Vinay Dharwadker Special Seminar Event

Shakuntala: Comparison and Critical Revaluation in the Twenty-first Century

A Seminar Led by Vinay Dharwadker

My new translation of the Devanagari recension of Abhijnanashakuntalam, under the title The Recognition of Shakuntala (Penguin, 2016), the first fully poetic translation in modern English, provides a fresh opportunity to reassess the place of Kalidasa’s early-fifth-century multilingual play in world literature in the twenty-first century. As theories and canons of planetary literature have been reimagined and reconfigured in the present decade, the uniqueness of this dramatic work, of Sanskrit-Prakrit drama and theatre in general, and of Sanskrit poetics and aesthetics more widely has come into sharper focus than ever before.

This seminar session will probe a variety of questions about the status of Shakuntala in the present global literary order. What specific features of this work of poetic drama make it an indispensable playtext as well as an inescapable historical and cultural point of reference beyond its linguistic, chronological, and national contexts? Why does this play in seven acts displace and transform European dramatic theories and practices over time, and continue to serve as a paradigm of non-European, Asian, and Indian literary innovation, especially in relation to Aristotelian and Shakespearean conceptions of the stage? How do Kalidasa’s ideas of love and its estrangement, of the masculine and the feminine, of poetry and theatre, and of beauty and emotion, embedded in models developed earlier in the Natyashastra, define the genres of cosmic drama, romantic comedy, and heroic tragicomedy across temporal and spatial boundaries? What is the play’s cumulative contribution, over centuries, to environmentalism and ecological thought; to theories of kingship, governance, and justice; to conceptions of women’s agency, rationality, and moral and sexual freedom; and to the ideal of what we now call cosmopolitan citizenship?

Our collective discussion of these and other such questions—based on the advance readings mentioned below—will seek to start a wide-ranging critical conversation about epic and classical Sanskrit literature, Indian poetry and poetics, South Asian and Asian literary practices, poetic translation and scholarly commentary, translation and translation studies, and theoretical and comparative studies of Europhone and non-Europhone cultural formations.


Advance Readings
(available electronically from the Center for South Asia, UW–Madison)

Kalidasa, Abhijnanashakuntalam: The Recognition of Shakuntala. Translated from the Sanskrit and Prakrit, with an Afterword and Notes, by Vinay Dharwadker. Gurgaon, India: Penguin Books, 2016. Hardcover.
ISBN 978 0 670 08746 4.

Vinay Dharwadker, “Emotion in Motion: The Natyashastra, Darwin, and Affect Theory,” PMLA, vol. 130, no. 5, October 2015, pp. 1381–1404.