Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1121
Search for Self
Cyrano de Bergerac is a story about fear, beauty, loyalty, friendship, love, and difference. In Cyrano's search for his self—and the conflict between who he is and who he'd like to be—he manages to both gain friends and make enemies. He simultaneously challenges those around him while entertaining others. He must ultimately believe that it is possible for Roxane to love him, and to believe himself worthy of that love, before he can make peace with his enemies. Unfortunately, this realization comes too late for both of them, and he dies as Roxane declares her love for him.
Cyrano is afraid to declare his love for Roxane, his cousin, because he fears rejection and ridicule—he believes that a woman as beautiful as Roxane could never love a man who is not also physically beautiful. This fear drives him to succeed at swordsmanship, poetry, and scathing wit. He drives the actor Montfleury from the stage, and fights a duel with the Vicomte de Valvert with both his sword and his words. Cyrano fights not only against his foes, but against his own fear of rejection.
There is much talk of beauty and and its counterpart ugliness in Cyrano de Bergerac, Cyrano believes himself too ugly to be loved by the beautiful Roxane (or any woman). Yet he fails to properly value the more elusive beauty that he possesses in his mind and heart, a beauty that can create his moving poetry and cause Roxane to swoon at his words. Ironically, it is Cyrano's
This nose precedes me everywhere/A quarter of an hour in front, to say, 'Beware/Don't love Cyrano' to even the ugliest /And now Cyrano has to love the best,/The brightest, bravest, wittiest, the most/Beautiful!"
Yet Cyrano fails to recognize the source of his own beauty, his heart and mind. With this beauty he creates moving poetry, summons words that cause Roxane to swoon, and rallies the spirits of starving, dejected soldiers.
There are numerous contrasts between beauty and its opposite in the play: with Christian it is his dashing outward appearance against his limited intelligence; with Cyrano it is the direct opposite. It is only when Roxane writes to Christian/Cyrano during the siege of Arras that the two men realize that words mean more to her than looks: "Your beauty is a barrier to you/If you were ugly.,,/... I know I should/Be able to love you more." There lies the notion that Cyrano's beauty comes from within, and has more depth than Christian's. Roxane is in love with the words—Cyrano's words—and not Christian's handsome exterior. The sense that beauty comes from within, from the soul, rather than the body is strong. The play's tragedy comes from its protagonist's failure to recognize this earlier.
Even though aware that it was his words that won the heart of Roxane, Cyrano remains loyal to his friend Christian's memory after the latter's death during the siege of Arras. He does not take the opportunity to romantically pursue Roxane. Christian looks for death in battle rather than struggle on after he realizes that it is Cyrano's soul (his words and feelings) with which his wife is truly in love. Cyrano, still afraid of rejection, keeps this secret for fifteen years. Rather than tarnish the memories Roxane has of Christian, Cyrano remains loyal to his friend and keeps the secret. It is only when he is about to die that he feels that he can reveal to Roxane that it was he who wrote all of those letters and wooed her while she was on her balcony. Her declaration of love is what Cyrano wanted more than anything in the world, and he dies finally knowing it was his heart and soul that she truly loved.
Le Bret, Ragueneau, and Roxane are all very loyal to Cyrano. Despite being put into sometimes perilous situations by the poet-hero, they continue to offer support and friendship to him. Le Bret and Ragueneau are there until the end, trying to save him from his enemies, but it is too late. This kind of loyalty is fueled by deep friendship, and that is an important theme in Rostand's work. Those who are friends with Cyrano will defend him to the end.
Cyrano's markedly different appearance is what drives him and fuels his fear. It is his belief that Roxane could never love him that forges his alliance and friendship with Christian. It is also what drives his bravura and wit. Anyone who mentions his unusually large nose (as the unfortunate citizen in the theater in Act I) is open to attack. The only thing that saves Chnstian from such an attack in the pastry shop is the love of Roxane. Those who learn to look past the difference—Ligniere, Ragueneau, Le Bret, and eventually Christian and Roxane—realize that Cyrano's true beauty resides within. His difference is merely physical and does not touch his soul. Even the Comte de Guiche sees and understands the "true Cyrano" by the end: "He/Lives his life as he wants, he's one of those/Rare animals that have opted to be free/ ... Nevertheless,/I think I'd be proud to shake him by the hand.''
In the end, it is Cyrano's freedom that finishes him: his refusal of the Foodseller's meal in the theater (Act I), de Guiche's offer of Richelieu's patronage at the pastry shop (Act II), and the aid of the Sisters at the convent (Act III). His wish to be free and independent eventually leads to his death. By believing that he cannot be loved, he wishes to be dependent on no one. This fierce thirst for freedom leads him to say and write things that make him many enemies; he is eventually killed because of his words—the words that, ironically, also mirror his inner beauty.
It was Rostand's triumph to create a character so full of bravura, wit, and cunning and yet be so afraid to declare his love to his beloved. It is his difference that drives his fear, but it also drives his quest for freedom and independence. It is his love and friendship that drive his loyalty; yet it is love that he is afraid to declare. This complex character gives rise to a very simple situation. A love triangle that takes fifteen years to play out. Cyrano de Bergerac is about many things: fear of rejection; loyalty, love, and friendship; and freedom and independence. Through Cyrano, all of these themes are realized. Yet, at the end, when our hero dies, the overwhelming feeling is one of vindication: Cyrano triumphed, and, however briefly, knew he was loved.
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