Guide Written by Michael J. Cummings...©
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 tragically.
Performance and Critical Reception
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.
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.
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,"
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
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 man.
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
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.
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.
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 Clorise.
Members of the acting company scheduled to perform La Clorise.
De Cuigy, de Brissaille:
Gentlemen who attend the scheduled performance of La Clorise.
Un Fâcheux (Bore,
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
(Soldier in the Light Cavalry): This cavalier is among those who attend
the scheduled performance of La Clorise.
Le Portier (Doorkeeper):
Theater doorman who checks to see whether attendees have paid the price
Un Bourgeois: (Burgher,
Middle-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,
Bertrandou le Fifre (Bertrand
Le Capucin (Capuchin
Monk): Priest who marries Roxane and Christian. He is a member of the
Capuchins, a branch of the Franciscan order.
Deux Musiciens (Two Musicians)
Les Poètes (Poets)
(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.
Girl who sells refreshments from a counter (buffet) near the entrance of
La Duègne (Chaperone,
Duenna): Woman who accompanies Roxane.
(Comedian): Comic actress in the play.
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.)
Boudu, Boissat, 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
Les Pages (Pages)
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.
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
Les Laquais (Lackeys):
Uniformed servants; followers; toadies.
Madame de Guéméné,
Madame de Bois-Dauphin, Madame de Chavigny: Ladies who attend the theater
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.
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.
pages 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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
asks de Guiche.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
de 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.
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.
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.
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 unseen coward.
says, "Je vous aime, vivez! (I love you, live!)
is now dark, save for the moonlight shining between trees. Roxane laments
that she has caused Cyrano much unhappiness.
To the contrary," Cyrano says. In Roxane, he says, he has had a lifelong
friend. Her sweet charm has been a blessing to him.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
Length and Alexandrine Verse
Length, Meter, and the Alexandrine Line
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
e of a word is usually not pronounced in everyday conversation.)
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
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
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.)
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:
. .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. . .
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,
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?
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.
Characters Drawn From History
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 list.
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
in which Achilles leaves the battlefield and keeps to his tent after the
general of the Greek army, Agamemnon, offends him.
(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.
(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 IV.
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.
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
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
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
Baron: Nobleman of
lower rank, below that of a viscount (vicomte).
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.
of a poem. Cyrano recites an envoi at the end of the ballade he composes
while dueling de Valvert (1.4).
Rapier (French, rapière), a long-bladed sword used for thrusting.
in which the performers hold hands. When pages arrive at the theater in
the first act, they are doing the farandole.
on the spot, without preparation; ad-libbed; improvised.
Forsooth: In truth,
truly; to be frank; to tell you the truth.
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).
Imaginary creature with the characteristics of a sea horse, an elephant,
and a camel. Cyrano uses this word when discoursing about his nose (1.4)
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
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
Viscount (French, vicomte):
Nobleman ranking higher than a baron but lower than a count.
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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?