In the theater hall of the Hôtel de Burgundy, a young soldier named Christian de Neuvillette anxiously waits for the beautiful Roxane to appear in her box. Christian fell passionately in love with this woman whom he never met. While he is waiting for her arrival, Christian becomes increasingly upset because he fears that he will never be able to summon sufficient courage to address her, for he believes she is as brilliant and as graceful as he is doltish and clumsy.
In the audience, also waiting for the curtain to go up, is one Ragueneau, a romantic tavern-keeper and tosspot poet, whose friends praise his verses to his face while behind his back they help themselves to the pastries that he makes. Ragueneau inquires of another poet the whereabouts of Cyrano de Bergerac. The actor Montfleury, Cyrano’s enemy and one of Roxane’s suitors, is to star in the play, and Cyrano threatened him with bodily injury if he appears for the performance. Cyrano, however, did not yet arrive.
At last Roxane appears. The play begins, and Montfleury comes out on the stage to recite his lines. Suddenly a powerful voice orders him to leave the stage. After the voice comes the man, Cyrano de Bergerac, one of the best swordsmen in France. The performance is halted abruptly.
Another of Roxane’s suitors tries to provoke a fight with Cyrano by ridiculing his uncommonly big nose. Cyrano, sensitive about his disfiguring nose, becomes the insulter instead of the insulted. Words lead to a duel. To show his contempt for his adversary, Cyrano composes a poem while he is sparring with his opponent, and when he finishes the last word of the last line, Cyrano staggers his man. Le Bret, Cyrano’s close friend, cautions the gallant swordsman against making too many enemies by his insults.
Cyrano confesses that he is exceptionally moody lately because he is in love with his lovely cousin Roxane, despite the fact he can never hope to win her because of his ugliness. While Le Bret tries to give Cyrano confidence in himself, Roxane’s chaperone appears to give Cyrano a note from his cousin, who wants to see him. Cyrano is overcome with joy. The place selected for the meeting between Cyrano and Roxane is Ragueneau’s tavern. Cyrano arrives early, and, while he waits for his beautiful cousin, he composes a love letter, which he leaves unsigned because he intends to deliver it in person. When Roxane appears, she confesses to Cyrano that she is in love. Cyrano thinks for a moment that she is in love with him, but he soon realizes that the lucky fellow is not Cyrano but Christian. Roxane asks Cyrano to take the young soldier under his wing, to protect him in battle. Cyrano sadly consents to do her bidding.
Later, when Christian jests with Cyrano concerning the latter’s nose, Cyrano restrains himself for Roxane’s sake. When he learns that Cyrano is Roxane’s cousin, Christian confesses his love for Roxane and begs Cyrano’s help in winning her. Christian is a warrior, not a lover; he needs Cyrano’s ability to compose pretty speeches and to write tender, graceful messages. Although his heart is broken, Cyrano gives the young man the letter he wrote in Ragueneau’s tavern.
Cyrano visits Roxane to inquire about her love affair with Christian. Roxane, who recently received a letter from Christian, is delighted by his wit. Cyrano does not tell her that he is the writer of the letter.
Shortly afterward Christian tells Cyrano that he now wants to speak for himself in his wooing of Roxane. Under her balcony one evening Christian tries to speak for himself, but he becomes so tongue-tied that he has to ask the aid of Cyrano, who is lurking in the shadows. Cyrano, hidden, tells Christian what to say, and Roxane is so delighted by these dictated protestations that she bestows a kiss on Christian.
A friar appears with a letter from the Count de Guiche, commander of Cyrano’s regiment, to Roxane. The count writes that he is coming to see her that night, even though by so doing he is deserting his post. Roxane deliberately misreads the letter, which, she says, orders the friar to marry her to Christian. Roxane asks Cyrano to delay de Guiche until after the ceremony, a request that Cyrano effectively carries out by making the count think that Cyrano is mad. After learning that Roxane and Christian are already married, the duped de Guiche orders Christian to report immediately to his regiment.
In a battle that follows, Cyrano and the other cadets are engaged against the Spanish. During the conflict Cyrano risks his life to send letters to Roxane through the enemy’s lines, and Roxane never suspects that the author of these messages is not Christian. Later Roxane joins her husband, and to him she confesses that his masterful letters brought her to his side.
Realizing that Roxane is really in love with the nobility and tenderness of Cyrano’s letters, Christian begs Cyrano to tell Roxane the truth. Christian, however, is killed in battle shortly afterward, and Cyrano swears never to reveal Christian’s secret. Rallying the cadets, Cyrano charges bravely into the fight, and under his leadership the Spanish are defeated.
Fifteen years pass. Roxane, grieving for Christian, retires to a convent. Each week Cyrano visits Roxane. One day, however, he comes late. When he arrives, he conceals under his hat a mortal wound that one of his enemies inflicted by dropping an object from a building on Cyrano’s head. While talking about her dead husband, Roxane recites to Cyrano Christian’s last letter, which she keeps next to her heart. With Roxane’s permission, Cyrano reads the letter which he himself wrote, even though it has grown so dark that neither he nor Roxane can see the words.
Suddenly Roxane realizes that Cyrano knows the contents of the letter by heart, that he must have written it. With this realization comes her conviction that for fifteen years she unknowingly loved the soul of Cyrano, not Christian. Roxane confesses her love for Cyrano, who dies knowing that at last Roxane is aware of his love and that she shares it with him.