One of the most beloved heroes of the stage, Cyrano de Bergerac is a magnificent wit who, despite his many gifts, feels that no woman can ever love him because of his enormous nose. He adores the beautiful Roxanne but, lacking courage, decides instead to help the tongue-tied but winsome Christian woo the fair lady by providing him with flowery sentiments and soulful poetry. Roxanne is smitten-but is it Christian she loves or Cyrano? A triumph from the moment of its 1897 premiere, Cyrano de Bergerac has become one of the most frequently produced plays in the world. Its perennial popularity is a tribute to the universal appeal of its themes and characters.
As for the story, many have imitated it since: Ugly, but intelligent, Cyrano is in love with his cousin, Roxane, but is too ashamed of his long nose to tell her. In every other area of his life his is confident and is excellent at swordplay and wit (and can perform both at once!). Also enamoured with the lady is Christian, a handsome man with little brain to match. Roxane is a "Precieuse," a woman who values poetry and beautiful words, and Christian knows that his looks alone won't win her over. He enlists the help of Cyrano, and together, with Christian's looks and Cyrano's words, Roxane is led to believe that Christian is her dream man. Yet, Cyrano must suffer until his secret is revealed years later, too late: Roxane has holed herself up in a nunnery after Christian died in war, and Cyrano suffers a fatal head wound. The tragedy of the revelation is a true tearjerker.
For romantics, this is a must-read. But like Cyrano's words, the drama offers much more than romance. The theme of bravery and spirit, the "panache" that Cyrano holds dear, is important to the story. If only Cyrano had his famous courage when it came to confessing his love, he would have surely had his Roxane for himself. But then, we wouldn't have such a beautiful tragedy.
On death, perhaps a fantastic epitaph:
Excuse me, friends, I mustn’t keep her waiting:
The moon has come to fetch me.
On a kiss:
Cyrano: A kiss! What is a kiss? A confession
Made from a little closer at hand, a promise
Delivered as soon as it’s made,
A secret whispered close, with a mouth to hear it:
Eternity held in a moment that stings like a bee.
Passed like communion, a host with the scent of flowers,
A way to breathe the breath of the heart of another
And with one’s lips to sip the beloved one’s soul.
Roxane: What words will you use to tell it?
Cyrano: All of them.
Each word that comes to me. I’ll throw them all
In sheaves at your feet, no time to make a bouquet:
I love you, I’m stifling, I love you, I’m crazy, it’s more
Than I can bear. Your name’s like a bell in my heart,
Dearest, a little bell, and as I keep trembling,
The bell keeps ringing and ringing and saying your name.
The tiniest things about you live in my memory.
I’ve loved them all, always. Last year, I remember,
On the twelfth of May, you changed the style of your hair!
You know what you look too long at the sun, the disc
Of fire that floats on everything afterwards? Well,
Your hair was my sunlight, and after I looked away
There were patches of blonde light all over the world.
On success in life:
De Guiche: There’s such a thing as too complete success,
And even when one has done nothing wrong –
Not really wrong – a certain slight unease
That isn’t quite remorse will come to haunt one
When rising to great office. As one climbs,
The ducal ermine trails along a wake
Of rustling dead illusions and regrets,
Just as these autumn leaves catch in your train.
I read a fairly pedestrian prose translation, and as such feel that I missed the flair and pace of the play. However, there remained glimpses of Rostand's mastery of language, most notably in some of Cyrano's soliloquies and the balcony scene with Roxane which, in a work touched by hyperbole - the duel with one hundred men at the Porte de Nesle, and the feast disguised in Roxane's carriage especially spring to mind - crystalises the deep emotion at the heart of the drama. The narrative may sometimes be ridiculous, but Rostand effectively conveys the vividness and reality of a complicated character, as well as some expert creation of atmosphere in ensemble scenes, the opening at the theatre of the Hôtel de Bourgogne and the military encampment at Arras.
The final act serves as a kind of epilogue and, I feel, is the weak point of the play. I am generally not fond of the device and often prefer when something is left to the imagination and the author does not feel the need to tie up all loose ends, but here it seems especially gratuitous, ratcheting up the melodrama to demostrate the tragedy of love, devotion and obstinacy. The construction of the rest of the play was skilful enough to show that there was no way this could have a comforting resolution.
