Edmond Rostand Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Although his greatest success was as a dramatist, Edmond Rostand was first of all a poet. All of his plays are written in verse, and despite his real flair for dramatic situations, it is the wit and lyricism of his verse that raise his best plays above the level of ordinary melodrama. His first published work was a volume of poetry, Les Musardises (1890). The title is untranslatable. Its basic meaning is “daydreams,” but in a preface, Rostand explained that he also meant to evoke a kind of melancholy—muzer, in the Walloon dialect, meaning “to be sad”—as well as the source of poetic inspiration—the Muse. He published two later volumes of verse, Le Cantique de l’aile (1910; the canticle of the wing), including a paean to the first aviators, and Le Vol de la Marseillaise (1914; the flight of the Marseillaise), a collection of patriotic poems inspired by World War I. He wrote little prose, but a boyhood essay on Honoré d’Urfé andÉmile Zola, which won for him first prize in a contest sponsored by the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences of Marseilles, proved important because it introduced him to the strain in French literature known as préciosité, of which d’Urfé’s work was a classic expression. Rostand’s speech on his induction into the Académie Française is also revealing; in it, he discusses the notion of panache, the “spirit of bravura” central to his masterpiece, Cyrano de Bergerac.

Edmond Rostand Achievements

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Edmond Rostand is remembered, and will probably continue to be remembered, exclusively as the author of a single play, Cyrano de Bergerac. Its first production, in Paris in 1897, was greeted with wild enthusiasm (the ovation on opening night lasted almost an hour) and made the twenty-nine-year-old author famous overnight. His popularity did not diminish during his lifetime, and he became the youngest man ever elected to the Académie Française, but most of his plays are marred by sentimentality and have not been much revived since his death. Only one, The Eaglet, enjoyed a reception comparable to that of Cyrano de Bergerac, but this was partly because of the popularity of its theme (the fate of Napoleon II) among Rostand’s contemporaries, and partly because of the acting of Sarah Bernhardt, who appeared in the title role. Rostand cannot be said to have influenced subsequent French drama, for his style was anachronistic in his own day, a reaction against what was perceived as the pessimism of the realistic theater. Cyrano de Bergerac, however, has proved to be a perennial favorite on the world stage and has been translated into languages as disparate as Turkish, Russian, Hebrew, and Japanese. In addition, a musical comedy, The Fantasticks, based on The Romantics, has had an incredibly long run Off-Broadway (more than twenty years) and has been produced in fifty-seven countries.

Edmond Rostand Bibliography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Amoia, Alba della Fazia. Edmond Rostand. Boston: Twayne, 1978. In this concise biography, Amoia discusses Rostand’s life and works. Includes bibliography and index.

Chweh, Crystal R., ed. Readings on “Cyrano de Bergerac.” San Diego, Calif.: Greenhaven Press, 2001. This books of essays, intended for young adults, presents literary criticism of Rostand’s best-known work.

Freeman, E. J. Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac. Glasgow, Scotland: University of Glasgow French and German Publications, 1995. Freeman looks at Rostand and his most popular work. Includes bibliography.