“Cyrano de Bergerac” is a play written by Edmond Rostand that was originally performed in December of 1897. The play in it’s original French is written entirely in rhyming couplets. The play was first performed at the Theatre de la Porte Saint-Martin in Paris, France. It was an instant success and the play went on to be performed over 410 times at that theater alone. Since it’s premiere, the play has seen hundreds of adaptations across all formats including, films, radio serials, television shows, opera, ballet, books, and music.
The play is the story of a man named Christian de Neuvillette, a french cadet soldier who falls in love with an intellectual, upper-class woman named Roxane. Christian feels as though he is not intelligent enough to impress Roxane and thus he enlists the help of her cousin, witty, urbane Cyrano de Bergerac to write letters to her pretending to be him.
Cyrano is also in love with Roxane, however, he does not feel that he is handsome enough for her because of his oversized nose. Cyrano takes the opportunity to speak to Roxane in a way that he has always longed to before. Roxane is so impressed by the declarations of love that she decides to marry Christian. However, the evil Count de Guiche also has his eye on Roxane and sends Christian and Cyrano off to fight in the war against Spain. When Christian dies in battle, Roxane enters a convent. Cyrano comes to visit her every week until he is eventually wounded by men who do not appreciate his satire articles. On his deathbed, Cyrano admits to Roxane that he loves her and that it was him writing Christian’s letters all along.
The play begins in a performance hall of the Hotel de Bourgogne in the year 1640. A crowd waits, alive with anticipation for a performance of a play called La Clorise. The crowd is divided by economic class. A few small scenes play out, one with a man talking to his son about the intellectual importance of the play, another with a thief moving through the crowd and stealing purses and handkerchiefs. Two marquises also move through the crowd with large swords strapped to their waists.
Around the stage, lamps are lit. Knowing that this means that the play will soon begin, the crowd cheers. But in the beginning of scene two, the crowd still waits. A satirist named Ligniere enters the hall. He is very clearly disheveled and walks arm in arm with a young nobleman named Baron Christian de Neuvillette. Christian tells an admiring group of young marquises that he has been in Paris recently and that he will join the guards tomorrow.
Christian and Ligniere have come to find a woman with whom Christian is in love. She regularly attends the plays but she has not arrived yet. Ligniere is eager to leave and wishes to find a tavern. However, when a waitress passes by with a tray of wine glasses, Ligniere agrees to stay after all. A baker named Ragueneau enters and begins to speak to the men. He says that he is looking for a man named Cyrano de Bergerac whom he expects to be angry since the actor Montfleury is performing in the play. Cyrano has recently banned Montfleury from playing onstage for a full month.
Christian does not know who Cyrano is but he can’t help but notice that Ragueneau and Ligniere seem to be in awe of the man. When Christian asks whom Cyrano is, he is told but a friend named Le Bret a man who serves with Cyrano in the guards that Cyrano is “the most delightful man under the sun”. The others join in in the description and soon Cyrano is made out to be a poet, musician, scientist, swordsman and a swashbuckler. They also note that he has a very large and incredibly long nose.
Nearby, Christian sees Roxane, the woman that he is in love with. Roxane is an heiress and a brilliant and intellectual woman. She is sitting in a box above the crowd with an older man named Comte de Guiche. Ligniere notes that de Guiche is also in love with her however, he is married and thus hopes to marry Roxane to his guard Vicomte de Valvert. Christian reveals that he is upset to learn from Ligniere that Roxane is very intellectual.
Ligniere soon leaves his friends to find a tavern outside.
Christian decides to challenge de Valvert to a duel. As he reaches into his pocket for his glove (which he plans to use to challenge de Valvert by slapping him across the face with it) he catches the hand of a pickpocket. The pick pocket is frightened to be caught and in exchange for his release he tells Christian that he has valuable information. He informs Christian that Ligniere’s latest work, a satire has offended someone. That someone is a powerful man and he has set up Ligniere to be attacked by a hundred men that night on his way home. Hearing this, Christian leaves the hall to warn his friend.
