Cyrano de Bergerac eText - Reading Pointers for Sharper Insights

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Reading Pointers for Sharper Insights

  1. To better appreciate Cyrano de Bergerac, consider some of the following themes that the play deals with:

  2. It is important to consider some historical context with regard to two particular time periods: the time and place in which the action of the play occurs and the time and place in which Edmond Rostand wrote the play.

    • The play is set in France between the years of 1640 and 1655.

      • France is involved in the Thirty Years’ War, a war fought against the Holy Roman Empire mainly over trade routes.

      • France reaches its height in the areas of art, literature, and philosophy, which sets the standard for the rest of Europe.

      • Cardinal Richelieu has recently founded the French Academy, a society of intellectuals and writers.

      • Literature and poetry are discussed at intellectual gatherings called salons, which were popular among educated, aristocratic women and usually took place in the homes of such women.

    • Edmond Rostand wrote Cyrano de Bergerac in Paris, France, in 1897.

      • France experiences rapid industrial growth and further growth of its many colonies.

      • English physicist Joseph John Thomson discovers the electron.

      • The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells and Dracula by Bram Stoker are published.

      • Realism and naturalism dominate the arts, but a neo-romanticist movement also begins, of which Rostand is a part.

  3. As stated above, the late nineteenth century was dominated by realism in the arts. The realist tradition involved frank depictions of everyday life and its mundane activities, important social or political themes, and depictions of the daily struggles people faced, especially those in the lower classes. Rostand, however, along with other artists of his time, broke out of this realist mode and looked back to the genre of romanticism, a literary movement popular in Europe during the late 18th century. Romanticism involves the following characteristics:

    • the depiction of intense emotion and expression

    • the importance of action, movement, and drama

    • a focus on the individual and his or her rebellion against social conventions

  4. Be aware of numerous references by Rostand to other famous literary works and plays. For example, the balcony scene in Cyrano de Bergerac is a parody of the balcony scene in Shakespeare'sRomeo and Juliet. Pay special attention, however, to the many references to Alexandre Dumas’ 1844 novel The Three Musketeers. Rostand was a fan of Dumas’ novel, and he both parodies and pays tribute to it in Cyrano de Bergerac. Here are just a few of the allusions Rostand makes to The Three Musketeers.

  5. Understand some of the symbols that occur in Cyrano de Bergerac:

    • Cyrano's nose symbolizes several things. On the one hand, it symbolizes his best qualities: loyalty, virtue, bravery, and independence. It also symbolizes his character's biggest weakness: his insecurities when it comes to love.

    • Cyrano's tears and Christian's blood on the last letter to Roxane symbolize the fact that the two men together made up one romantic hero.

    • The white plume is a symbol of honor, bravery, purity, and moral integrity.

  6. Understand some of the motifs that occur in the play:

    • fighting and war

    • poetry and letters

    • the Moon and the night sky

    • society and its hierarchies

    • Greek mythology and ancient heroes