Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
In the theater hall of the Hôtel de Burgundy, a young soldier named Christian de Neuvillette anxiously waits for the beautiful Roxane to appear in her box. Christian fell passionately in love with this woman whom he never met. While he is waiting for her arrival, Christian becomes increasingly upset because he fears that he will never be able to summon sufficient courage to address her, for he believes she is as brilliant and as graceful as he is doltish and clumsy.
In the audience, also waiting for the curtain to go up, is one Ragueneau, a romantic tavern-keeper and tosspot poet, whose friends praise his verses to his face while behind his back they help themselves to the pastries that he makes. Ragueneau inquires of another poet the whereabouts of Cyrano de Bergerac. The actor Montfleury, Cyrano’s enemy and one of Roxane’s suitors, is to star in the play, and Cyrano threatened him with bodily injury if he appears for the performance. Cyrano, however, did not yet arrive.
At last Roxane appears. The play begins, and Montfleury comes out on the stage to recite his lines. Suddenly a powerful voice orders him to leave the stage. After the voice comes the man, Cyrano de Bergerac, one of the best swordsmen in France. The performance is halted abruptly.
Another of Roxane’s suitors tries to provoke a fight with Cyrano by ridiculing his uncommonly big nose. Cyrano, sensitive about his disfiguring nose, becomes the insulter instead...
(The entire section is 1052 words.)
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Act I Summary
Act I: A Performance at the Hotel de Bourgogne
Act I of Cyrano de Bergerac opens at the famous Hotel de Bourgogne in France, where a troop of actors are setting up for a matinee performance. Joining the actors and stagehands is a cross-section of seventeenth-century Parisian life: cavaliers, pages, pickpockets, peddlers, and even Marquises bustle about the stage. The audience is introduced to Christian de Neuvillette, a handsome young man who has come (with his friend, Ligniere) to catch a glimpse of Roxane, a beautiful woman who may be attending the performance. Christian complains of his inability to speak to her: "I have no wit," he states, and he fears embarrassing himself if he is given the chance to confront her. A greater obstacle, however, is the fact that the Comte de Guiche, who is married to the niece of Cardinal Richelieu, also desires Roxane, and has been pressing her to marry his friend, Valvert, so that he can be near her whenever he wishes. Roxane is, naturally, averse to the idea.
The play truly begins when its title character, the soldier Cyrano, enters and chases Montfleury, an actor whose pomposity and unskilled bombast the swordsman despises, off of the stage. After giving the theatre's manager a purse of gold (to compensate for his closing the play), Cyrano banters with some minor characters—until Valvert, goaded by de Guiche, attempts to mock Cyrano for his most striking feature: his gigantic nose. He taunts...
(The entire section is 464 words.)
Act II Summary
Act II: The Bakery of the Poets
The action shifts to Ragueneau's pastry shop, where the baker (and aspiring poet) feeds a host of local artisans in exchange for their verse and conversation. Cyrano enters, for it is here that he will meet Roxane, and he is eager to hear what he hopes will be a pronouncement of her love. Roxane tells him that she is in love, with someone "who does not know," who "loves me too," and "never says one word." However, when she describes this man as "beautiful," Cyrano knows that she cannot be speaking of him. Roxane confesses that she loves Christian, and has come to ask Cyrano to watch over him, as he is to enter the Guards (of which Cyrano is a member). Cyrano reluctantly agrees, saying nothing to Roxane about his own feelings.
Cyrano tells Christian of Roxane's love and that she expects a letter from him. Delighted yet distraught, Christian tells Cyrano that he cannot write, for doing so "would ruin all": "I am a fool!/ Stupid enough to hang myself.'' The two men speak of their own deficiencies: Christian, placing his hand on his heart, cries, "Oh, if I had words/To say what I have here." Cyrano wishes he was "a handsome little Musketeer." Finally, Cyrano devises a plan to help Christian: the young soldier can "borrow" his wit by allowing Cyrano to write the letter to Roxane. After some prodding, Christian agrees, causing Cyrano to exclaim that, with their combined forces, "we two" will "make one her of...
