Edmond Rostand wrote five volumes of poetry, as well as ten other plays, but none achieved the status of Cyrano de Bergerac. Nevertheless, Rostand’s fame has been assured by this play. It received an enthusiastic reception in the United States and has been continuously produced since its debut in 1921. The play has been made into several memorable films, in both English and French. José Ferrer won an Academy award for Best Actor for his version of Cyrano de Bergerac in 1950. The play has also been adapted to modern themes, in films such as Roxanne (1987), which very successfully translates the plot and style into a contemporary American setting.
While Cyrano de Bergerac has come to be considered a classic, it is infrequently taught. It retains its importance because it is a performed work, not a heavily studied but underacted play, as many of William Shakespeare’s works have become.
As a play, Cyrano de Bergerac is a fascinating work to perform because of its characters—not only Cyrano but many of the other roles as well. The language of the play is exciting, lyrical, and frequently humorous. Rostand’s melding of romantic themes, wit, and dazzling imagery goes a long way to explain its continued popularity. Yet, there is another compelling explanation: the romantic tension that the play portrays, between an unattainable woman and a man who is worthy of her favors but is physically unattractive to her, is a type of situation with which almost everyone can identify. The language of the play saves it from merely being a tale of a Frenchman with a strange nose; Rostand’s (and Cyrano’s) spirit elevates it to the level of a classic story of romantic, bittersweet love.