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Study Guide Written by Michael J. Cummings...© 2009
Type of Work
.......Cyrano de Bergerac is a five-act French play that its author, Edmond Rostand, termed a heroic comedy (comédie héroïque). Such a work centers on a noble character who undergoes a test involving a romantic relationship. Like all other comedies, a heroic comedy has a happy ending. However, it generally
includes tragic events, making it resemble a tragicomedy. For example, in Cyrano de Bergerac, the main character, Cyrano, dies at the end after an unseen enemy deals him a mortal wound. But as he takes his last breath, the woman that he loves—a woman who had earlier pledged her love to another—declares her love for him. The play therefore ends happily instead of
First Performance and Critical Reception
.......Cyrano de Bergerac was first performed on December 28, 1897, at the Théâtre de La Porte Saint-Martin in Paris, with the renowned Benoît-Constant Coquelin (1841-1909) in the starring role. Drama critics and the rest of the audience immediately acclaimed it a masterpiece. One reason for the positive reception
was that audiences regarded the romance and derring-do in the play as welcome relief from the dreary atmosphere of naturalism and realism, genres that were in vogue in Rostand's time. After its publication in 1898 by Librarie Charpentier et Fasquelle, the play was translated into English and many other languages for stage and film
productions as well as publication in books. It remains highly popular today.
.....Acts I, II, and III take place in Paris in 1640. Act IV takes place at the French siege of the city of Arras during the Thirty Years War.
.......Acts I, II, and III of Cyrano de Bergerac take place in Paris in 1640, when Louix XIII sat on the French throne and the extraordinarily talented Cardinal Richelieu managed the affairs of state. Act IV takes place in the same year on a battlefield in
northeastern France during the French siege of the disputed city of Arras, held by the Spanish, during the Thirty Years War. Act V takes place in Paris in 1655, when Louis XIV was king of France. Present-day Arras is the capital of the Pas de Calais département (province) of France.
Cyrano de Bergerac: Main character (protagonist). As a member of the French guards, he is an extraordinary swordsman and fearless warrior. He is also a charming and witty conversationalist, an accomplished poet, and an outspoken literary and social critic who makes many enemies. Cyrano is in love with his cousin, the beautiful Roxane, but
refrains from wooing her because he believes his extremely large nose would cause her to reject him. The author of Cyrano de Bergerac, Edmond Rostand, based his title character on a historical personage, Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac (1619-1655). For more information on Savinien Cyrano, see "The Real Cyrano de Bergerac," below.
Baron Christian de Neuvillette: Young man from Touraine who comes to Paris and falls in love with Roxane. Unlike Cyrano, he is flawlessly handsome. However, he lacks the wit and charm of Cyrano and is incapable of writing love letters and poetry. Cyrano selflessly agrees to become his mouthpiece in
the wooing of Roxane. Christian joins the guards and goes off to war with Cyrano. De Neuvillette is modeled on a real-life person of the same name who was a soldier in Savinien Cyrano's unit.
Comte de Guiche (Count de Guiche): Dastardly nobleman who, though married to the niece of
Cardinal Armand de Richelieu, attempts in various ways to make Roxane his mistress. She resists his advances. In his role as a commander of French forces at Arras, he assigns his enemies, Cyrano and Christian, to dangerous duty. De Guiche later reforms and becomes a friend of Cyrano. He is modeled on a real-life character, Count Antoine de Guiche, who was believed to be an upright
Sobriquet of Magdaleine Robin, an orphaned young woman of exquisite beauty. Because Cyrano and Christian love her and de Guiche lusts after her, she is the fulcrum on which the plot turns. Roxane is highly intelligent. The soul of a man—his esprit and aesthetic sensitivity—seems to mean more to her than his outward appearance. Rostand modeled Roxane on Savinien Cyrano's real-life
Ragueneau: Friend of Cyrano. He is an outstanding pâtissier (pastry cook) and lover of fine poetry. At his shop, he gives away his finest pastry creations for the poems of his customers and eventually goes bankrupt. Afterward, he becomes Roxane's servant.
Le Bret: Good friend of Cyrano and member of the guards. He continually warns Cyrano that his outspokenness is making him many enemies. Le Bret is modeled on a real-life friend of Savinien Cyrano.
Carbon de Castel-Jaloux: Captain in the guards.
Les Cadets (The Cadets): Guard privates who aspire to become officers.
Lignière: Drunken writer who, like
Cyrano, makes many enemies. Cyrano foils a plot by de Guiche to kill Lignière.
Viscount de Valvert: Friend of de Guiche who taunts Cyrano.
Montfleury: Actor whom Cyrano
chases off a stage at the beginning of a performance of the stage play La Clorise. Rostand modeled him after the real-life actor Zacharie Jacob Montfleury (1610-1667).
First Marquis, Second Marquis, Third Marquis: Noblemen who attend the stage play La
Bellerose, Jodelet: Members of the acting company scheduled to perform La Clorise.
De Cuigy, de Brissaille: Gentlemen who attend the scheduled
performance of La Clorise.
D'Assoucy: Friend of Cyrano.
