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...
(The entire section is 586 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of this article. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
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.
(The entire section is 636 words.)
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.
(The entire section is 413 words.)
Seventeenth Century: Thirty Years War
Rostand wrote Cyrano de Bergerac in the late 1890s but set it in the mid-1600s. While the late 1890s was a period of great industrial and technological advancement, the mid-1600s (the beginning of the reign of Louis XIV) was a time of political intrigue and artistic intellectualism. It is important to understand both periods to truly understand the effect on Rostand's Heroic Comedy.
France in the 1640s was still feeling the effects of the Thirty Years War (1618-1648). Fought mainly in Germany, the war saw the German Protestant Princes, France, Sweden, Denmark, and England fighting the Holy Roman Empire (including the Catholic Princes of Germany and the countries of Austria, Spain, Bohemia, and Italy). The war was fought primarily over trade, and control over the various trade routes to the east.
The war itself ended for most countries in 1648 with the Peace of Westphalia. Fighting went on between France and Spain, however, and in 1654 the Spanish laid siege to Arras in northwestern France. The real Cyrano de Bergerac fought in this siege, and Rostand uses this historical fact for the setting of Act II.
Seventeenth Century: Civil Unrest
French nobles, upset with the unreasonable taxation, high tarriffs, and road tolls engaged the aid of Spanish troops and staged a rebellion against Cardinal Mazarin in 1648. The Cardinal was running the government for the...
(The entire section is 1096 words.)
Cyrano de Bergerac is the tale of a man with an abnormally large nose who is in love with his beautiful cousin Roxane. She is, however, in love with the handsome soldier Chnstian. Cyrano's words work with Christian's good looks to woo Roxane, and it is only upon Cyrano's death that Roxane learns the words she loved so much were Cyrano's. As both poet and swordsman, Cyrano lives out his days independent and free, "thumbing his nose'' at the conventions of the mid-1600s. The story is a very effective dramatic work, utilizing numerous techniques to convey the emotions and events of Cyrano's life.
Rostand idolized the writer Savinen de Cyrano de Bergerac (1619-1655) and, in creating a fictional account of his life, embellished on one of France's most colorful literary figures. The real de Bergerac was indeed both a soldier and a writer, but Rostand added one distinguishing element: a very large nose. While Cyrano's nose is first seen as a comic prop, his romantic heart and heroic stature quickly change that perception. Those familiar with the play see Cyrano's nose as a symbol of his undying love and devotion.
Cyrano de Bergerac falls very easily into the genre of Romanticism. That term is generally defined as "any work or philosophy in which the exotic or dreamlike figure strongly, or that is devoted to individualistic expression, self-analysis, or a pursuit of a higher realm of knowledge than can be...
(The entire section is 873 words.)
Compare and Contrast
1600s: The real Cyrano de Bergerac writes Histoire comique des etats et empires de la lune et du soleil, chronicling his "adventures" on the moon.
1890s: The atom is discovered to be composed of a nucleus orbited by bodies called electrons. This discovery leads to the advent of space flight and the nuclear age.
Today: The Space Shuttle makes routine visits to Earth orbit, and there is preparation for a future visit to Mars.
1640s: The Thirty Years War comes to an end for most countries with the Peace of Westphalia, but France and Spain continue to fight over territory until the end of the seventeenth century.
1890s: European countries continue to pursue colonization of the Third World in order to compete with each other for power. France deposes Queen Ranavalona of Madagascar, while Cuba demands independence from Spain.
Today: The European Union continues to evolve, making France and Spain member states of a new federation.
1600s: Great plays and books were discussed in the salons of Paris, among the aristocrats and nobles who could afford to spend their leisure time discussing and going to the theater. Most common people did not have this luxury.
1890s: Through the availability of newspapers and magazines, critics all over the world discussed the great works at the turn of the century. Most people have some access to the...
(The entire section is 395 words.)
Topics for Further Study
Research the life of Cardinal Richelieu (whose niece de Guiche is married to in the play) and explain how a knowledge of Richelieu's role in French history can expand a reader's understanding of de Guiche's character.
