Cyrano de Bergerac Analysis

Cyrano de Bergerac (Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

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 all three of them. Despite the tragedy, the play has much humor, verve, and panache. A variation on the Beauty and the Beast tale, Cyrano is irresistible theater, full of wit, swashbuckling, pathos, poetry, and romance.

Bibliography:

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: Heritage Press, 1954. This deluxe edition, with color illustrations by Pierre Brissard, features a foreword introducing the person on whom the stage figure is based. Brief biographical notes and a performance history to 1947.

Smith, Hugh Allison. Main Currents of Modern French Drama. New York: Henry Holt, 1925. Acknowledges Cyrano de Bergerac as definitive in evaluating the qualities and worth of Rostand’s poetic drama. Summarizes articles that appeared after the first production. Finds the play’s “freshness and salubrity” the main source of its popularity. Cyrano was not the beginning of a new school but rather an indication of “the survival and culmination of Romanticism.”

Cyrano de Bergerac Form and Content (Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

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 cause of this great passion. At night, standing beneath the balcony of Roxane’s home, Cyrano feeds Christian expressions of poetic love, while Roxane listens above. When Christian keeps flubbing his lines, Cyrano takes his place and stands in the shadows, actually speaking for himself, as Roxane listens and believes Cyrano to be Christian. Meanwhile, the Comte de Guiche, the nephew of Cardinal Richelieu, arrives on the scene; he also desires Roxane and has come to force her to marry him. In a scene of tremendous imagination and poetic fancy, Cyrano delays de Guiche by describing a fictitious series of trips to the moon while Christian and Roxane are married. The couple are wed, only to be parted immediately, as de Guiche announces the mobilization of their regiment. Roxane makes Christian promise to write; Cyrano ensures that he will.

The fourth act finds Cyrano and Christian fighting the Spanish army at the siege of Arras. The French are starving. A Spanish attack is expected, and the Gascon Guards do not believe that they will survive. Despite the encircling Spanish troops, Cyrano has slipped through the lines every day to post letters to Roxane. Suddenly, Roxane arrives with a wagonload of food. She confesses that the passionate letters made it impossible for her to stay away from Christian. Tired of the charade, Christian makes Cyrano promise to tell Roxane who actually wrote the letters. Just as Cyrano is about to speak, Christian is killed by a sniper. Cyrano keeps the secret of the letters to himself.

The fifth act takes place fifteen years after the battle of Arras. Roxane now lives in a nunnery. Cyrano, still her faithful friend, comes once a week to tell her gossip from the outside world. He is late to deliver his “gazette,” ignoring a mortal wound that he has just suffered in a cowardly ambush. After delivering his news, Cyrano recites “Christian’s” last letter from memory. Roxane realizes that Cyrano is the poetic genius whom she has loved these many years. Cyrano’s wound is very grave, and he dies from it, but not before knowing that Roxane truly loves him. Roxane cries out to the heavens that she has twice lost the man she loves.

Cyrano de Bergerac Places Discussed (Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

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

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

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.

*Arras

*Arras (ah-RAS). Spanish-held city in northern France retaken by the French after a siege in 1640 that provides the setting for act 4 of Cyrano de Bergerac. There Christian and Cyrano risk their lives for king and honor and are visited by Roxane immediately before Christian is killed by a sniper. The scene in which Roxane brings a wagon of food to the starving soldiers of the Gascon Guards found a receptive audience in Paris, which had suffered through a horrifying siege and famine during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871.

Sisters of the Holy Cross convent

Sisters of the Holy Cross convent. Parisian nunnery in whose garden Cyrano and Roxane meet in act 5, fifteen years after the battle at Arras. Falling leaves accord with Cyrano’s advancing age, while the solitary, “enormous” tree in the middle of the stage stands apart, like Cyrano in its size and loneliness. Neither the tree nor Cyrano is on a straight path to the chapel, which symbolizes Heaven. It is here that Cyrano finally reveals to Roxane that he wrote the love letters she received from Christian many years earlier.

Cyrano de Bergerac Historical Context

Seventeenth Century: Thirty Years War
Rostand wrote Cyrano de Bergerac in the late 1890s but set it in the mid-1600s....

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Cyrano de Bergerac Literary Style

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,...

(The entire section is 873 words.)

Cyrano de Bergerac Compare and Contrast

1600s: The real Cyrano de Bergerac writes Histoire comique des etats et empires de la lune et du soleil, chronicling his...

(The entire section is 395 words.)

Cyrano de Bergerac 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...

(The entire section is 99 words.)

Cyrano de Bergerac Media Adaptations

The earliest film adaptation of Cyrano de Bergerac is a silent film from 1925 with Pierre Magnier as Cyrano. Available from Kino on...

(The entire section is 156 words.)

Cyrano de Bergerac 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...

(The entire section is 129 words.)

Cyrano de Bergerac Bibliography and Further Reading

FURTHER READING
Burgess, Anthony. Preface to Cyrano de Bergerac, by Edmond Rostand, translation by Burgess, Knopf, 1971,...

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Cyrano de Bergerac Bibliography (Great Characters in Literature)

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: Heritage Press, 1954. This deluxe edition, with color illustrations by Pierre Brissard, features a foreword introducing the person on whom the stage figure is based. Brief biographical notes and a performance history to 1947.

Smith, Hugh Allison. Main Currents of Modern French Drama. New York: Henry Holt, 1925. Acknowledges Cyrano de Bergerac as definitive in evaluating the qualities and worth of Rostand’s poetic drama. Summarizes articles that appeared after the first production. Finds the play’s “freshness and salubrity” the main source of its popularity. Cyrano was not the beginning of a new school but rather an indication of “the survival and culmination of Romanticism.”