Un Fâcheux (Bore, Pest, Nuisance)
Un Mousquetaire (Musketeer): Soldier who attends the scheduled performance of La Clorise. (A musketeer is so named because he carries a musket into battle.)
Un Autre (Another Musketeer)
Un Officier Espagnol (Spanish officer)
Un Chevau-Léger (Soldier in the Light Cavalry): This cavalier is among those who attend the scheduled performance of La
Le Portier (Doorkeeper): Theater doorman who checks to see whether attendees have paid the price of admission.
Un Bourgeois: (Burgher, orMiddle-Class
Citizen): Person who attends the scheduled performance of La Clorise.
Son Fils (His Son): Son of the burgher.
Un Tire-Laine (Pickpocket)
Un Spectateur (Spectator)
Un Garde (Guardsman, Soldier)
Bertrandou le Fifre
(Bertrand the Fifer)
Le Capucin (Capuchin Monk): Priest who marries Roxane and Christian. He is a member of the Capuchins, a branch of the Franciscan order.
Les Poètes (Poets)
Les Pâtissiers (Pastry Cooks)
Mère Marguerite (Mother Marguerite): Nun. She is the mother superior at the convent in which Roxane resides in Act V.
Soeur Marthe (Sister
Martha), Soeur Claire (Sister Claire): Nuns at the convent in which Roxane resides in Act V.
Lise: Wife of Ragueneau.
La Distributrice: Girl who sells refreshments from
a counter (buffet) near the entrance of the theater.
La Duègne (Chaperone, Duenna): Woman who accompanies Roxane.
Une Comèdienne (Comedian): Comic actress in the
La Soubrette: Actress in the play. (A soubrette plays the part of a mischievous and perhaps flirtatious character in a comic stage play or an opera.)
Cureau de la Chambre, Porchères, Colomby, Bourzeys, Bourdon, Arbaud: Members of the Académie Française (French Academy) who attend the scheduled theater performance. The academy was established in 1634 to maintain the purity of the French language and to uphold high literary standards.
Les Pages (Pages)
Richelieu: Historical personage mentioned in the play. Armand Jean du Plessis de Richelieu (1585-1642) was a cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church and one of the most effective statesmen in French history, taking the necessary steps to make France a great
power in the seventeenth century.
D'Artagnan: Musketeer who congratulates Cyrano after the latter defeats de Valvert in a sword duel. He was a real-life personage (Charles de Batz-Castelmore, Comte d'Artagnan) who joined the French guards after 1640. Before Rostand fictionalized
him in Cyrano, Alexandre Dumas the elder (1802-1870) did so in Les Trois Mousquetaires (The Three Musketeers), his popular 1844 novel.
La Bouquetière (Shop girl)
Les Laquais (Lackeys): Uniformed servants; followers; toadies.
Madame de Guéméné, Madame de Bois-Dauphin, Madame de Chavigny: Ladies who attend the theater performance.
Le Duc de Candale (Duke of Candale): Patron of Montfleury. He presumably becomes an enemy of Cyrano after the latter forces Montfleury off the stage.
Balthazar Baro: Author of the play La Clorise, scheduled to be performed in the theater
at the Hôtel de Bourgogne in Paris. He has no speaking role. Baro was a real person who wrote and staged a play called La Clorise.
.......Theatergoers are arriving for a performance of Balthazar Baro's play La Clorise in a hall at the Hôtel de Bourgogne in Paris. To pass the time before the scheduled 2 p.m. rise of the curtain, two soldiers practice fencing just inside the entrance. Nearby, two lackeys play cards while, in a dark corner, a
guardsman attempts to steal a kiss from a shop girl. The early arrivals also include several men sitting around eating and drinking. When a burgher arrives with his his son, he complains to the boy about the unseemly behavior going on.
enter, one with a hook at the end of a string that he plans to cast from the gallery during the performance to fish for wigs. Another has a pea shooter. A pickpocket and his protégés are preparing to roam the crowd while a girl begins selling milk, raspberry water, oranges, and cedar-bitters from a buffet. Several marquises greet their friends, Cuigy and Brissaille, as a theater worker lights
candles for the performance. Cuigy and Brissaille see an acquaintance—a drunken balladeer named Lignière, who introduces them to his friend, Baron Christian de Neuvillette, from Touraine, who is to join the army the next day. Violinists tune their instruments. Elegant noblewomen and members of the French Academy take their seats.
.......Christian looks for a lady who has stolen his heart. Because he has seen her but never met her, he is relying on Lignière to identify her by name if she is in the audience. Meanwhile, a rotundity—the famous actor Montfleury—walks onstage to the delight of the gathering.
At the same moment, the pastry chef and taverner Ragueneau enters the hall and asks Lignière whether he has seen Monsieur Cyrano de Bergerac, who has forbidden Montfleury from playacting for one month.
