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Before any action actually starts, what with this being a play and all, we get a description of the stage. The scene is the hall of the Hotel de Bourgogne in 1640, which has been set up for stage productions. In other words, the set-up is a play-within-a-play.
Our main stage ends up being the floor of the play-within-a-play. Make sense? If not, just imagine some chandeliers and a big curtain and you’re ready to go.
Before a stage production of La Clorise at the aforementioned Hotel de Bourgogne, several cavaliers, lackeys, marquises, and audience members arrive early for the sole and meta purpose of… setting a comedic tone.
For fun cultural flavor, an orange girl (the fruit, not the color) sells her confections and drinks in the background.
Christian de Neuvillette, just in from Gascony, arrives in search of a lady with whom he has fallen in love. We learn that he has come to Paris to enlist in the Guards. He is accompanied by his friend, Lignière.
We learn that Lignière is the big man on campus, and by "on campus" we mean "around town." He knows everybody. He also has a reputation as a drunkard.
This information is proven true when Lignière refuses to buy juice or milk from the orange girl, but does accept some Muscatel (a type of wine).
Ragueneau—a chef/poet/total dweeb—arrives next. He is surprised that Cyrano de Bergerac isn’t there yet, because he (Cyrano) has a grudge against one of the play’s principal actors, a guy named Montfleury.
The grudge is so intense that Cyrano has forbidden Montfleury to perform on stage; apparently, the man is a horrible, horrible actor.
Le Bret, another friend of Cyrano’s, arrives on the scene. Everyone stands around and talks about their man-crushes on Cyrano, who is apparently "poet," "swordsman," "musician," and "philosopher."
Ragueneau adds that the man is proud and has an unusually big nose. But still, he could have been a model.
Christian’s lady arrives to watch the play. He learns her name and situation from Lignière (who is drunk by this time). She is the Lady Roxane, cousin of Cyrano de Bergerac and the target of Comte de Guiche, who wants to marry her to Vicomte de Valvert.
After imparting this information, Lignière leaves to hit up some more bars.
The Comte de Guiche arrives with his entourage, including Vicomte de Valvert, to watch the play.
Christian, at first sight of Valvert, reaches for his glove (to slap Valvert in the face) and challenges him to a duel for Roxane’s love.
But instead of finding his glove, Christian finds the hand of a pick-pocket, known here as a cut-purse.
To escape being thrown in jail (or maybe to avoid being slapped in the face with a glove, which is clearly the thing to do), the cut-purse tells Christian some important information:
It just so happens that Lignière wrote a satirical song about de Guiche.
The Comte, being a vengeful man and apparently possessing the temper of a three-year-old, has planned to have Lignière murdered by a hundred men tonight at the Porte de Nesle.
Christian leaves the play to find his friend (likely in the gutter by now) and warn him of the danger, although he is quite reluctant to leave Roxane behind.
As the play is about to start, we learn that Cardinal Richelieu is in the audience. He is not well-liked, but honestly, who is in this play (besides Cyrano)?
The play starts and, sure enough, Montfleury is the star. (As we’ve already been told, this is the guy whom Cyrano hates).
Three lines into Montfleury’s opening words, Cyrano—unseen and offstage—interrupts. He tells Montfleury to get off the stage or suffer violent consequences.
Cyrano then makes his grand entrance on the stage itself, arising from the wings beneath. He eventually gets Montfleury off stage—by releasing a trap door beneath him—and offers to pay the rest of the actors to cancel the performance for the night.
The audience is none-too-pleased at having their entertainment cancelled. But the actors, especially Jodelet the comedian, are fine with it as long as they get the cash from Cyrano. They do.
Then there’s a hilarious comic bit in which a poor man accidentally says something that Cyrano interprets as an insult to his nose.
Cyrano, who is Mr. Sensitive on the topic, verbally chases to man to hell and back to find out just what he said and what he means.
Finally, the pompous Vicomte de Valvert steps forward and, putting an end to all this nonsense, flat-outs insults Cyrano’s oversized nose.
This is an act of either great bravery or great stupidity, since we’ve seen that Cyrano will fight to the death to defend his smeller.
Actually, now that we think about it, we’re going to go with stupidity, mostly because the best the Vicomte could come up with is, "Your nose is… rather large!"
Unfortunately for him, Cyrano is as witty as they come. He mocks the Vicomte in verse, listing at length all the clever insults the Vicomte could’ve come up with, but didn’t.
Valvert, thoroughly insulted by Cyrano’s string of insults against Cyrano (yes, that’s right), challenges the man to a duel.
Cyrano, the resident master swordsman, easily defeats the Vicomte—so easily, in fact, that he makes up an impromptu ballad and recites it while dueling the Vicomte. The Vicomte leaves, thoroughly embarrassed.
We learn that Cyrano is poor. After paying off the actors, he does not even have enough money to buy dinner. However, the orange girl (smitten by Cyrano’s cleverness, and possibly by his nose) offers him free food. Cyrano gallantly takes only a little—half a macaroon, a glass of water, and a grape.
He then talks to his friend Le Bret, who doesn’t understand why Cyrano goes around making so many enemies. Cyrano replies that his goal is to "make [him]self in all things admirable!"
We learn that Cyrano, unfortunately, is in love with the Lady Roxane, which, back in the day, wasn’t mutually exclusive with being her cousin.
Anyway, he won’t tell her about his love because he fears she thinks him ugly (due to his big nose). Also, his greatest fear in the world is that she will laugh at him.
At this point, Lady Roxane’s Duenna (or governess) arrives and delivers a message from Roxane: she wants to meet Cyrano in private at Ragueneau’s pastry shop the next day.
Cyrano declares he is so delighted by the news that he feels he could fight giants.
At this point, Lignière—completely drunk—returns to ruin the moment. He has found a note from Christian warning him of the hundred men sent to assassinate him, so he is quaking in his boots.
Cyrano, who’s still hopped up on "I can fight giants" feelings of loving goodness, offers to fight all hundred men for Lignière.
Apparently, everyone thinks this is a good idea, as the entire company follows Cyrano in his march to Porte de Nesle to face impossible odds—though, in all fairness, probably not as impossible as fighting giants.