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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Supernatural intervention in Kālidāsa’s "Abhijñānaśakuntalā" and Shakespeare’s "Tempest" Bose, Mandakranta


Widely separated by time and cultural heritage as they are, Kālidāsa's "Abhijñānaśakuntalā" and Shakespeare's "Tempest" offer valid grounds for comparison. Both are romantic tragicomedies that explore the themes of loss, re-union, and forgiveness. The actions of both plays revolve round noble lovers, both have young and innocent heroines brought up far away from the society of ordinary people, and both are set in remote lands. An even more striking similarity lies in the use that Kālidāsa and Shakespeare make of supernatural elements. Not only do the plays show strange happenings made possible by the supernatural overriding the ordinary laws of nature, but tragedy is averted and a happy conclusion brought about in each play through supernatural agencies. We find on examining the movement of the action of the respective plays that supernatural occurrences provide the impetus for all significant turns of the events in each play. The supernatural is thus the major instrument of plot construction in both plays. The status of the supernatural is, however, not the same in the plays. "The Tempest" abounds in spectacular displays on the stage, with supernatural beings performing amazing deeds at Prospero's command. In "Abhijñānaśakuntalā" on the other hand, the workings of the supernatural may be marvellous, but no magical events actually take place before the spectator's eyes. The difference between the plays is in fact much deeper. In "The Tempest" the supernatural is entirely under man's control and seems to exist only for the sake of man. By contrast, in "Abhijñānaśakuntalā" it is autonomous and represents a scheme of existence, of which human life is only the visible, not the most important, part. "The Tempest" necessarily implies that the supernatural is a power alien, perhaps even inimical, to man who must subdue it and through it subdue nature. "Abhijñānaśakuntalā" emphasizes rather the co-existence of man, nature, and the supernatural. "Abhijñānaśakuntalā", therefore, has a breadth of vision that implies a metaphysical sense of the unity of existence, which is lacking in "The Tempest". But through its anthropocentric perspective "The Tempest" focusses attention upon man as a creature responsible for his own fate, and thus achieves greater dramatic tension in the presentation of human action than we find in "Abhijñānaśakuntalā".

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