The play finally begins. The curtains open and a small, round man enters dressed as a shepherd. This is Montfleury. Just as Ragueneau and Le Bret have decided that Cyrano must not be in the audience, after all, a voice comes from the back of the room. The speaker shouts, “Haven’t I ordered you off the stage for a month, you wretched scoundrel?”. The crowd is shocked. Montfleury attempts to recover and begin his part in the play, but the speaker heckles him. The speaker, Cyrano de Bergerac, stands up on his chair and his appearance causes a stir in the audience but we are not told why.
Act two begins the next morning in Ragueneau’s bakery. Ragueneau is obsessed with poetry and as a result of this obsession writes all of his recipes in the form of poems. His pastry cooks are delighted by this and one presents him with a lyre mad of pastry. Ragueneau regularly gives out free baked goods to poets in return for verses. His wife, Lise, is made furious by this. She brings him the new paper bags she has made from the shop and Rageuneau is upset to find that they are made out of the poet’s verses.
Two small children enter the shop and Rageuneau struggles to find a poem that he feels he can part with so that he can give them a bag for their purchases. He promises to give the children more sweet pastries if they will bring the bags back when they are done with them. Cyrano comes into the bakery and tells Rageuneau that he is meeting someone. Roxane soon arrives and Cyrano is so overwhelmed with love for her that he sends everyone else out of the bakery so that they can speak with no distractions. Cyrano and Roxane begin to talk and reminisce about their childhood together. She notices that his hand is injured and asks what happened to him. He answers that he wounded it during a fight the night before in which he fought off a hundred men.
Roxane tells Cyrano that she feels that she is in love with a man that does not know it. Cyrano begins to hope that she is referring to him but when she describes the man as being handsome he loses that hope and assumes that she is describing someone else. Roxane informs him that she is in love with Christian. She also says that she is worried for him because, as a new member of Cyrano’s company of guards, he may be in for some trouble. Cyrano’s company is mostly made up of Gascons who love to fight anyone who seems foreign and Christian is not a Gascon. Roxane requests that Cyrano look out for her love and he agrees. She also asks that he have Christian write to her and reminding him of their friendship and how much she cares for him, leaves.
Cyrano’s company of guards arrive at the shop and congratulate him for his triumph in the fight the night before. They tell him that the entire city knows what he did and are waiting outside to congratulate and adore him. Carbon, the guard’s captain, attempts to lead Cyrano outside into the throng of fans but Cyrano does not wish to go. Some of the more prominent men among the crowd outside begin to enter the bakery and ask Cyrano about the fight. Cyrano humbly insists that he did nothing impressive.
De Guiche enters and professes his admiration for Cyrano. He informs him that his uncle, Cardinal Richelieu might be willing to help him. Cardinal Richelieu is known to be the most powerful and wealthy man in all of the France. But even this does not sway Cyrano. This angers de Guiche, who reveals that himself hired a hundred men and angrily leaves.
The crowd begins to dissipate after this. Le Bret tells Cyrano that he is worried that the man is refusing too many offers. He feels that this will ruin Cyrano’s chances of becoming a successful poet. Cyrano argues that he wishes to live according to his ideals only and that he has not interested in becoming friends with anyone he considers unworthy of his time.
Christian enters the bakery. The other guards tease the newcomer and warn him to never mention Cyrano’s large nose. Christian assumes that the guards are trying to mislead him. He asks Carbon what he should do and the other man tells him that he needs to show courage. Cyrano begins to tell the story of how he beat a hundred men in the fight and Christian, attempting to show courage, begins to repeatedly interrupt him to make references to his nose. Cyrano is outraged by the young man but, remembering his vow to Roxane to protect Christian, he does not attack him. He does, however, send away the other guards. They leave the room quickly, expecting Cyrano to kill Christian.
Cyrano does not kill Christian. Instead, he reveals that he is Roxane’s cousin. Christian confesses that he is in love with Roxane but that he cannot write to her because he thinks that she will read his words, assume that he is stupid and lose all feeling for him. Cyrano, thinking on his feet, offers to write letters for Christian. He tells the young man that he is only interested in practicing his poetry but privately he longs to express his true feelings to Roxane and have her read them. Christian agrees to the idea and he becomes so excited that he hugs the other man. The other guards re-enter and are shocked to find that Christian is still alive and not only that but that he is hugging Cyrano. Thinking that Christian has lit upon an idea for something, another guard begins to insult Cyrano’s nose. Cyrano knocks the man over a bench. The other guards are relieved to see that he has not changed.