Look in a historical source to discover what life was like in seventeenth-century France. Then, compare and contrast your findings with the presentation of French life in Cyrano de Bergerac.
In the play, Cyrano and the Guards fight the Spanish at the seize of Arras. Investigate the causes and effects of this battle and explain why Rostand would use it in his play.
(The entire section is 99 words.)
The earliest film adaptation of Cyrano de Bergerac is a silent film from 1925 with Pierre Magnier as Cyrano. Available from Kino on Video.
The most famous film version of Cyrano de Bergerac is the one in which Jose Ferrer reprised his famous stage role as the title character. The film was released in 1950 by United Artists and is available on Nostalgia Family Video.
The Royal Shakespeare Company's 1985 production of the play, with Derek Jacobi as Cyrano, is available on video from Turner Home Entertainment.
For a newer adaptation of the play, see Jean-Paul Rappeneau's 1990 version of Cyrano de Bergerac, starring Gerard Depardieu as Cyrano, a performance for which he won the 1990 Cannes Film Festival's Best Actor award. Available on Orion Home Video.
Steve Martin's comedy Roxanne (1987) tells the story of Cyrano de Bergerac in a modern American setting. Starring Steve Martin as C. D. Bales (Cyrano) and Daryl Hannah as Roxanne. Available on Columbia Home Video.
(The entire section is 156 words.)
What Do I Read Next?
Rostand's 1895 play The Princess Far Away is his play concerning Joffroy Rudel, a troubadour who travels to see the beautiful Countess of Tripoli before he dies, despite the fact that they have never met. Like Cyrano, Joffroy is an idealist who commits to a plan of action to realize his dream.
Chantecler, Rostand's 1910 play, focuses on a barnyard rooster who, like his counterpart in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, attempts to uphold his dignity among other "animals" of the world.
Miguel de Cervantes's Don Quixote (1605, 1615) is the renowned novel that follows the adventures of an idealist who lashes out at a materialistic world by engaging himself in various chivalric (and delusionary) adventures. When asked if he has ever read Don Quixote, Cyrano replies, "I have — and found myself the hero.''
(The entire section is 129 words.)
Bibliography and Further Reading
Burgess, Anthony. Preface to Cyrano de Bergerac, by Edmond Rostand, translation by Burgess, Knopf, 1971, pp. v-xiv.
While much of this essay is an explanation of Burgess's methods as a translator, he does offer some valuable insight into the issues of Rostand's play.
Chesterton, G. K. "Rostand" in his Varied Types, Dodd, Mead, and Company, 1903, pp. 73-82.
An excerpt from Chesterton's book that characterizes Rostand's work, focusing in particular on Cyrano de Bergerac and L'Aiglon and their status as heroic comedies.
Phelps, William Lyon. "Edmond Rostand'' in his Essays on Modern Dramatists, Macmillan, 1921, pp. 229-78.
An overview of Rostand's career which traces the theme of the "Triumphant Failure'' in several of his plays. This is a good source for information about Rostand's thematic concerns.
Spiers, A. G. H. "Rostand As Idealist" in Columbia University Quarterly, Vol. XX, No. 2, April, 1918, pp. 155-69.
Spiers discusses how several of Rostand's characters (including Cyrano) attempt to fulfill their idealistic goals despite the obstacles with which they are faced. The essay features several passages from Rostand's plays as well as his definition of "panache."
Beerbom, Max. "Cyrano de Bergerac" in his Around Theatres, revised edition, Rupert Hart-Davis, 1953, pp. 4-7.
(The entire section is 246 words.)
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 excellent canon. Helps put Cyrano de Bergerac in perspective, and explains why subsequent dramas did not measure up to the masterpiece. Discusses the “nose” monologue in some detail.
Matthews, Brander. French Dramatists of the Nineteenth Century. 3d ed. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1901. Unusual in criticizing Cyrano de Bergerac for lacking passions, real action, and realism. Questions Cyrano de Bergerac as a lasting piece of stagework—“at bottom too slight a thing to serve as the corner-stone of a new school.”
Rostand, Edmond. Cyrano de Bergerac: A Heroic Comedy in Five Acts. Translated and edited by Louis Untermeyer. New York:...
(The entire section is 296 words.)