.......One of the marquises within earshot of Ragueneau
asks Cuigy who Cyrano is. Cuigy says he is a highly skilled swordsman. Then, noticing that a man named Le Bret is searching the audience, Cuigy calls him over and inquires whether he is seeking Cyrano. Indeed he is, he says, and he is quite nervous at the prospect of finding him there. He worries that Cyrano will cause a stir when he see Montfleury on the stage. When Cuigy observes that Cyrano is
an unusual man, Le Bret confirms it. Ragueneau points out that Cyrano is a poet, Cuigy that he is a soldier, Brissaille that he is a philosopher, and Le Bret that he is a musician. Ragueneau then notes that he has a nose so exceedingly large that some people think it is a fake that he can remove. But it is no fake and, says Le Bret, he will cut to pieces anyone who ridicules
.......Elsewhere, the woman whom Christian de Neuvillette plans to woo seats herself in a box as theatergoers whisper about her surpassing beauty. When Christian sees her, he nudges Lignière, who identifies her as Magdaleine Robin, also known simply as
Roxane. Behind her is her duenna (chaperone). A moment later, a nobleman, Count de Guiche, enters the box and speaks with her. He lusts after her even though he is already married to the niece of Cardinal Armand de Richelieu. He is attempting to match her with a crony, the Viscount de Valvert, in order to have access to her. Lignière notes that he has publicly exposed the count's scheme in
one of his compositions, then leaves the theater for a tavern.
.......De Guiche, meanwhile, comes down from the box, followed by a retinue of fawning noblemen. He is headed toward the seating area on the stage and calls for de Valvert to go with him. At that
moment, Christian catches a man trying to pick his pocket. Caught in the act of stealing from Christian, the pickpocket says he will tell Christian a special secret if Christian lets him go. Christian agrees. The pickpocket then tells him that a man whom Lignière insulted in one of his ballads has hired a hundred thugs to attack Lignière on his way home. To save Lignière's life, Christan leaves
to get word of the plot to Lignière by leaving messages at taverns that Lignière frequents.
.......The play begins against the backdrop of a pastoral scene. Montfleury appears in the garb of an Arcadian shepherd. Just as he begins reciting, Cyrano shouts
from the pit that he has forbidden the actor to appear on the stage for a month. When Montfleury starts over, Cyrano brandishes a cane and threatens to beat him, then slice him up with his sword. Voices from the audience protest Cyrano's interference, but Montfleury exits through a trapdoor and the play ends.
.......Cyrano pays the acting company a generous purse to compensate for lost revenues. A disgruntled man, described in the character list and stage directions as "un fâcheux" (a bore), warns Cyrano that Montfleury enjoys the protection of the powerful Duke of Candal. Cyrano then reveals his own protection, his sword, and scolds the
man for staring at his nose. Meanwhile, much of the crowd remains in the theater to see what happens next. After bullying the bore verbally, Cyrano smacks him. The bore runs off.
.......At the urging of de Guiche, Viscount de Valvert ridicules Cyrano's nose.
Cyrano then assaults him with his wit and, in a duel with swords, runs him through while reciting a poem he has composed on the spot. Exclamations of praise for Cyrano from both men and women ring out around the theater. Even the great musketeer D'Artagnan congratulates him.
.......As the spectators exit the theater, Le Bret sits down with Cyrano and cautions him that his derring-do may be making him too many enemies. Cyrano is unconcerned. Le Bret then asks him why he despises Montfleury. Cyrano replies that he has despised the fat actor ever since he saw him making eyes at a woman in the audience, a woman he loves.
The woman to whom he is referring is the beautiful Roxane, his cousin. Unfortunately, he says, his grotesque nose prevents him from having any chance of wooing her. A moment later, however, a message from Roxane's duenna raises his hopes: The woman tells him that Roxane wishes to meet with him in the
morning at a place of his choosing. Cyrano designates Ragueneau's pastry shop in the Rue St. Honoré.
.......When the duenna leaves, Lignière enters drunk with a message Christian left for him at a tavern. It says the one hundred men hired by de Guiche are
lying in wait for him at the Port de Nesle, which he must pass to get home. Consequently, he wants to stay the night at Cyrano's home. But Cyrano tells him he shall sleep in his own bed, for Cyrano will come to his defense and rout all one hundred of the thugs. They leave, followed by actors, officers, and musicians playing violins. (Cyrano's fight with the thugs takes place during a scene change
is not part of the performance.)
Fight Recounted, Cyrano's Meeting With Roxane
.......At 6 o'clock the next morning at Ragueneau's pastry house, cooks and apprentices bustle about preparing dainties. When Cyrano enters, he has a cut on his hand from the previous evening's combat. While he waits for Roxane, who is to arrive at seven, he writes her a love letter in order to bare his soul. Five
customers—all poets—enter and report news of the scene at Port de Nesle, saying eight hoodlums lie on the pavement with deep sword wounds. They are unaware that it was Cyrano who routed the men. The First Poet claims the carnage was the work of a ferocious giant. Pikes, cudgels, and hats litter the scene.
.......Roxane then arrives. Cyrano is about to declare his love for her when she confides to him that Christian de Neuvillette has won her heart. When their eyes met at the theater the previous evening, she says, she fell immediately in love with him. What is more, gossips at the Place Royale have disclosed that he also loves her.