Cyrano struck me, repeatedly, as a calculated attempt by Rostand to make as popular a character as possible, meaning that, despite his historical roots, there's never an attempt to make him a flesh and blood character. Instead, Cyrano is over-the-top and theatrical. There's nothing wrong with having a theatrical character (this was written for the theater, after all), and there's nothing wrong with having it be your goal for the character to be popular, but if you notice that is occurring then the author has failed- coming off as trying too hard is never a good thing in this context. Cyrano is the finest swordsman in Paris, and he's likewise got not only a rapier wit but formidable poetic chops as well. He's also adored by all the good people of France, who cheer him on and consider him a hero in the first act of this play, even after he ruined a night out at the theater for all of them. De Guiche even complements Cyrano for distracting him long enough for the target of his affections to elope. The only people who don't like Cyrano are obvious villains and people never seen on-stage. The only flaw that our protagonist has is his lack of self-confidence concerning members of the fairer sex. It's a flaw tailor-made to make him as likable a character as possible, since who hasn't lacked confidence at least once, especially in matters of the heart? And with Cyrano, there's no question that this lack of self-confidence is unfounded. With Cyrano, Rostand can give us a character who's the bravest, smartest, funniest, most romantic of everyone, but who isn't absolutely without flaw and therefore not boring in his perfection. I get why this character is popular with many people. But he didn't resonate with me. I found him lacking in depth, and the only insight you can take from his character are platitudes. Be brave! Be smart! Stand up for what you believe in! Don't hide your feelings, be honest about them! There's no real insight here, because there's no real struggle- the only struggle that plays out on stage is Cyrano's romantic struggle (we never see his descent into poverty), and the solution to that struggle is an obvious one. Rostand gives us a character who is brave, but who never has to fight a fight he can't win. He's a romantic, but he never has to deal with an actual relationship. There's none of the mess of real life here, it's all clean melodrama, and that's fine as theatrical entertainment, but as a work of literature it can't rise above mediocrity for me.
I expect that I shall forever think of bottles of red wine as flasks of ruby, and bottles of white as flasks of topaz. That's more of an effect than many books have had on me. When I remember Cyrano, though, I expect I shall remember him as a failed attempt, at least in my experience.
Unfortunately, as much as I enjoy his original work, his Cyrano just falls flat. It's not as bouncy as the subsequent Burgess translation, nor is it as faithful or as funny as the earlier Hooker. Unless you desperately need a copy and this is all that's available, I'd suggest avoiding it in favour of either of those two.
Worth reading, if only for Hooker's preface and the fidelity to which he sticks to the source material. In the end, if I had to pick a favourite translation I'd be selecting bits from all of them, including numerous parts of Hooker.
Rostand crafts Cyrano as the perfect knight of ages past, as skilled with poetry and philosophy as he is with his sword. For example, in the first act Cyrano duels an opponent and composes a ballad as he duels, to commemorate the duel and as he promises before he even draws his sword, in the last verse strikes home and covers himself in glory before all in the crowded playhouse. It is this dashing nerve, and Cyrano’s, or rather, Rostand’s eloquence that makes this play a classic. Cyrano is too proud to function in modern society though, to use his triumph at arms to gain favor with superiors is against his nature. The soul of Cyrano is that of fire and passion, imagination and pride that will never surrender to his old foes “falsehood, prejudice, compromise, cowardice, and vanity”
Cyrano de Bergerac has a slightly rocky start, as Cyrano is not immediately introduced, but when Cyrano is the play takes on a whole new dimension. The play flies by on the wings of lyrical genius and philosophy of what it means to be noble, brave and pure of spirit, along with the folly of pride. I would highly recommend this to everyone out of high school and anyone is not forced to read it.
I think my first exposure to this play was probably in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation and while I've always known the outline of the plot, I had never read it. I've now fixed that and while the play was enjoyable, I don't think it's one I'll revisit. That said, the complex stage descriptions leave me in awe of how it would have been staged in the 19th century.
The 3-record Caedmon production stars Sir Ralph Richardson and was produced by The Theatre Recording Society with a translation by Brian Hooker. It is a faithful translation of the original French text, and therein is the problem - it is hard to follow, at least in audio and for a first-timer to the story. This is not the best introduction, but it is close to the original.
The LA Theatre Works radio play is based on the translation and adaption by Anthony Burgess which was then adapted for radio. This is an excellent introduction, there is no problem following the plot, characters and dialogue. The radio adaptation is about half the length of the Hooker version so a lot has been dropped but all the scenes are there and it retains the same spirit of the original.
