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Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand

Study Notes

The Principal Characters


Cyrano de Bergerac: A poet and swordsman; cursed with a ridiculously long nose that keeps him
from revealing his love for his cousin, Roxane.

Roxane: Cyrano’s cousin, a beautiful and intelligent woman who has a strong love for poetry and
wit.

Baron Christian de Neuvillette: A handsome but simple young nobleman who lacks wit and
intelligence.

Comte de Guiche: A powerful, married nobleman in love with Roxane and not fond of Cyrano.
Deceitful and always angry, he wants Cyrano killed.

Ragueneau: Cyrano’s friend, a pastry chef with a deep love for poetry, he gives away his pastries
in return for poems.

Le Bret: Cyrano’s friend and closest confidant, as well as a fellow soldier and guardsman. Le Bret
worries that Cyrano’s principles will ruin his career, and possibly get him killed.

Ligniere: Christian’s friend, a satirist and drunkard with many powerful enemies.

The Duenna: Roxane’s companion and chaperone, who tries to keep Roxane out of trouble.

Vicomte de Valvert: An insolent young nobleman lauded by de Guiche as a possible husband for
Roxane, a scheme that would give de Guiche access to Roxane.

Montfleury: A fat, untalented actor whom Cyrano bans from the stage.

Carbon de Castel-Jaloux: Cyrano’s friend and the captain of his company. He is a strong-willed
and successful leader.

Lise: Ragueneau’s sharp-tongued wife. She does not approve of her husband’s patronage of the
local poets. An altogether unhappy woman, she leaves Ragueneau for a musketeer after Act II.

Capuchin: A modest and well-meaning monk.

Cardinal Richelieu : Not a character, but a historical figure referenced in the play as de Guiche’s
uncle. Perhaps the most powerful man in France, he is a skilled political manipulator whose
authority rivals and probably exceeds that of the king.

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From Audacity Theatre Lab
Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand
Study Notes
The Synopsis of the Play

ACT I: In the theatre hall of the Hotel de Burgundy, awaiting the night’s play, Christian, a young
but somewhat doltish soldier, anxiously looks for the beautiful Roxane to appear in her box.
Christian is passionately in love with Roxane; however, he fears he will never have the courage to
speak with her. Others in the audience are awaiting the arrival of Cyrano de Bergerac because the
actor Montfleury, Cyrano’s enemy and one of Roxane’s suitors, is to star in the play, and Cyrano
had threatened him with bodily injury if he appeared.

Finally Roxane arrives, the play begins, and Montfleury comes onto the stage. Suddenly a powerful
voice orders him to leave, the noble Cyrano appears, and the performance is halted. Valvert,
another of Roxane’s suitors, insults Cyrano, by pointing out his large nose, and Cyrano, sensitive
about what he knows is a disfiguring feature, challenges Valvert to a duel. Cyrano, to show his
contempt for his adversary, composes a poem while he is sparring, and with the last line draws
blood.

Cyrano confesses to a friend that he is in love with his cousin—Roxane--despite the fact that he
could never hope to win her because of his ugliness. At this point, Roxane’s chaperone interrupts
to give Cyrano a note from Roxane, who wants to see him. Cyrano is overcome with joy.

ACT II: The next morning, while waiting for Roxane, Cyrano composes a love letter to Roxane,
which he leaves unsigned because he intends to deliver it in person. However, when Roxane
appears, she confesses she loves Christian and asks Cyrano to protect him in battle. Cyrano sadly
consents to do her bidding.

Christian joins the famed Gascony Guards, and


he and Cyrano become friends. He confesses his
love for Roxane and begs Cyrano’s help in
winning her by composing tender, graceful
messages. Although his heart is broken, Cyrano
gallantly agrees and gives Christian the letter he
had written earlier. This begins the deception
wherein Cyrano writes beautiful letters and
speeches, and Roxane falls in love with
Christian’s borrowed eloquence.

ACT III: Eventually, Christian decides he wants


to speak for himself. Under Roxane’s balcony one
evening, he tries, but must ask the aid of Cyrano,
who is lurking in the shadows. Cyrano, hidden,
tells Christian what to say, and Roxane is
delighted over the sweet words she thinks are
Christian’s. However, a monk interrupts bearing a
letter from Comte de Guiche, who wants Roxane
as his mistress and who is commander of the
cadets. The letter says that he is sending the
cadets into battle, but he is remaining behind for
one night to see Roxane. Roxane pretends the
letter directs the monk to marry her to Christian

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Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand
Study Notes
immediately, which he does. The marriage is not consummated, however, because the cadets
leave for the front.