After Cyrano asks why she wanted to meet with him, she says Christian is joining the guards—the same company of rough Gascon guards to which Cyrano belongs—and wants Cyrano to protect him. He agrees to do so.
.......When Roxane leaves by the front door, one of
Cyrano's fellow guardsmen—Captain Carbon de Castel-Jaloux—enters by the back and is surprised to see Cyrano in the shop. Greeting him as a hero, he says he has heard of Cyrano's incredible stand against de Guiche's men. A moment later thirty or so of the captain's cadets enter to praise and congratulate the great swordsman.
.......Le Bret and a burgher come in to report that word of Cyrano's heroics has traveled throughout the city. A moment later, admirers crowd in to have a look at him. Theophrast, from the Court Gazette, is there with his writing board. Then de Guiche enters. He too
acknowledges Cyrano as an extraordinary man. When Brisaille asks who hired the hoodlums, de Guiche admits he did so to get back at Lignière. Then, comparing Cyrano to Don Quixote, he tells him that his exploits will one day undo him.
.......After de Guiche leaves, the cadets ask Cyrano to recount his adventures of the previous evening. Before he begins, Christian enters the shop. One cadet, aware that Christian has just joined the Guards, refers to him as a timid newcomer. Eager to prove the man wrong, Christian decides to do what no other man dares to do: make fun of Cyrano's nose. So, while Cyrano tells his
story, Christian periodically interrupts him by calling attention to his nose. Finally, Cyrano tells the others that he wants to be alone with Christian. They leave, believing he means to thrash the youth.
.......When they are gone, Cyrano reveals that he is
Roxane's cousin and that she may be in love with Christian. The young man takes back all his insults, and he and Cyrano become friends. Cyrano says Roxane expects Christian to write her a letter. But Christian says that when it comes to words, written or spoken, he is a dimwit. He has no writing talent; in front of a beautiful woman, he becomes tongue-tied. Cyrano, a master of words as well as
swords, says he will become Christian's mouthpiece. First, he gives him the love letter he has written to Roxane, telling Christian to send it to her under his own name and address. He does so. As time passes, Cyrano writes additional letters for him.
.......One evening in a square in old Marais (a historic section of Paris), Roxane's duenna sits on a bench in front of Roxane's house as she waits for her mistress to come out. They are to attend a reading on love (entitled “The Tender Passion”) at a house across the square. At the door of Roxane's house is Ragueneau, who now works for the young lady as a porter and servant. He
went bankrupt and lost his shop after his wife gave away pastries to soldiers who fawned over her and he gave away pastries to poets in exchange for their verses.
.......After Roxane comes out, Cyrano appears in the square and asks how things are going between her
and Christian. She tells him that letters she has received from Christian are exquisitely beautiful, making her love him all the more. At that moment, the duenna spies de Guiche approaching the house. To prevent trouble between him and Cyrano, Roxane and the duenna make Cyrano hide in Roxane's house.
De Guiche Arrives
.......De Guiche has come to make a play for Roxane before going off to war as commander of the regiment of guardsmen to which Cyrano and Christian belong. He is to lay siege to the Spanish-held city of Arras, about 107 miles (172 kilometers) north of paris. While there, he says, he will get even with Cyrano for
thwarting his plan against Lignière, apparently by assigning him to face heavy fire. Roxane then realizes that Christian would also be in great peril, for Cyrano could not protect him—as he promised—unless Christian is with him. To foil de Guiche's plan, she first pretends to love him and despise Cyrano, then tells de Guiche that his sweetest revenge would be to leave Cyrano and his close
companions behind, in Paris. Doing so would rob Cyrano of the opportunity to achieve battlefield glory, she says. The idea delights de Guiche, and he assents to it.
.......Before leaving, he proposes that he come for Roxane later in the evening, masked, so
that they may go off in secret to make love. But Roxane puts him off, saying it would be more meaningful if she gave herself to him when he arrives back in Paris as a conquering hero. After de Guiche leaves, Roxane and her duenna go to the Clomire house for the reading. Cyrano comes out just as Christian arrives to call upon Roxane. When Cyrano informs the young man that the love letters have
impressed Roxane, Christian decides to begin speaking for himself.
.......When Roxane returns, her duenna goes into the house, and Cyrano posts himself behind a garden wall to listen to the conversation between Christian and Roxane. As Cyrano expected, it
goes badly for Christian, who is all but speechless in the presence of the beautiful young woman. All he can do is to keep repeating that he loves Roxane. Roxane had expected to be lavished with pretty words to soothe her aesthetic and romantic sensibilities. Disappointed, she goes inside and upstairs to her room, fronted with a balcony.
.......Cyrano comes forth and proposes a plan: He will position himself under the balcony while Christian stands in the square. They will then summon Roxane to the balcony. Each time she speaks, Cyrano will whisper a reply that Christian repeats. After Christian calls out to
her, she comes onto the balcony. When they talk, Christian responds with Cyrano's words, and Roxane is delighted that Christian's eloquence has returned. At one point, Cyrano himself does the talking (still out of sight) and wins Christian a kiss from Roxane after he climbs onto the balcony. All is well.
