioteer bring my car, with my bow and quiver.

Cham: I obey. [He goes out.]

First Brahman: Such condescension well becomes thee, who art an universal guardian.

Second Brahman: Thus do the descendants of Puru perform their engagement to deliver their subjects from fear of danger.

King Dushyant: Go first, holy men: I will follow instantly.

Both: Be ever victorious! [They go out.]

King Dushyant: Shall you not be delighted, friend Madhavya, to see my Shakuntala.

Madhavya: At first I should have had no objection; but I have a considerable one since the story of the demons.

King Dushyant: Oh! fear nothing: you will be near me.

Madhavya: And you, I hope, will have leisure to protect me from them.

The Chamberlain re-enters.

Cham: May our lord be victorious! The imperial car is ready; and all are expecting your triumphant approach. Karabba too, a messenger from the queen-mother, is just arrived from the city.

King Dushyant: Is he really come from the venerable queen?

Cham. There can he no doubt of it.

King Dushyant: Let him appear before me.

[The Chamberlain goes out, and returns with the Messenger.]

Cham. There stands the king –O Karabba, approach him with reverence.

Mess. [Prostrating himself.] May the king be ever victorious! –The royal mother sends this message-

Dushm. Declare her command.

Mess: Four days hence the usual fast for the advancement of her son will be kept with solemnity; and the presence of the king (may his life be prolonged!) will then be required.

King Dushyant: On one hand is a commission from holy Brahmins; on the other, a command from my revered parent: both duties are sacred, and neither must be neglected.

Madhavya: [Laughing.] Stay suspended between them both, like king Trisanku between heaven and earth; when the pious men said, " Rise!" and the gods of Swarga said, "Fall!"

King Dushyant: In truth I am greatly perplexed. My mind is principally distracted by the distance of the two places where the two duties are to be performed; as the stream of a river is divided by rocks in the middle of its bed. – [Musing.] –Friend Madhavya, my mother brought you up as her own son, to be my playfellow, and to divert me in my childhood. You may very properly act my part in the queen's devotions. Return then to the city, and give an account of my distress through the commission of these reverend foresters.

Madhavya: That I will; –but you could not really suppose that I was afraid of demons!

King Dushyant: How come you, who are an egregious Brahmin, to be so bold on a sudden?

Madhavya: Oh! I am now a young king.

King Dushyant: Yes, certainly; and I will dispatch my whole train to attend your highness, whilst I put an end to the disturbance in this hermitage.

Madhavya: [Strutting.] See, I am a prince regent.

King Dushyant: [Aside.] This buffoon of a Bráhmin has a slippery genius He will perhaps disclose my present pursuit to the women in the palace. I must try to deceive him. –[Taking Madhavya by the hand.] –I shall enter the forest, be assured, only through respect for its pious inhabitants; not from any inclination for the daughter of a hermit. How far am I raised above a girl educated among antelopes; a girl, whose heart must ever be a stranger to love! –The tale was invented for my diversion.

Madhavya: Yes, to be sure; only for your diversion.

King Dushyant: Then farewell, my friend; execute my commission faithfully, whilst I proceed –to defend the anchorites. [All go out.]

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