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In Cyrano de Bergerac, what is the allusion in the line "render no share to Caesar"?

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user1099255 | eNotes Newbie

Posted May 30, 2013 at 5:20 AM via web

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In Cyrano de Bergerac, what is the allusion in the line "render no share to Caesar"?

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William Delaney | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted June 1, 2013 at 10:14 PM (Answer #1)

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In Act II, Scene 7, Cyrano is making a long speech in which he declares his freedom and independence. The lines about Cesar in the original are:

Puis, s'il advient d'un peu triompher, par hasard,
Ne pas être obligé d'en rien rendre à César,

Part of the English translation of Cyrano's long speech is as follows:

To say: "My soul, be satisfied with flowers,
With fruit, with weeds even; but gather them
In the one garden you may call your own."
So, when I win some triumph, by some chance,
Render no share to Caesar- in a word,
I am too proud to be a parasite,
And if my nature wants the germ that grows
Towering to heaven like the mountain pine,
Or like the oak, sheltering multitudes-
I stand, not high it may be- But alone!

The allusion is to a famous incident recorded in several of the gospels in the New Testament. An attempt was made by enemies to get Jesus to declare in public that the people should not pay taxes to Rome. The following is the pertinent account from Matthew.

17 Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?

18 But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites?

19 Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny.

20 And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription?

21 They say unto him, Caesar's. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's.

22 When they had heard these words, they marvelled, and left him, and went their way.

                                           Matthew 22:16-22

Cyrano does not seem to be concerned about paying taxes on his earnings to the government. What he is repudiating is the custom of so many poets and other artists of his time and country to rely on powerful patrons for their livelihoods and to do whatever was necessary to win and retain their favor. Throughout the play Cyrano makes enemies by openly defying and insulting the aristocrats who patronize the arts and the artists. As a result, Cyrano remains poor and dies tragically, but he keeps his independent spirit, his "white plume," to the very end.

In making this allusion to the Bible, Cyrano may also be alluding to the clergy.

The best motion picture version of Cyrano de Bergerac is the 1990 French production starring Gerard Depardieu. The English subtitles written by Anthony Burgess are as faithful as possible to the original rhyming French dialogue. The Hollywood version of Cyrano de Bergerac starring Jose Ferrer received awards and critical acclaim, but it is inferior to the 1990 French version, and Ferrer is vastly inferior to Depardieu as Cyrano.

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