.......A Franciscan friar comes by with a sealed message for Roxane from de Guiche, which she opens immediately. He writes that he has delayed his departure from Paris so that he can rendezvous with Roxane later in the evening. He notes that the friar is unaware of the contents of the letter. Seeing an opportunity to work her will,
Roxane tells the Franciscan that the letter conveys a message from Cardinal Richelieu—namely, that Roxane is to marry Christian. The priest is to perform the ceremony, which will take about fifteen minutes. Roxane, Christian, and the friar then go into the house for the ceremony while Cyrano remains outside to stall de Guiche when he comes for Roxane.
.......When de Guiche arrives, he is wearing a mask that inhibits his vision. Taking advantage of the situation, Cyrano wraps himself in his cloak, disguises his voice, and tells de Guiche a wacky story. It is so entertaining that even the stern de Guiche laughs. After fifteen
minutes, Cyrano pulls back his cloak and begins speaking in his natural voice, telling de Guiche that "they" were married.
.......“Who?” asks de Guiche.
.......Just then, the newlyweds emerge from the house with the friar and Ragueneau, who carries a candle. Angry, de Guiche then orders Christian and Cyrano to join the troops departing for the war to the sound of a drumbeat, heard in the distance.
.......At the siege of Arras, the Spanish gain the advantage and isolate the French, who are battle-weary and hungry. Cyrano, meanwhile, writes to Roxane twice every day, pretending to be Christian, managing to smuggle the letters through the Spanish lines. At the same time, de Guiche does his best to imperil Cyrano and Christian.
.......One day, Roxane arrives on the battlefield, having used her charms to gain passage through enemy territory. She tells Christian that his letters were so beautiful that she would love him under any circumstances—even if he were physically repulsive. Christian later tells
Cyrano that the charade must end; he believes that it is Cyrano whom Roxane loves even though she does not yet realize it, saying it is the soul behind the letters that has captivated her. Christian says he must be loved for what he is—or not be loved at all.
.......After Christian goes off to the front lines, Cyrano speaks with Roxane to determine whether she is in fact in love with the soul behind the words in the letters. She confirms that she would love Christian regardless of his physical appearance—even if he were hideous, grotesque. Cyrano now realizes that Christian was speaking the truth; Roxane really loves him, not
Christian. But before Cyrano can continue his conversation with her, Christian suffers a grievous wound. His fellow soldiers carry him back from the front and lay him near Cyrano and Roxane. He is near death. While Roxane frantically tends his wound, Cyrano leans over and whispers a noble lie into his ear: “I told her the whole story. But she still loves you.”
Roxane Finds Letter
.......After Christian dies, Roxane finds a letter in his pocket—another love letter written for Christian by Cyrano. She opens and reads it and, grief-stricken, declares that Christian was a great poet with a noble heart. Cyrano agrees with her and hasn't the heart to reveal himself as the author of that letter and all
the others. Themes
.......As the battle rages on, the French struggle to hold their ground. However, French reinforcements are expected soon. What is needed now is fierce resolve that holds the line until the reinforcements arrive.
.......Meanwhile, Roxane faints. Cyrano asks de Guiche to save her. In the thick of the fighting, the count has had a change of heart and agrees to take Roxane away while Cyrano goes off to lead the French defense. The soldiers rally around Cyrano as he charges forward. Many
die. (The play does not reveal the outcome of the fighting, but Rostand's audience was well aware that the the French eventually recaptured Arras.)
.......Fifteen years pass. It is now a Saturday in September 1655. Roxane lives in a convent of the Sisters of the
Holy Cross. Still grieving over the loss of her beloved, she wears black clothing and a veil. Nuns talk idly on the grounds. Sister Martha accuses Sister Claire of a petty sin—looking twice at herself in a mirror. Sister Claire then accuses Sister Martha of stealing a plum from a tart. Mother Marguerite says she will tell Cyrano of their offenses. He visits Roxane every Saturday.
.......In the garden, Roxane walks with de Guiche, now known as the Duke de Grammont. He and she have become good friends, and he is no longer at odds with Cyrano. Le Bret enters the garden to report that Cyrano is ill and has little money to ward off hunger and cold. Moreover,
Le Bret says, Cyrano has made many new enemies with letters that attacked hypocritical noblemen, plagiarists, and others. De Guiche then notes that he heard a rumor saying that an accident might befall Cyrano. Le Bret says he will warn Cyrano.
Guiche leaves, Roxane walks out with him. Ragueneau then enters the garden. Seeing Le Bret, he walks over to him and tells him that he earlier went out to visit Cyrano. On his way, he saw Cyrano leave his residence and turn a corner. Ragueneau followed. After Cyrano rounded a corner, Ragueneau saw a block of wood fall from a window onto Cyrano's head. It opened a gaping wound. Ragueneau helped
him back home, where a doctor wrapped his head in bandages. But his injury is so severe, Ragueneau says, that if he now tries to get up, he might die. Both men go to be with him.
.......Sometime later, Cyrano enters the garden for his usual Saturday visit.
