Depicting Artist and Viewer: Performed Aesthetics in Kālidāsa’s “Śakuntalā”

By Ellwood H. Wiggins, Jr..

Published by The Arts Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The influential Sanskrit aesthetic works of Abhinavagupta present an elaborate and compelling system of artistic interpretation. His treatises appeared several centuries after Kālidāsa, the classical Sanskrit playwright, wrote his AbhijnanaŚakuntalām, to which they often turn for supporting examples of their theories. Discussions of Sanskrit Drama regularly use the terms and categories of the great aesthetician in analyzing plays of the earlier periods, including Śakuntalā. The play itself, however, is remarkably replete with instances of ekphrasis and musical performance that have an impact within the social world on stage. Visual art and songs appear at pivotal moments in the drama, and play significant roles in shaping both the plot and character development. The leading motivation for this paper is the thought that, instead of imposing the terms and categories of later thinkers on Kālidāsa, one could well deduce elements of Kālidāsa’s own poetology and aesthetic principles by examining his treatment of art in this play. The text’s language and dramatic situations provide rich fodder for discussions on various aspects of aesthetic investigation. This paper teases out the drama’s textual and performative stances, which are not always in agreement with one another, on debates that animate both Kālidāsa’s work and more contemporary speculation about art. The essay is an exploration of the aesthetic principles implicit in the actions of art in society depicted in Kālidāsa’s drama.

Keywords: Aesthetics, Sanskrit Drama, Social Functions of Art, Word and Image

International Journal of the Arts in Society, Volume 6, Issue 6, pp.179-192. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 868.479KB).

Dr. Ellwood H. Wiggins, Jr.

Doctoral Candidate, Department of German, Centre College, New Haven, KY, USA

Dr. Ellwood H. Wiggins, Jr. is a Visiting Assistant Professor of German and Humanities at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky. He wrote a dissertation on dramatic recognition from Homer to Heiner Müller at Yale University. His work focuses on practices and theories of performance as well as the reception of antiquity, Shakespeare, and Asian thought. In addition to his doctorate in German from Yale, he holds an MA in Eastern Classics from St. John’s College in Santa Fe, NM.

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