When Cyrano de Bergerac was first produced at the Porte Saint-Martin Theater in Paris, France, on December 28, 1897, the audience applauded for a full hour after the final curtain was drawn. A classic was created on that night, and an unforgettable hero of literature was born.
The play is based loosely on the life of playwright Savien de Cyrano de Bergerac (1619-1655), Edmond Rostand's favorite writer. Actor Constant-Benoit Coquelin had asked Rostand to write a play to showcase his versatile acting abilities. Rostand, though writing in the 1890's, set his action in the 1640's; during the last two decades of the real de Bergerac's life. This "heroic comedy" uses rhymed Alexandrine verse to combine romance, heroic action, and humor to give life to one of the most enduring characters in modern literature: Cyrano de Bergerac, a hero who is not only a swashbuckler but a poet, using words as effectively as weapons.
Cyrano was first published in France by Charpentier et Fasquelle in 1898; and first translated into English by Howard Thayer Kingsbury for Lamson, Wolfe, and Co. the same year. The play has been produced all over the world. In 1950 it was brought to movie screens in the United States by the United Artists studio with Jose Ferrer starring in the title role. Noted writer Anthony Burgess (A Clockwork Orange) translated the play in 1971: this translation was used as the basis for the subtitles for the 1990 French film version directed by Jean-Paul Rappineau and starring Gerard Depardieu.
A modern interpretation of Cyrano de Bergerac, Roxanne, was produced by Columbia Pictures in 1987. This film, loosely based on Rostand's play, was written by and starred comedian Steve Martin as a modern Cyrano. The success of this film was due in part to its loyalty to the central themes of love, loyalty, sacrifice, and independence of Rostand's original classic. The hero, again with a very large nose, woos the woman he loves for another, more "handsome" man.
Edmond Rostand's mix of humor, romance, and heroic action in Cyrano de Bergerac has captured audience imagination for almost 100 years. Its recurring themes of love, loyalty, sacrifice, and friendship continue to have resonance for audiences of many generations.