Roxane is there waiting for him. (He had left his residence before Ragueneau and Le Bret arrived). He is ashen and unsure on his feet. When he seats himself in a chair under a tree, he makes jests in a voice much stronger than his sickly appearance would suggest. He then reads her the latest news of the region, summarizing events of the previous week. All the while, he grows weaker and paler. He
even loses consciousness momentarily. Alarmed, Roxane cries out to him. When Cyrano opens his eyes, he says his lapse was nothing more than an old war wound reasserting itself.
.......Roxane says everyone has old wounds. Hers is Christian's last letter, which she
still carries with her. She gives it to Cyrano and tells him to read it. As he recites the words, twilight yields to night. Although it is no longer possible to see the words, he continues his recitation. He knows the words by heart. At this moment, Roxane realizes it was Cyrano who wrote the letter—in fact, all the letters signed by Christian. She then tells Cyrano of her discovery. Le Bret and
Ragueneau then run in and inform Roxane that Cyrano is in imminent danger of dying.
.......Cyrano removes his hat, revealing the bandages, and comments that he had dreamed of a noble death in a sword fight. Instead, he says, he was struck in an ambush by an
.......Roxane says, "Je vous aime, vivez! (I love you, live!)
.......It is now dark, save for the moonlight
shining between trees. Roxane laments that she has caused Cyrano much unhappiness.
......."You? To the contrary," Cyrano says. In Roxane, he says, he has had a lifelong friend. Her sweet charm has been a blessing to him.
.......Suddenly he rises and draws his sword to fight off imaginary enemies, but it falls and he collapses into the arms of Ragueneau and Le Bret. Roxane kisses his forehead.
.......Although Cyrano loves Roxane, he puts aside his own desires in order to bring her and Christian together. Even after Christian dies, he allows Roxane to go on believing that it was Christian who wrote the love letters that she cherishes.
.......Cyrano de Bergerac centers in part on two kinds of beauty: beauty of soul and beauty of body. Cyrano has the soul, and Christian has the body. In the end, it is the soul—made manifest in beautiful words—that conquers. It conquers not only Roxane but also Ragueneau. He bakes the finest pastries in Paris, but
he gives them away in return for beautiful words. Eventually, he loses his shop. However, he gains what his pastries cannot provide him or anyone else—intellectual nourishment. Man cannot live by bread alone—or by physical beauty.
.......Through deceit, Cyrano wins Roxane for Christian. And through deceit, Roxane prevents de Guiche (at least temporarily) from sending Cyano and Christian into battle and, secondly, tricks the Franciscan friar into marrying her and Christian. The deceptions serve the plot well, precipitating comic episodes such as
the balcony scene and creating conflicts and complications that add to the suspense. In the long run, however, all the deceptions backfire. Relationships built on lies, even “noble” lies, are doomed to failure. Christian dies despondent in battle. Cyrano lives on, pining for the love of Roxane. Roxane takes up residence in a convent, unmarried. Only when the veil of deception lifts do the two who
were meant for each other, Cyrano and Roxane, enjoy a moment of solace before Cyrano dies.
Fear of Rejection
.......Cyrano worries that Roxane will reject him because of his grotesque nose. Consequently, he shrinks from wooing her. How odd that this fearsome swordsman, cultured gentleman, and accomplished poet can succumb to self-doubt when deciding whether to court a beautiful woman. His fear of rejection is a bugbear that
everyone faces from time to time, enabling audiences in his time and audiences today to identify with him.
.......The climax of the play occurs in the ninth scene of Act IV, when Christian lies dying of a bullet wound. This is the moment of the most important development in the play: Cyrano's selfless decision first to tell Christian that Roxane truly loves him and second to conceal forever from Roxane the fact that he, not
Christian, wrote the letters that enkindled her love. His decision far exceeds in gallantry all of Cyrano's other deeds of valor on and off the battlefield and fully reveal him as a heroic figure willing to sacrifice his own happiness to bring happiness to others.
Line Length and Alexandrine Verse
..Line Length, Meter, and the Alexandrine Line
.......Edmond Rostand wrote Cyrano de Bergerac in French in lines that each generally contain from one to twelve syllables—and sometimes an additional syllable or two. For example, the fifth line of the first act contains one syllable, the word vous. On the other hand, the seventeenth line of the same act contains twelve syllables: C'est gentil
de venir avant que l'on n'éclaire! (How convenient of you to come while the theater is still dark.) Note that the line contains thirteen syllables if one pronounces the final e in n'éclaire. (In French, the final e of a word is usually not pronounced in everyday conversation.)
.......The twelve-syllable lines in Cyrano constitute what is termed Alexandrine verse, a format in which major accents occur on the sixth and twelfth syllables; a caesura (pause) occurs immediately after the sixth syllable. The name Alexandrine may derive from a twelfth-century work about Alexander the Great that was written
in this verse format. Alexandrine verse became highly popular in France in the seventeenth century, when Jean Baptiste Racine and Pierre Corneille were among the masters of this format.