A short while later, Ragueneau waits outside Roxane’s house and begins to speak with an older, female companion of hers. He tells the woman that his wife ran off with one of Cyrano’s guards and that his bakery is bankrupt. He recounts that he attempted to hang himself after all this bad news but Cyrano stopped him in time and made him Roxane’s steward. Cyrano arrives with two musicians that he won in a bet over an obscure point of grammar. However, the musicians are atrocious and Cyrano sends them away to play for Montfleury.
Roxane comes down the stairs and speaks with her cousin about Christian. She tells him that she has been receiving letters from Christian that have made her fall in love with him even more. She says that his letters are breathtaking and that he is even more intelligent than Cyrano. She recites a passage of poetry from the letters to Cyrano and her cousin makes a show of critiquing them. Roxane jokes that Cyrano is only jealous of Christian’s talent. Roxane’s friend yells out that de Guiche is coming up the road to see her and Cyrano decides to hide inside the house.
De Guiche is visiting Roxane to say goodbye. He tells her that he has been made a colonel of a regiment that is leaving that night to fight in Spain. He also makes sure to mention that the regiment includes many of Cyrano’s guards. Roxane begins to worry about Christian. She quickly tells de Guiche that his best option for seeking revenge on Cyrano for slighting him is to leave Cyrano and his guards at home while he and his men go off to the front. She implies that they will miss out on the glory of war. De Guiche misinterprets what Roxane is saying as flirting and he wonders if he should stay behind as well. Roxane insists that she would feel more for him if he would go. This sways de Guiche and he waxes on about how he will win the war for her and agrees to leave Cyrano and his guards behind. De Guiche leaves and Roxane makes her friend promise that she will not tell Cyrano that she robbed him of his chance to go to war.
Back inside the house, Cyrano and Roxane talk more about Christian. She tells him that she intends to make Christian improvise a bit when she sees him next. Cyrano agrees to keep this a secret from Christian and Roxane is grateful. However, after they leave Cyrano calls out to Christian and reveals that he has been listening from nearby the entire time. Cyrano helps Christian prepare for his meeting with Roxane. He writes some lines and urges Christian to memorize them. However, Christian insists that he wants to speak to Roxane in his own words. Cyrano reluctantly agrees.
That night, Christian meets up with Roxane. She asks him to tell her how he feels but he can only use simple words and repeat “I love you”, “I adore you”, etc. Roxane is angered and confused by this. She storms into her house. Cyrano walks up to Christian and ironically congratulates him.
A light goes on in Roxane’s window upstairs. Christian begs Cyrano to help him talk to her. Cyrano agrees and hides out underneath Roxane’s balcony whispering words for Christian to repeat to her.
Roxane is very moved by what she thinks are Christian’s words. But she asks why he is speaking so slowly and stuttering so much. Cyrano grabs Christian in the dark and hides him under the balcony so that he may take his place. In a disguised voice, he begins telling Roxane all of the things that he has often longed to say to her. Christian whispers to Cyrano that he wants a kiss from Roxane. Cyrano attempts to dissuade him but ultimately agrees and asks Roxane for a kiss. When she agrees, Christian is the one to climb the balcony and receive the kiss.
A priest enters the scene looking for Roxane. He has a letter for her that says that de Guiche has deserted the military and is currently hiding out in the priest’s convent. Roxane pretends that the letter states that de Guiche is requesting that the priest marries she and Christian immediately. The priest is confused but Roxane pretends that the letter states that he will receive a monetary reward for it. After this, he agrees and goes inside to marry the two. Cyrano waits outside. De Guiche appears and Cyrano leaps from a tree onto him. Cyrano pretends to be a person who has fallen from the moon and distracts de Guiche for a few moments with a speech about his travels in space. Momentarily he reveals that he is Cyrano and that Roxane and Christian are now married.
