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I.: THE AUTHOR AND THE PLAY - King Shudraka, The Little Clay Cart 
The Little Clay Cart [Mrcchakatika] A Hindu Drama attributed to King Shudraka, translated from the original Sanskrit and Prakrits into English Prose and Verse by Arthur William Ryder, Ph.D. (Cambridge Mass.: Harvard Univesity, 1905).
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THE AUTHOR AND THE PLAY
CONCERNING the life, the date, and the very identity1 of King Shūdraka, the reputed author of The Little Clay Cart, we are curiously ignorant. No other work is ascribed to him, and we have no direct information about him, beyond the somewhat fanciful statements of the Prologue to this play. There are, to be sure, many tales which cluster about the name of King Shūdraka, but none of them represents him as an author. Yet our very lack of information may prove, to some extent at least, a disguised blessing. For our ignorance of external fact compels a closer study of the text, if we would find out what manner of man it was who wrote the play. And the case of King Shūdraka is by no means unique in India; in regard to every great Sanskrit writer,—so bare is Sanskrit literature of biography,—we are forced to concentrate attention on the man as he reveals himself in his works. First, however, it may be worth while to compare Shūdraka with two other great dramatists of India, and thus to discover, if we may, in what ways he excels them or is excelled by them.
Kālidāsa, Shūdraka, Bhavabhūti—assuredly, these are the greatest names in the history of the Indian drama. So different are these men, and so great, that it is not possible to assert for any one of them such supremacy as Shakspere holds in the English drama. It is true that Kālidāsa’s dramatic masterpiece, the Shakuntalā, is the most widely known of the Indian plays. It is true that the tender and elegant Kālidāsa has been called, with a not wholly fortunate enthusiasm, the “Shakspere of India.” But this rather exclusive admiration of the Shakuntalā results from lack of information about the other great Indian dramas. Indeed, it is partly due to the accident that only the Shakuntalā became known in translation at a time when romantic Europe was in full sympathy with the literature of India.
Bhavabhūti, too, is far less widely known than Kālidāsa; and for this the reason is deeper-seated. The austerity of Bhavabhūti’s style, his lack of humor, his insistent grandeur, are qualities which prevent his being a truly popular poet. With reference to Kālidāsa, he holds a position such as Aeschylus holds with reference to Euripides. He will always seem to minds that sympathize with his grandeur1 the greatest of Indian poets; while by other equally discerning minds of another order he will be admired, but not passionately loved.
Yet however great the difference between Kālidāsa, “the grace of poetry,”2 and Bhavabhūti, “the master of eloquence,”3 these two authors are far more intimately allied in spirit than is either of them with the author of The Little Clay Cart. Kālidāsa and Bhavabhūti are Hindus of the Hindus; the Shakuntalā and the Latter Acts of Rāma could have been written nowhere save in India: but Shūdraka, alone in the long line of Indian dramatists, has a cosmopolitan character. Shakuntalā is a Hindu maid, Mādhava is a Hindu hero; but Sansthānaka and Maitreya and Madanikā are citizens of the world. In some of the more striking characteristics of Sanskrit literature—in its fondness for system, its elaboration of style, its love of epigram—Kālidāsa and Bhavabhūti are far truer to their native land than is Shūdraka. In Shūdraka we find few of those splendid phrases in which, as the Chinese1 say, “it is only the words which stop, the sense goes on,”—phrases like Kālidāsa’s2 “there are doors of the inevitable everywhere,” or Bhavabhūti’s3 “for causeless love there is no remedy.” As regards the predominance of swift-moving action over the poetical expression of great truths, The Little Clay Cart stands related to the Latter Acts of Rāma as Macbeth does to Hamlet. Again, Shūdraka’s style is simple and direct, a rare quality in a Hindu; and although this style, in the passages of higher emotion, is of an exquisite simplicity, yet Shūdraka cannot infuse into mere language the charm which we find in Kālidāsa or the majesty which we find in Bhavabhūti.