ACT IV: During the following battle, Cyrano risks his life to carry letters to Roxane, and she never
suspects the author of these messages is not Christian. Later, Roxane joins her husband on the
battlefield and confesses that his letters had brought her to his side. Realizing that Roxane is really
in love with the nobility and tenderness of Cyrano’s letters, Christian begs Cyrano to tell Roxane
the truth. But Christian is killed in battle shortly afterward, and Cyrano swears never to reveal the
secret.

ACT V: Fifteen years pass; and Roxane, grieving for Christian, is retired to a convent, carrying
his last letter next to her heart. Each week Cyrano visits Roxane, but one day he comes late,
concealing under his hat a mortal wound inflicted by an enemy. Cyrano asks to read aloud
Christian’s last letter; as he does so, Roxane realizes that it is too dark for Cyrano to see the
words, that he knew the contents of the letter by heart, and that he must have written it; she also
recognizes his voice as the one she had heard under her balcony on her wedding night. She also
realizes that for fifteen years she has unknowingly loved the soul of Cyrano, not Christian. Roxane
confesses her love for Cyrano, who dies knowing that, at last, she is aware of his love and that she
shares it with him.

“Panache”

puh-nash’, fr. French empenner (to feather an arrow),


fr. Old Italian pennacchio; fr. Latin pinnaculum
(small wing); also pin, pinnacle, and pennant

Panache is one of those glorious, elusive words that’s impossible to pin down with an exact
translation, which is why we’ve retained its French form in English. In simplest terms, panache
refers to the feathered plume of a military helmet.

This is the meaning Cyrano invokes in Act IV when he speaks of King Henry IV, who urged his
soldiers to rally behind his white plume, which will always be found “on the road to honor and
glory.” But when Cyrano speaks this word again at the end of the play—his final word in fact—it
has acquired metaphorical dimension, suggesting at once a commitment to valor, a certain
flamboyant elegance, self-esteem verging on pride, and also a certain je ne sais quoi.

Rostand himself argued against limiting the word to a dictionary definition, as he explained in his
Discours upon acceptance into the Académie Française in 1903: “What is panache? To be a hero
is not enough. Panache is not greatness but something added to greatness and stirring above it. It
is something fluttering, excessive—and a bit curled. If I was not afraid of being too pressed to work
on the Dictionary myself, I would propose this definition: panache is the spirit of bravery. It is
courage dominating the situation to the point of needing to find another word for it. […] To joke in
the face of danger, that is the supreme politeness. A delicate refusal to take oneself tragically,
panache is then the modesty of heroism, like the smile with which one apologizes for being
sublime. […] A little frivolous perhaps, a bit theatrical certainly, panache is only a grace: but this
grace that is so difficult to maintain in the face of death, this grace that assumes such force — this
is the grace I wish for us.”

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From Audacity Theatre Lab
Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand
Study Notes

The Real-Life Cyrano


The character of Cyrano de Bergerac is not entirely a fictional creation of
Edmond Rostand. The real Cyrano was a famous swordsman and a
provocative poet, philosopher, and social satirist in seventeenth-century
France. Most of what happens in the play actually occurred in Cyrano’s
life except what many now remember about the story–his unrequited love
for Roxane. Although he often wrote love poems as was the fashion of
the day, he did not dedicate them to anyone in particular.

Sources close to the actual Cyrano, especially his life-long friend Henri
Le Bret, characterize the man as shy and reserved around women,
despite the fact that he also was known as a lover of many, both women
and men. Rostand did borrow names from history for this romance
however: Cyrano did have a cousin named Madeleine (Roxane’s real
name) who married Christian, Baron de Neuvillette.

Born on March 6, 1619, in Paris, Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac had the title “de Bergerac,”
which derived from a place attached to one of his family's estates. He had no claim to the actual
lands or revenue from them.

In spite of his limited means, he entered the swashbuckling Parisian world of plumed hats, lace-
trimmed velvet doublets, and rapiers sticking out like a cock’s tail from under the cape slung over
one shoulder with poise and self-confidence.