The couple exit the house and de Guiche angrily congratulates them. However, he then informs them that Cyrano’s guards are going to war after all and tells Roxane to bid her husband farewell. De Guiche tells Cyrano that the wedding night will have to wait and Cyrano mumbles that he is glad of that. Roxane begs her cousin to keep Christian safe in battle. Cyrano agrees to try but admits that he cannot promise anything. Roxane then tells Cyrano to make Christian write to her every day and Cyrano smiles as he agrees to that.
During the next act, we are taken to the war front. Carbon and Le Bret talk about the company’s situation. They are low on food and water and are surrounded by the enemy. Cyrano runs in and we discover that he is crossing enemy lines every day to mail a letter to Roxane. Carbon is worried that the men will mutiny. He asks Cyrano to talk to them. Cyrano gives an inspiring speech and renews their hope. De Guiche enters and the men grumble about his presence. De Guiche informs Cyrano that the Spanish are going to attack the guards in an hour to give the rest of the French forces a change to escape. He tells him that they will all die but they will be serving their country. Cyrano solemnly thanks de Guiche for the opportunity to die with pride.
Christian wishes that he could say goodbye to Roxane and tells Cyrano this. Cyrano shows him a goodbye letter that he has just written. Christian notices a damp tear mark on the letter and almost guesses the other man’s secret. However, he is interrupted by a coach arriving. Roxane herself is in the coach. She tells the men that she had to see Christian and that the war was taking too long. Cyrano and de Guiche tell her that she must leave because the Spanish will be attacking soon. She refuses and insists that she will stay through the battle. De Guiche, not able to sway her, leaves angrily.
The last act moves forward in time fifteen years. A few nuns outside of a convent talk about Cyrano and mention that he makes them laugh. They say that he has come every week to visit his cousin Roxane who joined the convent ten years earlier after the death of her husband. Roxane enters the scene with de Guiche who is now an old man but still very powerful and wealthy. He asks her if she remains faithful to Christian’s memory and she says that she does. She tells him that she always wears Christian’s last letter next to her heart. They talk about Cyrano and admit that he has angered many people with his satires and now has many enemies. De Guiche confesses that he has heard that some court nobles are planning to kill Cyrano.
Ragueneau enters, running and says that Cyrano has been hit by a large log falling from a window and is barely alive. De Guiche and Ragueneau rush to be with him. After they leave, Roxane waits underneath a large tree. Cyrano enters, having evaded de Guiche. Cyrano seems ill but attempts to cheerfully talk to Roxane. Soon, however, he collapses. He asks her about Christian’s last letter and reminds her that he would like to read it someday. She gives it to him and he reads the words that he wrote for her fifteen years earlier.
As he reads aloud, Roxane begins to realize it was his voice under her balcony all those years ago. She declares that it was Cyrano who wrote the letters and spoke for Christian all along. He denies it but only for a moment as he knows the truth is out. Roxane asks why he didn’t tell her since the tears on the letter were his. Cyrano reminds her that the blood that is now on the letter belonged to Christian. Cyrano removes his hat and reveals that it is swathed in bandages. He laments that he longed to die at the point of a sword but ended up dying from an ambush with a log. Roxane cries that he cannot die and says that she loves him. She cries out that she has only ever loved one man in her life and now she has lost him twice. Cyrano falls into her arms and dies.
Cyrano de Bergerac – the title character of the story. Cyrano is portrayed as being a small man with a hideous oversized nose. However, despite this, he is eloquent, witty, poetic and courageous. He is a poet, a musician, a fighter, and a philosopher. Cyrano is liked by nearly everyone he meets, although many nobles dislike the satire articles that he writes.In this way, Cyrano is somewhat of an underdog hero although he is portrayed as being fairly wealthy himself.
In this way, Cyrano is somewhat of an underdog hero although he is portrayed as being fairly wealthy himself. Cyrano suffers from very low self-esteem as a result of what he believes to be an ugly countenance. Though he is very close with Roxane, he assumes that she would never consider him a romantic prospect because of his looks. Several times in the play he comments that he is envious of Christian’s looks. Cyrano seems to be the person most preoccupied with his looks and this insecurity holds him back in achieving his dream of confessing his love for Roxane.
