Cyrano de Bergerac
by Edmond Rostand
Cyrano de Bergerac
Cyrano de Bergerac is the eloquent, clever, chivalrous, and hopelessly romantic hero of our play. He also has a nose the size of a cucumber, but who cares about appearances, right?
Apparently, Cyrano does. What’s interesting about this play is that we don’t actually see anyone judge Cyrano for his appearance, except for Cyrano himself. Sure, Valvert makes fun of him for the nose, but that’s just a low-blow to get back at Cyrano for embarrassing the pants off him. He dislikes our hero not because of the way he looks, but because of his actions. And until the end of the play, Roxane never gets the chance to judge Cyrano for his appearance since he never tells her the truth about his feelings. So basically, Cyrano’s insecurities are more hindering to him than his actual nose.
But there’s more to Cyrano than the nose. Aside from his appearance, Cyrano’s trademark is his amazing improvisatory ability with words; this guy can devise brilliantly funny, rapturously beautiful verses in a heartbeat. And as we’ve seen from this play, the chicks totally dig it. Language is Cyrano’s tool, his sword, his pièce de résistance. It is what ultimately wins him Lady Roxane’s affection. It is the truest reflection of his character. And yet, Cyrano himself raises some interesting questions about the nature of words. In the balcony scene with Roxane, while he is tortured over his predicament (all the work, none of the credit), he says: "Love hates that game of words! / It is a crime to fence with life." So Cyrano sees language as a "game" without substance or meaning; his relationship to his articulate speech is not only torturous but contradictory; he has mastered it and can use it to his own ends, yet he despises it for its capacity to mask, for its artifice.
Cyrano’s long, overblown speeches also remind us that this isn’t exactly the most down-to-earth man we’ve ever met. Prone to flights of fancy, exaggerations (think "I can fight giants!"), and impractically principled, Cyrano’s ridiculous nature is matched only by the play’s whimsical artifice. Cyrano does indeed fight off 100 armed men, which means we’ve left realism behind about three exits ago. Only in the world of Cyrano de Bergerac could a man like Cyrano de Bergerac exist, if that makes sense.
But he does exist, and over and over Cyrano fights practicality with his overblown romanticism. The whole Christian-Roxane affair is a perfect example. Cyrano somehow believes that he can win Roxane’s love solely by writing her beautifully poetic letters. And because this fictional world operates on his level of fancy, he does, albeit it with a few deaths thrown in for good tragic measure. But the really interesting question here is why Cyrano agrees to the trickery in the first place. Or, backing up a bit chronologically, why he even promises Roxane that he’ll look out for Christian.
At the moment she asks for Cyrano to protect her new love interest, the man has just been devastated by the news that his own lady love is in love with another (confusing much?). He’s distraught and vulnerable, so Roxane’s somewhat selfish request is just the icing on the cake. So why in the world does Cyrano agree? Could it be that he has already devised his letter-writing, pseudo-wooing plan? Maybe. Or maybe his love for Roxane really is selfless (he will later tell her that she should take his happiness in order to become happy herself), and he’s willing to do what she wants no matter how it hurts him.
Once he meets with Christian, we are once more at a loss, this time as to why Cyrano enters into cahoots with his competition. Again, maybe he realizes this is his only way to get close to Roxane, as he believes he’d have no chance on his own, or maybe he just selflessly wants to see her happy. But don’t forget that Cyrano is a man of highest principle – the kind of man who refuses to eat more than a grape and half a macaroon when he’s starving. So why is he OK with lying, systematically and repeatedly, to the woman he loves? This question isn’t ever really answered in Rostand’s play, and Cyrano, though he sometimes laments his predicament, doesn’t ever feel guilty for deceiving Roxane. It may be that his intentions were noble, but either way, Cyrano is operating on a very unique system of principles – not one we would recommend adopting in any sort of realistic universe.