Study Guide

Cyrano de Bergerac Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

By Edmond Rostand

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

Cyrano’s nose

Cyrano’s nose is the barrier that keeps him from telling Roxane he loves her. It reminds us that not only is a person judged by others for his appearance, but that a person assimilates these views and is altered by them. Cyrano’s hyper-sensitivity about nose-comments is understandable, but his reaction to the Vicomte’s inarticulate low-blow is an interesting one; he lists off all the insults Valvert could have come up with, which suggests a perspective and sense of humor regarding the nose we haven’t seen elsewhere. He also claims that such a nose gives him character, but that could easily be a cover-up for what we know to be a huge insecurity.

Letters

Letters are a symbol of deception, but also of love. For Cyrano, letters are an odd opportunity both to hide his identity and openly reveal his emotions. Notice that the difficulties and complications begin when Cyrano has to move out of the realm of letters and into speech – in the balcony scene with Roxane. This is where he’s almost caught, when he can no longer hide behind the letters. However, it is also where we see his true emotion most clearly. Of course, it is fitting that Roxane discovers the truth in the final scene when she watches Cyrano reading his letter aloud; this is the ultimate combination of the written and spoken word, and even in the dark Cyrano can no longer hide behind paper.

Tears and Blood

When Roxane reads what she believes to be Christian’s dying letter, it is stained with both blood and tears. As the audience knows, the tears are from Cyrano and the blood from Christian. In some ways, this is fitting, since Cyrano represents the emotional half of the man who has been wooing her and Christian the physical. At the end of the play, when Roxane discovers the truth, she declares that the tears were Cyrano’s. He counters that the blood was Christian’s, which means both men were key in winning her love. Even on his death bed, Cyrano doesn’t want to take all the credit. This is also a reminder of what may be guilt on Cyrano’s part; Christian died, so he literally gave up his blood, in part fighting to defend Roxane and her honor.

The Moon

In Act III, the moon is the happy fantasy of Cyrano as he pretends to be a drunken madman that believes he has fallen from the sky. In Act V, it is his desired destination after death, since it is "the place for [him], [his] kind of paradise!" On the moon, he says, he can chill with other awesome dead guys like Socrates and Galileo.

You should know that the real Cyrano de Bergerac also had a thing for space travel; in fact, he published a collection of stories called The Other World that detailed these fanciful journeys to the sun and moon. That our hero, the fictional de Bergerac, is so intrigued by such fantasy is a reminder of his character’s romanticism and, often, his impracticality. It is only fitting that a character so lost in language and so poorly grounded in reality would be fascinated by the thought of travel to the moon.

The White Plume

On the battlefield, the white plume is a mark of military rank, a target for enemy guns. The fact that de Guiche threw his away in the heat of battle means he’s a huge ninny, as if we didn’t know that already. The fact that Cyrano picks it up is symbolic of his staunch courage, loyalty to his country and fellow soldiers, and undying honor. It’s no surprise, then, that his last words are of this very plume, which is unstained, noble, honorable, etc.

Food and Drink Imagery

Food and drink imagery end up as an allegory of the developing levels of frivolity and seriousness throughout the play. Huh? Let’s try that again. In the first two acts, food and wine play the role of comedic relief and showy wordplay in the characters of Lignière and Ragueneau (just look at the scene with the orange girl, or the hilarious poetic-puff-pastry stuff). However, it becomes much more serious in the last three acts, especially when the Cadets at Arras are starving. Food isn’t exactly trivial anymore. Roxane risks her own life to show up with a feast for the men, although to be fair her mind was probably more on Christian than on any food she was bringing to the soldiers. Love, too, is briefly referred to in food imagery when Roxane describes her desire for cream (good love poetry) and not milk and water (Christian’s lame offering of "I love you").

Mask Imagery

Two characters wear masks in this play, Roxane when visiting Cyrano at Ragueneau’s pastry shop and de Guiche when coming to take Roxane away to the convent. Both wear them for the specific purpose of not being seen and recognized (duh). But curiously, they are also blinded by their masks; Roxane cannot see that Cyrano loves her and de Guiche cannot see that the madman pretending to have fallen from the moon is Cyrano.

Dueling Imagery

We’re not just talking about swordfights here – we’re talking about verbal sparring and wooing. This connection is established at the beginning of the play when a guardsman’s pursuit of a flower girl is intermingled with two lackeys fighting. The language of love is mixed with the language of a duel, as are the images of pursuit, retreat, victory, and defeat.