Despite these insecurities, Cyrano presents himself as being very heroic however, his inner self is very despondent and dark. But the flaws in his character are so inherent to the human condition that they only make the reader feel a deeper understanding for him. It could be argued that Cyrano’s helping to woo Roxane for Christian was undertaken for dishonest reasons. He does not wish to help Christian and Roxane out of charity so much as he desires to serve himself in finding a small way to confess his feelings for Roxane and avoid rejection.
However, he never deviates in his commitment to protecting Christian for Roxane and continues to hold onto the man’s secret even long after his death.
Roxane – Cyrano’s cousin and Christian’s love. Roxane is a beautiful, intelligent, intellectual woman that seems to inadvertently win the heart and devotion of every man that she meets. Christian reveals that he is in love with Roxane at the beginning of the play despite seemingly to have never spoken to her before. De Guiche loves Roxane though he is a callous man who seems to have trouble feeling sentiment. Roxane displays great kindness and sincerity throughout the play.
During the battle in Spain, she tells Christian that though she initially loved him because she thought he was handsome, his letters convinced her that she loved him because of his inner beauty. She repeats this admission when Cyrano is dying in her arms later in the play. Roxane seems to be a truly kind person. However, this is perhaps her biggest character trait throughout the play. She is given little development or opportunity to display the intellectualism that she is so famous for. The men that are in love with Roxane seem to love her merely as an ideal and perhaps do not know her as a person.
Christian de Neuvillette – one of Cyrano’s guards who is trying to win Roxane’s affection. Christian enlists the help of Cyrano in impressing Roxane because he feels that he is not intellectual enough to attract her. Christian represents an almost stereotypical romantic hero from a different point of view than you normally see. His charm and handsome looks tend to overshadow his shyness and lack of creativity and intelligence. He seems to be an example on Rostand’s part of an underdeveloped romantic hero.
However, Christian is not a bad person and is desires are more clearly defined than Cyrano’s in some ways. There is an inarguable human element to Christian’s motivations. He loves Roxane legitimately but has no means of expressing his love and fears rejection. Christian, on the whole, is proven to be an average man except for his striking attractiveness.
Count De Guiche – the villain of the story. De Guiche is a foil to Cyrano throughout the play. He is meant to represent all of the things that Cyrano would have access to if he would use his wit and intelligence for social climbing instead of refusing to do so. De Guiche is a bitter, violent and vengeful man. He is unashamed to admit that he attempts multiple times throughout the play to have Cyrano killed.
De Guiche represents a symbol of misguided leadership and ineffective aristocracy. However, he does become some what of a better person at the end of the play with the help of Cyrano’s example of heroism and kindness.
Edmond Rostand Biography
Edmond Eugene Alexis Rostand was a French author born in Marseille, France in April of 1868. Rostand wrote romantic plays, mostly written in verse and they provided many strong roles for several generations of actors.
Rostand was born into a wealthy family as the son of an economist and a poet and he studied literature and history at the College Stanislas in Paris. At twenty years old, Rostand’s first play “Le Gant Rouge” was performed at the Cluny Theatre. However, the play went largely unnoticed by society.
Six years later, Les Romanesques,(1894) his first drama was produced in Paris and gained more success. Its story of innocent young love would later be adapted into the longest-running musical in American history, “The Fantasticks”.
Rostand achieved international fame with “Cyrano de Bergerac” (1897) a brilliant verse play. It was based on the life of an actual personage. In 1897, Rostand produced a play called “L’Aiglon” which had, for its hero the unhappy son of Napoleon.
Rostand became the youngest ever writer to be brought into the Academie Francaise in 1902 and moved to Provence to work on his next play, “Chantecler” for the next seven years.
Rostand married the poet and playwright Rosemonde-Etienette Gerard and the couple raised two sons together. In 1918, Rostand died from the Spanish flu. He was buried in the Cimetiere de Marseille.