Yet Shūdraka’s limitations in regard to stylistic power are not without their compensation. For love of style slowly strangled originality and enterprise in Indian poets, and ultimately proved the death of Sanskrit literature. Now just at this point, where other Hindu writers are weak, Shūdraka stands forth preëminent. Nowhere else in the hundreds of Sanskrit dramas do we find such variety, and such drawing of character, as in The Little Clay Cart; and nowhere else, in the drama at least, is there such humor. Let us consider, a little more in detail, these three characteristics of our author; his variety, his skill in the drawing of character, his humor.
To gain a rough idea of Shūdraka’s variety, we have only to recall the names of the acts of the play. Here The Shampooer who Gambled and The Hole in the Wall are shortly followed by The Storm; and The Swapping of the Bullock-carts is closely succeeded by The Strangling of Vasantasenā. From farce to tragedy, from satire to pathos, runs the story, with a breadth truly Shaksperian. Here we have philosophy:
And nature description:
And genuine bitterness:
It is natural that Shūdraka should choose for the expression of matters so diverse that type of drama which gives the greatest scope to the author’s creative power. This type is the so-called “drama of invention,”1 a category curiously subordinated in India to the heroic drama, the plot of which is drawn from history or mythology. Indeed, The Little Clay Cart is the only extant drama which fulfils the spirit of the drama of invention, as defined by the Sanskrit canons of dramaturgy. The plot of the “Mālatī and Mādhava,” or of the “Mallikā and Māruta,” is in no true sense the invention of the author; and The Little Clay Cart is the only drama of invention which is “full of rascals.”2
But a spirit so powerful as that of King Shūdraka could not be confined within the strait-jacket of the minute, and sometimes puerile, rules of the technical works. In the very title of the drama, he has disregarded the rule3 that the name of a drama of invention should be formed by compounding the names of heroine and hero.4 Again, the books prescribe5 that the hero shall appear in every act; yet Chārudatta does not appear in acts ii., iv., vi., and viii. And further, various characters, Vasantasenā, Maitreya, the courtier, and others, have vastly gained because they do not conform too closely to the technical definitions.
The characters of The Little Clay Cart are living men and women. Even when the type makes no strong appeal to Western minds, as in the case of Chārudatta, the character lives, in a sense in which Dushyanta6 or even Rāma7 can hardly be said to live. Shūdraka’s men are better individualized than his women; this fact alone differentiates him sharply from other Indian dramatists. He draws on every class of society, from the high-souled Brahaman to the executioner and the housemaid.
His greatest character is unquestionably Sansthānaka, this combination of ignorant conceit, brutal lust, and cunning, this greater than Cloten, who, after strangling an innocent woman, can say:1 “Oh, come! Let’s go and play in the pond.” Most attractive characters are the five2 conspirators, men whose home is “east of Suez and the ten commandments.” They live from hand to mouth, ready at any moment to steal a gem-casket or to take part in a revolution, and preserving through it all their character as gentlemen and their irresistible conceit. And side by side with them moves the hero Chārudatta, the Buddhist beau-ideal of manhood,
To him, life itself is not dear, but only honor.3 He values wealth only as it supplies him with the means of serving others. We may, with some justice, compare him with Antonio in The Merchant of Venice. There is some inconsistency, from our point of view, in making such a character the hero of a love-drama; and indeed, it is Vasantasenā who does most of the love-making.4
Vasantasenā is a character with neither the girlish charm of Shakuntalā5 nor the mature womanly dignity of Sītā.6 She is more admirable than lovable. Witty and wise she is, and in her love as true as steel; this too, in a social position which makes such constancy difficult. Yet she cannot be called a great character; she does not seem so true to life as her clever maid, Madanikā. In making the heroine of his play a courtezan, Shūdraka follows a suggestion of the technical works on the drama; he does not thereby cast any imputation of ill on Vasantasenā’s character. The courtezan class in India corresponded roughly to the hetæræ of ancient Greece or the geishas of Japan; it was possible to be a courtezan and retain one’s self-respect. Yet the inherited1 way of life proves distasteful to Vasantasenā; her one desire is to escape its limitations and its dangers by becoming a legal wife.2
In Maitreya, the Vidūshaka, we find an instance of our author’s masterly skill in giving life to the dry bones of a rhetorical definition. The Vidūshaka is a stock character who has something in common with a jester; and in Maitreya the essential traits of the character—eagerness for good food and other creature comforts, and blundering devotion to his friend—are retained, to be sure, but clarified and elevated by his quaint humor and his readiness to follow Chārudatta even in death. The grosser traits of the typical Vidūshaka are lacking. Maitreya is neither a glutton nor a fool, but a simple-minded, whole-hearted friend.