Translated into English by Brian Hooker
Bittersweet tale of unrequited love, nobility and honor. This play is set in France in 1640, during the reign of Louis XIII. Cyrano de Bergerac is known as the best swordsman in France, and is equally revered as a wordsmith and a quick wit. His pride comes out in displays of courage and bravado and is only diminished by his insecurity about his appearance. He hides his insecurity using his sword and when necessary, in witty verbal sparring where he beats others to the punch in mocking his large nose.
Cyrano denies his own happiness by refusing to admit his love for his distant cousin, Madeleine Robin, the lovely Roxane, and admits his reason for doing so to his good friend, Le Bret, who encourages him to speak to Roxane and give her the benefit of the doubt. When Roxane requests Cyrano's presence in a private meeting, his hopes are raised but then dashed when he learns that the purpose of the meeting is that Roxane wants Cyrano's help in romancing another. She admits to loving Baron Christian de Neuvillette, a soldier in Cyrano's regiment, a man she doesn't really know but is enamored by partly because of his physical good looks and partly by the fact that she has heard that he is besotted with her as well. Through his stunned disappointment, Cyrano agrees to befriend Christian and keep him from harm.
Their first meeting proves Christian to be rather unlikable as he uses every opportunity to make rude references to Cyrano's nose. Normally this would be the cause of a duel, but because of Cyrano's promise to Roxane, he must rein in his temper and befriend the lout instead. He makes Christian aware of Roxane's feelings and agrees to help Christian when he admits that he wouldn't be able to impress her with his inept writing skills if he sent her a letter. Christian wishes for Cyrano's wit; and Cyrano laments that he doesn't have Christian's good looks. He ponders the fact that if the two men could be combined, they would make 'one hero of romance'. He agrees to write the letters for Christian and feed him flowery and poetic phrases to use in conversation. This is how their deception begins.
After they are ordered to join up with their regiment in the Siege of Arras against the Cardinal Prince of Spain, Roxane arranges a hasty marriage to Christian. They are separated by necessity before there is a wedding night (which Cyrano admits to himself doesn't bother him much). As they are rushing off to war, Roxane begs Cyrano to watch over her new husband and to encourage Christian to write her every day. Cyrano promises that she will receive letters every day, although he cannot promise the rest. This promise is kept in a very heart-tugging way.
The rest of the play deals with that war and the aftermath, and how both Christian and Cyrano prove their integrity and mutual love for Roxane, even after she discovers their perfidy. Wonderful.
The unrealistic plot of Cyrano de Bergerac, as it turns out, is precisely what makes it so charming. Imagine what has to be the greatest swordsmen in French history (the play is set in 1640), a man who can write poetry aloud while in the midst of a swordfight for his very life. Such a man would be a romantic hero in any country of the period, but because Cyrano has also been blessed with one of the longest noses in French history, he is not exactly having to fight off the women.
Our hero is, in fact, madly in love with his first cousin, Roxanne. Roxanne, though, is the kind of woman who can only imagine herself ever falling in love with a handsome man – and in Cyrano’s friend Christian, she finds just what she is looking for. Unfortunately for Christian and Roxanne, Christian’s ability to creatively express his feelings is at the opposite end of the scale from his good looks. If Roxanne ever figures out just how dull-witted the man is, she is certain to ban him from her life. And that’s where Cyrano comes in.
Cyrano’s ability to write a love letter is exceeded only by his ability to kill eight or ten men in a single swordfight. Christian obviously needs help (probably in both areas), and Cyrano is willing to write his love letters as a way of himself staying close to Roxanne. The beautiful Roxanne, though, has attracted more than two suitors (even though she doesn’t even realize that Cyrano is one of them), and that complicates the plot considerably.
Cyrano de Bergerac is dramatic; it is funny; and its puns (especially those regarding Cyrano’s nose) are brilliant. The play’s final act is obviously overly-melodramatic, but actually, it’s really no less realistic than the rest of the play. The same theater-goers who laughed their way through most of the play probably never thought they would be leaving the theater in tears when the final curtain closed, but I’m willing to bet that’s exactly what happened to many of them. The fictional Cyrano de Bergerac is an unforgettable character, and even though the play’s author believed the play to be a literary disaster, it turned out to be the one that made him famous – and has kept him that way.
This play has an electrifying final act that brings the play to a satisfying conclusion.