Cyrano de Bergerac (Magill Book Reviews)
The play opens in a theater, where Cyrano has gone to prevent the leading actor from performing because he has made overtures to Cyrano’s beloved Roxanne. After Cyrano shuts down the play, a marquis challenges him. While they duel, Cyrano composes a ballade, and at the end of the refrain, thrusts home.
Roxane, who has been watching, sends a message that asks Cyrano to meet her the next morning. He is encouraged to tell her of his love, but before he can do so, she confesses that she is in love with a handsome guardsman of his regiment and asks Cyrano to protect him. The guardsman, Christian de Neuvillette, is clever enough with men but hopelessly tongue-tied with women, and Roxane is an intellectual who must be wooed poetically. Cyrano persuades Christian to let him write speeches and love letters, which the latter will deliver. Thus Cyrano can make love by proxy.
When Christian insists on making love himself, he fumbles helplessly. Concealed by the dark, Cyrano then speaks in his own voice to Roxane. At his most eloquent, he wins her love, but it is Christian who weds her.
Though Cyrano has courage, wit, compassion, and integrity, he is undone by vanity; self-conscious about his appearance, he is afraid to woo Roxane on his own lest he be rejected. It is really Cyrano’s soul that she loves; Christian would bore her within a few hours. Unable to declare himself openly, Cyrano, in trying to make Roxane happy, brings tragedy to...
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Form and Content (Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series, Supplement)
Cyrano de Bergerac is a five-act play written in verse. Cyrano, the main character, is a master of all the manly arts, except one—romance. He is frightened of love because he has an enormous nose, which he believes makes his appearance grotesque.
The first act begins in a theater, before the debut of a new play. Cyrano has forbidden the actor Montfleury to appear on stage for a month because he “mouths” his lines. Cyrano evicts Montfleury, shutting the play down, which offends a foppish nobleman who has come to watch. In a memorable scene, Cyrano composes a poem while fighting the young fop, ending each verse with the line “And then I hit!” At the conclusion of the duel, Cyrano receives a message from Roxane, his great love, arranging to meet her the next day at Rageuneau’s bakery. Impassioned by the note, Cyrano fights a hundred assassins sent to attack him in the dark.
The second act takes place in Rageuneau’s bakery. Cyrano meets Roxane and is crushed to discover that she loves Christian de Neuvillette, a new cadet in the Gascon Guards, Cyrano’s regiment. She makes Cyrano promise to defend Christian from the baiting that a new cadet experiences upon joining the regiment. When they meet, Christian teases Cyrano about his nose in order to prove his bravery. Rather than fight, Cyrano befriends Christian and tells him of Roxane’s feelings. He agrees to help Christian woo Roxane by writing her love letters.
By act 3, Roxane and Christian are deeply in love, with Cyrano’s ardent letters the...
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Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
Hôtel de Bourgogne
Hôtel de Bourgogne (oh-TEL deh Bur-GOIN). Parisian mansion whose main hall is normally used for tennis, but which on occasion is set up as a theater with a stage. Act 1 of Rostand’s play opens in this theater, where its play within a play focuses the audience’s attention on drama. Cyrano’s own lifelong pursuit of honor makes him seem like a combination actor and playwright, composing and delivering his lines for the applause of his peers.
Ragueneau’s pastry-shop (rah-geh-NOH). Large Parisian kitchen that provides the location of act 2. The shop symbolizes the search of the pastry chef and would-be poet Ragueneau for honor as a poet and his inability to produce well. Overflowing with food, the room reflects his true talent—that of a chef.
Roxane’s house. The primary locale of act 3, Roxane’s house has a vine-covered wall and balcony that are meant to remind audiences of a similar setting in William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (1595-1596). The house stands in a conservative district of Paris that contrasts with the daring of the young lovers, Roxane and Christian de Neuvillette. The knocker on Roxane’s door “is bandaged with linen like a sore thumb,” as if the house, injured by too many suitors seeking Roxane, will irritably resist any future ones.
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Compare and Contrast
Topics for Further Study
What Do I Read Next?
Bibliography and Further Reading
Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Chandler, Frank Wadleigh. The Contemporary Drama of France. Boston: Little, Brown, 1920. Rostand is depicted as “an idealist endowed with a sense of humor.” Ranks Chantecler, however, at a slightly higher level than Cyrano de Bergerac, for “the scintillating wit, the brilliant extemporization, the profusion of words and images that make us dizzy.” Good for comparing the tone of Cyrano de Bergerac with the rest of the canon.
Clark, Barrett Harper. Contemporary French Dramatists. Cincinnati: Stewart & Kidd, 1915. A short but informative essay on Edmond Rostand, his work habits, and his thin but...
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