He joined Carbon de Castel-Jaloux’s company of the King’s Cadets, a company of Gascons in


which he was welcomed because of his Gascon title even though he was not really from Gascony.
Gascons were from southern France and known to be feisty and hot-tempered. During his time
with the company, he became a formidable swordsman, known as “le démon de bravoure.”

His most famous adventure, narrated in Rostand’s play, was his single-handed battle against one
hundred men at the Porte de Nesle in defense of his friend, the poet Lignière, whose verse had
mocked the Comte de Guiche.

While Cyrano rarely initiated a challenge, he never refused a fight, often acting as a second in two
or three duels a day. In fact, he joked in a letter to a friend, “It would be false to say I am the first
among men, for in the last month I swear I have been second to everybody.”

But there was one subject that would rouse Cyrano to challenge another to a duel… his nose.

Contemporary engravings do show a large nose, especially in relation to his mouth which appears
quite small, but not a nose of the gargantuan proportions that legend memorializes. Nevertheless,
Cyrano was very sensitive about his nose and would not tolerate any allusions to its size.

In his major work, L’Autre Monde, a philosophical and satirical treatise that reads like science
fiction, his utopian society honors men with large noses –the larger the nose, the greater the honor.

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From Audacity Theatre Lab
Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand
Study Notes
After the Siege of Arras (portrayed in the play), Cyrano left Castel-Jaloux’s company and devoted
himself to his writing under the patronage of Duc d’Arpajon from 1652.

Cyrano began to be associated with the Libertines, free thinkers who included a young playwright
named Molière and the poet Lignière. At their rowdy meetings, they often castigated the Cardinal
and the Jesuit priests in verse. Thus Cyrano got the reputation of being an atheist, even a
blasphemer.

This notoriety caused the failure of his only play to be produced during his lifetime, La Mort
d’Agrippine: the audience rioted and drove the actors from the stage when they misunderstood
Cyrano’s use of the word l’hostie, hearing host (as in the Holy Sacrament) instead of hostage.

Cyrano’s only other play, Le Pedant Joué, based on one of the hated teachers of his youth, was
not produced until after his death, but that did not stop Molière from stealing a passage containing
the now famous line, “Que diable allait-il faire dans cette galère?” which appears in Moliere's Les
Fourberies de Scapin.

Cyrano’s enmity toward the actor Montfleury, which opens Rostand’s play, is well-documented. He
mocked the actor claiming him unfit for the stage because of his enormous bulk and ordered him to
retire or face a certain death. Montfleury took the threat seriously and did not perform for over a
month, after which he was allowed to resume his career. Cyrano was not alone in his ridicule of
Montfleury; he also appears as an object of laughter in one of Molière’s plays.

The final years of Cyrano’s life were spent composing L’Autre Monde which explored the possibility
of space travel to utopian worlds on the moon and the sun where one could pay for a meal with a
sonnet and where people chose their king and had the right of veto.

The character Cyrano details several of these methods of flight in the play as he distracts de
Guiche while Roxane and Christian marry. In L’Autre Monde, he describes a box that he found on
the moon that has an eerie resemblance to a phonograph 230 years before Edison’s innovation.

Cyrano made many enemies during his lifetime, and whether the block of wood that landed on his
head as he entered his patron’s home was dropped on purpose or fell by accident will never be
known. The blow caused a concussion from which he never recovered; he died on July 28, 1655,
fourteen months after the accident, at the age of thirty-six.

Cyrano de Bergerac's close friend Le Bret never left his side during the illness and kept his
promise to publish his works after his death.

Almost 250 years later, in 1897, Edmond Rostand revived the legend of Cyrano, but he
transformed the disillusionments suffered by the real man into an actual romance filled with
disappointment certainly, but also with an ideal passion and nobility–with panache.

Rostand had serious doubts about his play, and minutes before the curtain rose, he apologized to
Constant Coquelin, who was to play the role of Cyrano, and asked his forgiveness for involving him
in such a fiasco.

But the undying applause for play, that night and thereafter, changed its destiny forever. Adding to
its fame are the many films, musicals, and stage adaptations that are regularly performed in many
languages, all over the world.
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From Audacity Theatre Lab
Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand
Study Notes
More information on CYRANO A-GO-GO by Brad McEntire or for a link to the original script to
Edmond Rostand’s CYRANO DE BERGERAC visit the Audacity Theatre lab site at:
www.audacitytheatrelab.com

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