.......In Cyrano de
Bergerac, Edmond Rostand revived Alexandrine verse, using it most often in multi-line passages in which one character speaks without interruption. When a character speaks only a single line, it is often too short to be Alexandrine. Some English writers later adapted the Alexandrine format in their poetry, but they placed the twelve syllables in iambic pentameter.
(An iambic foot contains two syllables, the first one unstressed and the second stressed.)
.......When a character speaks more than one line, end rhyme occurs frequently; internal rhyme also sometimes occurs. Note the -ez word endings in the following two lines spoken by Lise:
Vraiment, vous m'étonnez !. . . Also note the -ie endings in these lines spoken by Roxane:
Répondez. . .sur son nez. (2.4)
Truly, you astonish me!
Respond [with an insult] about his nose.
Enfin, je l'aime. Il faut d'ailleurs que je vous die Frequently, a character begins a reply with a non-rhyming line, then follows with a couplet or several couplets, as in he following passage spoken by Cyrano:
Que je ne l'ai jamais vu qu'à la Comédie. . . (2.6)
In short, I love him. However, I should tell you
That the only time I saw him was at the comedy (the play at the Hôtel de Bourgogne).
Que l'instant entre tous les instants soit béni, The Real Cyrano and Roxane
Où, cessant d'oublier qu'humblement je respire
Vous venez jusqu'ici pour me dire. . .me dire ?. . . (2.6)
Let this moment of all moments be blessed
For you have remembered that I humbly exist
And have come to tell me . .
. to tell me?
.......Edmond Rostand based the main character of Cyrano de Bergerac on a historical personage, Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac (1619-1655), a writer of plays, pamphlets, and other works. Savinien was also an accomplished swordsman and member of Les Gardes Françaises (the French Guards). Like Rostand's Cyrano, he had
an unusually large nose. And again, like Rostand's Cyrano, he had a cousin named Roxane, participated in legendary duels, and fought in the siege of Arras in 1640, where he suffered a wound. Savinien Cyrano was born in Paris but used de Bergerac (of Bergerac) after his name to reflect his association with the town of Bergerac in southwestern France, where his father maintained an
estate and Cyrano spent time. He wrote two plays—the comedy le Pédant joué (The Pedant Imitated), published in 1654, and the tragedy la Mort d'Agrippine (The Death of Agrippine) published in 1653 and performed in 1654. His most famous works were two novels, Histoire comique des États et Empires de la Lune, published posthumously in 1657, and Histoire comique
des États et Empires du Soleil, published posthumously in 1662. These works, centering on trips to the moon and the sun, satirized the view that man and the earth are the center of the universe. Rostand alludes to them in his play in the the balcony scene, when Cyrano stalls de Guiche while the Franciscan priest marries Roxane and Christian de Neuvillette.
Other Characters Drawn From History
.......Besides Cyrano and Roxane, many other characters in the play are also based on real-life persons. Alexander Guy Holborn Spiers, a Columbia University professor of French, presented a complete list of them, along with descriptions of them and other pertinent information (in English), in his French presentation of
the play (New York: Oxford University Press, 1921). Click here to access this
Allusions to Greek Mythology
Achilles (French, Achille): Greek who was the greatest warrior in the Trojan War. In Cyrano de Bergerac, a cadet says he will do as Achilles did—remain in his tent. The cadet's statement is an allusion to an episode in the Iliad in which Achilles leaves the battlefield and keeps to his tent after
the general of the Greek army, Agamemnon, offends him.
Apollo (French, Apollon): God of prophecy, music, poetry, and medicine. His alternate name, Phoebus, means brightness, and he was thus also considered the god of the sun. He was the son of Zeus, the king
of the Olympian gods, and Leto, the daughter of Titans. The Greeks highly revered Apollo and built many temples in his honor. One such temple at Delphi was the site of a famous oracle, the Pythia, who pronounced prophecies as the mouthpiece of Apollo. In Ragueneau's pastry shop, a poet compliments the pastry chef by saying that he uses the sun rays of Apollo to do his cooking. Another poet
compares Ragueneau to Apollo himself.
Diana (French, Diane): Roman name for Artemis, the Greek goddess of the moon, of chastity and childbirth, and of hunting. Ragueneau refers to her and her fawn in the ninth scene of Act
Diogenes (French, Diogène): Greek philosopher and member of the Cynics, a sect that rejected luxury for a life of austerity. It was said that Diogenes carried about a lantern while searching for an honest man. In Rostand's play, the Franciscan priest
carries a lantern when he arrives at Roxane's house. Cyrano asks him whether he is pretending to be Diogenes.
Helen of Troy (French, Héléne): Wife of King Menelaus of
Greece and the most beautiful woman in the world. She ran away with Paris, a son of the king of Troy, precipitating the Trojan War. Roxane alludes to Helen's love for Paris in the eighth scene of Act IV.
Hercules (French, Hercule): Son of Zeus. Hercules was renowned for his great
strength and performance of heroic deeds. In the balcony scene (3.6), Christian, repeating the words whispered to him by Cyrano, compares the intensity of his love for Roxane to the strength of Hercules.
