Shakespeare and Kalidasa-Hindu Thoughts in Shakespearean Plays (Post No.3866)

Compiled by London swaminathan

Date: 30 APRIL 2017

Time uploaded in London:-11-29  am

Post No. 3866

Pictures are taken from various sources; thanks.



We know that great men think alike; but some similarities in the plays of Kalidasa and Shakespeare make us believe that Shakespeare has read Kalidasa or heard about his plays. Innocent forest girl Shakuntala is incarnated as Miranda in The Tempest. Kalidasa’s Vidusakas (Jesters/comedians) are seen in several of Shakespeare’s plays. There are similarities in Othello, Hamlet and The Winter’s Tale as well.


Plays of Shakespeare were largely founded on Hellenic, Roman and and other foreign models, where as Kalidasa’s plays were based on Ramayana and Mahabharata.


Shakespeare puts in the mouth of one of his characters: –

“The self-same sun that shines upon his court

Hides not his visage from our cottage, but

Looks on’s alike”.


In describing the moral greatness of the Himalaya, Kalidasa gives expression to the idea as follows:


“He protects from the sun in his caves the darkness which through fear of light adheres to them for shelter; the care of the great is impartially bestowed on inferior and important personages alike”.

“Divaakaraad rakshati yo guhaasu

Leenam divaabheetam vaandhakaaram;

Kshudrepi noonam saranam prapanne

Mamatvam uchchais sirasaam sateeva”

Polonius Advice

Shakespeare students are familiar with the advice of Polonius to his son Laertes.


“Give thy thoughts no tongue, Nor any unproportion’d thought his act. Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar. Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel; But do not dull thy palm with entertainment Of each new-hatch’s, unfledged comrade. Beware…: (Hamlet Act I)


According to Kalidasa, the following is the advice that Shakuntala received from her foster father Kanva when she was leaving him to go to her royal husband’s home:

“Show due reverence to him and to your superiors; should others share your husband’s love, be an affectionate handmaid to them; should your husband displease you, let not your resentment lead you to disobedience. Be just and impartial to domestics, and seek not your own gratifications. By such behaviours young women become exemplary mistresses, but perverse wives are the bane of a family.”

There may be a difference of opinion, according to present ideas, as to this description of the duty of a wife; but there can scarcely be any difference of opinion as to the sentiments expressed by Kalidasa in the following verses:-


“The wicked are controlled, not by favour, but by punishment”.


“Of righteous acts good wives are certainly the fundamental cause”.

“Devoted wives never oppose the wishes of their husbands”.

“When there is seniority in virtue, youth is not taken into account”.

Hamlet and Manu Smrti

The king in Hamlet speaks of his inviolability thus:-

“There is such divinity doth hedge a king

That treason can but peep to what it would”


Manu explains royal divinity thus

“With eight elements of the gods is a king made; hence, by his lustre he subdues all creatures.”

Kalidasa describes a king of the Raghuvamsa, who went about without attendants thus:

“The race of Manu needed no bodyguard, but relied for safety on its own prestige and prowess.”


On Royal attributes, such as King Henry V defined and Cranmer prophesied of the infant Elizabeth, Kalidasa speaks in referring to a king of the Solar Race thus:


“Broad-chested, strong shouldered like a bull, long armed like a pine-tree, his physical frae was suited to the task of his royal birth; he was the embodiment of the virtues of the warrior caste”.

All the world is a stage

“I hold the world but as the world, Horatio

A stage where everyman must play a part”.


and again in As You like It

“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,”

–As You Like It

I have given similar thoughts found in Tamil and Sanskrit in my post:–

Drama, Puppet Show, Folk Theatre in Tamil and Sanskrit Literature (Post No.3608); Date: 5 FEBRUARY 2017


The Winter’s Tale

The scene where the king (Shakuntalam), after dismounting from the is about to enter the grove of Marica’s hermitage and has his first glimpse of his son is a replica of the scene in Act One, where also the king after dismounting from the chariot at the fringes of the grove of Kanva’s hermitage, enters and see the boy’s mother for the first time. The finding of the lost son and heir precedes and leads to the recognition of the mother. An interesting parallel is provided in the last scene of Shakespeare’s ‘The Winter’s Tale’.


Othello and Sakuntalam

There is an interesting parallel in Othello. In the drama, proof of heroine’s chastity and love is demanded. Desdemona’s chastity hangs on a handkerchief; Sakuntala’s on a ring. Both heroines are blissfully unaware of the importance of the token. To them love is its own proof and a witness to their chastity.


In Ramayana, Sita was asked to prove her chastity by undergoing the ordeal of fire to allay the suspicions of the public: In Shakespeare’s Othello and King Lear where proof of fidelity and of filial love is demanded, we have a parallel.


A lot of Shakespeare’s quotable quotes have parallel in Sanskrit verses (I will give them separately).


Source Books:

Orient and Occident, Manmath C Mallick,1913

Kalidasa, The Loom of Time, Chandra Rajan, 1989