The courtier is another character suggested by the technical works, and transformed by the genius of Shūdraka. He is a man not only of education and social refinement, but also of real nobility of nature. But he is in a false position from the first, this true gentleman at the wretched court of King Pālaka; at last he finds the courage to break away, and risks life, and all that makes life attractive, by backing Aryaka. Of all the conspirators, it is he who runs the greatest risk. To his protection of Vasantasenā is added a touch of infinite pathos when we remember that he was himself in love with her.3 Only when Vasantasenā leaves him4 without a thought, to enter Chārudatta’s house, does he realize how much he loves her; then, indeed, he breaks forth in words of the most passionate jealousy. We need not linger over the other characters, except to observe that each has his marked individuality, and that each helps to make vivid this picture of a society that seems at first so remote.
Shūdraka’s humor is the third of his vitally distinguishing qualities. This humor has an American flavor, both in its puns and in its situations. The plays on words can seldom be adequately reproduced in translation, but the situations are independent of language. And Shūdraka’s humor runs the whole gamut, from grim to farcical, from satirical to quaint. Its variety and keenness are such that King Shūdraka need not fear a comparison with the greatest of Occidental writers of comedies.
It remains to say a word about the construction of the play. Obviously, it is too long. More than this, the main action halts through acts ii. to v., and during these episodic acts we almost forget that the main plot concerns the love of Vasantasenā and Chārudatta. Indeed, we have in The Little Clay Cart the material for two plays. The larger part of act i. forms with acts vi. to x. a consistent and ingenious plot; while the remainder of act i. might be combined with acts iii. to v. to make a pleasing comedy of lighter tone. The second act, clever as it is, has little real connection either with the main plot or with the story of the gems. The breadth of treatment which is observable in this play is found in many other specimens of the Sanskrit drama, which has set itself an ideal different from that of our own drama. The lack of dramatic unity and consistency is often compensated, indeed, by lyrical beauty and charms of style; but it suggests the question whether we might not more justly speak of the Sanskrit plays as dramatic poems than as dramas. In The Little Clay Cart, at any rate, we could ill afford to spare a single scene, even though the very richness and variety of the play remove it from the class of the world’s greatest dramas.
[1 ]For an illuminating discussion of these matters, the reader is referred to Sylvain Lévi’s admirable work, Le Théâtre Indien, Paris, 1890, pages 196-211.
[1 ]In his Mālatīmādhava, i. 8, he says: “Whoever they may be who now proclaim their contempt for me, — they know something, but this work was not for them. Yet there will arise a man of nature like mine own; for time is endless, and the world is wide.” This seems prophetic of John Milton.
[2 ]Prasannarāghava, i. 22.
[3 ]Mahāvīracarita, i. 4.
[1 ]History of Chinese Literature, by H. A. Giles, pages 145-146.
[2 ]Shakuntalā, i. 15.
[3 ]Latter Acts of Rāma, v. 17.
[2 ]Dhūrtasaṁkula Daçarūpa, iii. 38.
[3 ]Sāhityadarpana, 428.
[4 ]As in Mālatī-mādhava.
[5 ]Daçarūpa, iii. 33.
[6 ]In Kāhdāsa’s Shakuntalā.
[7 ]In Bhavabhūti’s Latter Acts of Rāma.
[1 ]See page 128.
[2 ]Aryaka, Darduraka, Chandanaka, Sharvilaka, and the courtier.
[3 ]See x. 27.
[4 ]See v. 46 and the following stage-direction.
[5 ]In Kālidāsa’s play of that name.
[6 ]In Bhavabhūti’s Latter Acts of Rāma.
[1 ]See viii. 43.
[2 ]See pages 65-66 and page 174.
[3 ]See viii. 38; and compare the words, “Yet love bids me prattle,” on page 86.
[4 ]Page 87.