Orpheus (French, Orphée): Extraordinary musician who was the son of Apollo and the
muse Calliope. When he played the lyre, his music was so beautiful that even the rivers would change their courses to listen to it. In Cyrano, Ragueneau makes a pastry in the shape of a lyre. He also laments the fact that his wife tore up copies of the poems of his friends to make bags to hold pastries. He compares her to the Bacchantes, wild-eyed followers of the god of wine and revelry.
These women killed Orpheus and cut off his head.
Penelope (French, Pénélope): Wife of Odysseus, the hero of Homer's Odyssey. Ragueneau reads part of a poem referring to Penelope near the beginning of the second scene of Act II. Roxane also
refers to Penelope, saying that the latter would never have remained home in Ithaca weaving if her husband had written her eloquent love letters. Instead, she would have embarked on a search for him.
Pyramus (French, Pyrame): Doomed lover of
Thisbe. (For complete details, see the study guide for Ovid's Pyramus and Thisbe.) Cyrano refers to Pyramus in the fourth scene of the first act.
Silenus (French, Silène): Fat, drunken, foster father of the god of wine, Dionysus.
Silenus was depicted as part man and part beast. Cyrano refers to Montfleury as a Silenus (1.5).
Thalia: In Greek mythology, one of the nine muses residing on Mount Olympus. She was a patron of comic theater and is sometimes pictured holding a mask. In Rostand's play, Cyrano criticizes
Montfleury's acting. Before driving the actor off the stage, Montfleury says Cyrano's criticism of him is an insult to Thalia (1.4).
Thespis: Greek poet of the sixth century BC who was said to have originated tragic plays.
Venus (French, Vénus): Roman name for Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love.
Ballade: Poem with three stanzas of eight or ten lines each and a shorter concluding stanza called an envoi. Cyrano recites a ballade while dueling de Valvert (1.4).
Baron: Nobleman of lower rank, below that of a
Beaver: Part of a medieval knight's headgear protecting the jaw. A beaver could be lowered to allow a knight to speak.
Cadet: French army private who
aspires to become an officer.
Chyle: Fluid that forms in the small intestine and passes into the bloodstream.
Doit: Dutch coin of small value.
Envoi: Conclusion of a poem. Cyrano recites an envoi at the end of the ballade he composes while dueling de Valvert (1.4).
Épée: Rapier (French, rapière), a long-bladed sword used for
Farandole: Dance in which the performers hold hands. When pages arrive at the theater in the first act, they are doing the farandole.
Extempore: Composed on
the spot, without preparation; ad-libbed; improvised.
Forsooth: In truth, truly; to be frank; to tell you the truth.
Galantine: Boiled white meat or fish that is seasoned
and served in a chilled mold. Ragueneau serves a galantine of mutton to soldiers on the battlefield (4.4).
Hippocamélélephantolés: Imaginary creature with the characteristics of a sea horse, an elephant, and a camel. Cyrano uses this word when discoursing about his nose
Macaroon: Cookie made with nuts, sugar, and egg whites.
Mistral: Cold, raging wind that blows into France from the Mediterranean.
Panache: Plume on the helmet of a soldier. The word has come to mean dash, derring-do, vitality, self-confidence, and elegance of movement and manner. It is the last word in the play.
Précieux and Précieuses: Les précieux (precious people, males) and les précieuses (precious people, females) were French sophisticates who appreciated refinement, subtle wit, and elaborate courtship rituals. They believed it was crude merely to blurt out to someone, "I love you." Rather, one was to declare his or her love via poetry and customs dating back to chivalric times. The
précieux and précieuses frequently put on airs to impress others. In Act I, a marquis mentions people with unusual names—Barthenoide, Urimedonte, Cassandace, Felixerie—as being among the précieux or précieuses. Because of her fascination with poetic expressions of love, Roxane is considered a précieuse.
Scullion: Lowly kitchen worker.
Sic transit gloria mundi: Latin for Thus passes the glory of the world. Writers sometimes use this Latin sentence to note the passing of an important person, the end of a glorious era, the fall of a city in
a battle, etc. The sentence is often used sarcastically. The actor Bellerose says the first two words of the sentence when people boo Montfleury after Cyrano chases him from the stage.
Viscount (French, vicomte): Nobleman ranking higher than a baron but lower than a
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Study Questions and Essay Topics
- Write an essay that compares and contrasts the fictional Cyrano with the real-life Cyrano.
- Is Cyrano's bravado a symptom of an inferiority complex?
- Why does Cyrano de Bergerac remain one of the most popular stage plays today?
- It appears that an enemy of Cyrano arranged the "accident" that killed him. If you were investigating his murder, who would be your chief suspect (or suspects)?
- Other than Cyrano, who is the most admirable character in the play?
- Does Christian de Neuvillette exhibit any heroic qualities?
- After de Neuvillette dies, why doesn't Cyrano tell Roxane that he was the author of the letters to her?
- Which is more important to you in a future husband or wife: beauty of body or beauty of soul?
- If your answer to the last question was that beauty of body and beauty of soul are equally important, how would you react if illness, injury, weight gain, or weight loss turned your "ideal spouse" into a physically homely or even repulsive partner?