(The entire section is 261 words.)
Act III Summary
Act III: Roxane's Kiss
Act III takes place in front of Roxane's house. Cyrano enters and speaks to Roxane about "Christian's" letters, which she describes as the work of "a master," but which Cyrano is forced (by virtue of his secret role in their creation) to criticize. De Guiche enters, again asking Roxane to consider his offer; she responds with indifference. When he reveals that the Guards have been ordered to besiege Arras, Roxane's concern for Christian motivates her to trick de Guiche into leaving Cyrano and Christian behind, while the rest of the regiment marches off to glory. He agrees, convinced that this is a sign of Roxane's love. Christian and Cyrano enter and discuss their agreement, which Christian wants to end by speaking freely and openly to Roxane. "I am no such fool! You shall see," the young Cadet promises, only to flounder when he does attempt to speak eloquently to Roxane. She runs into her house, shutting the door in his face and leaving Christian more heartbroken than before. However, Cyrano again devises a plan: he will stand under Roxane's balcony and pretend that he is Christian; this way, the illusion that they have created will be sustained. Hidden by shadows, Cyrano "rhapsodizes" under her window until she begs him to climb the trellis and receive her kiss. Christian does, leaving Cyrano on the ground, comparing himself to Lazarus, the Biblical beggar who waited outside the gates of a rich man who dined on the finest foods....
(The entire section is 375 words.)
Act IV Summary
Act IV: The Cadets of Gascoyne
Act IV occurs at Arras, the front of France's war against Spain. Cyrano has risked his life every day by crossing the battlefield to ensure that Roxane receives her daily letter. All are shocked when a carriage arrives at the camp containing Roxane and Raguenea; she has come to see Christian, and he has come to supply the hungry men with food and wine. In a conversation with Christian, Roxane asks for his "forgiveness." She feels that she has sinned, that she has fallen in love with him only because he was "beautiful." She tells him that even if he were "less charming" or "ugly even," she would still love him. Of course, this is terrible news to Christian, who tells Cyrano that he is "tired of being/ [His] own rival." Christian wants Roxane to know the truth: "I want her love/For the poor fool I am—or not at all!" He asks Cyrano to tell Roxane the entire story in the hope that she will choose the man whom she loves more dearly. Christian exits the stage, entering the battle that rages outside.
Cyrano now has the opportunity for which he has been hoping: a chance to reveal himself to Roxane, to show her that it is his soul and his words that she loves. Just as he is about to tell her, however, Christian is brought on stage, mortally wounded. Rather than deny happiness to a dying man, Cyrano tells Christian that Roxane chose him: "I have told her; she loves you." As he watches Roxane weep over Christian's body,...
(The entire section is 324 words.)
Act V Summary
Act V: Cyrano's Gazette
The scene shifts to fifteen years later. Roxane has entered a convent and is visited by Cyrano every Saturday. During these visits he informs her of the week's events, giving her a dose of the town's gossip. Le Bret tells the nuns that Cyrano is penniless and lonely due to his caustic attacks ("satires'') on hypocrites of all kinds: "He attacks the false nobles, the false saints/The false heroes, the false artists—in short,/Everyone!" De Guiche, whose passion has been cooled by time, visits Roxane to tell her of a rumor he heard at Court concerning the possible murder of Cyrano for offending a "false noble." Ragueneau runs on stage and informs everyone that Cyrano was hit on the head with a log that ''accidentally" fell from a window. He and Le Bret run off to aid the dying swordsman.
Cyrano, however, appears after they leave to see Roxane before he dies. Although he tries to make jests and tell Roxane the "gazette'' of news at Court, he is obviously in pain (yet too proud to admit it). Confessing that he is dying, he engages in his last swordfight, a battle with death itself. While his previous clashes with death allowed him escape, this one will not, and he stumbles in exhaustion. Nearing death, Cyrano's last wish is to read the letter that "Christian" wrote to Roxane on the day of his death, which she keeps in a locket around her neck. As he reads it aloud, the irony of the situation—and Cyrano's...
(The entire section is 409 words.)