Study Guide

Cyrano de Bergerac Summary

By Edmond Rostand

Cyrano de Bergerac Summary

The action begins at a play performance in Paris. Amid the bustling scene, we meet several members of the audience: Christian de Neuvillette, a new cadet madly in love with the resident hottie, Lady Roxane; Lignière, a super drunk party guy who promptly leaves the play for the purposes of getting drunk and partying; Ragueneau, a pastry chef and poet; and Le Bret, the friend of title character, Cyrano de Bergerac.

Everyone stands around talking about how awesome Cyrano is. Next, we meet our bad guys, Comte de Guiche and his lackey, Vicomte de Valvert. As it turns out, de Guiche is a powerful dude who has plans to force the beautiful Roxane to marry the not-so-beautiful Valvert.

As if that weren’t enough conflict, Christian soon discovers that de Guiche, angry for some petty reason, has plotted to kill Lignière. Since Christian is friends with the guy and would rather not see him dead at the hands of a hundred armed assassins (reportedly), he rushes off to save him, though he is sad to leave behind Lady Roxane—who, it turns out, is also at the play.

It’s time for the play to begin, but not before we hear that Cyrano holds a grudge against the principle actor, Montfleury. Sure enough, as soon as Montfleury delivers his first lines, a voice is heard from the wings. It is Cyrano, saying something along the lines of "You suck!"—except he’s Cyrano de Bergerac, famous for his wit, eloquence, and general speaking abilities, so his version of a gong is actually a clever, pretentious series of rhyming couplet lines delivered in perfect meter.

Now Cyrano gets rid of Montfleury by opening a trap door beneath him on the stage. Cyrano pays the actors to cancel their performance so the audience members can get their money back and everyone can go home happy... albeit without their entertainment for the night.

Meanwhile, we’ve seen that Cyrano has a ginormous nose. He’s Mr. Sensitive about it, so when a comedian kinda-sorta-accidentally makes a joke that may have some sort of olfactory relevance, Cyrano gets in his face. Adding fuel to the fire, Victomte de Valvert (Mini-Me guy) steps forward to take his shot at Cyrano’s sniffer. Unfortunately, Valvert is dumb, so the best he can come up with is, "Your nose is… very large!" Awesome. Cyrano proves his master swordsmanship and verbal excellence by composing a ballad while kicking Valvert’s butt.

After everyone leaves, Cyrano and Le Bret are left alone. We find out that Cyrano is poor and just spent the last of his gold paying the actors to cancel the performance. He’s a principles man, he says, and aims to make himself admirable in all ways. Le Bret is skeptical of the practicality here. Speaking of impracticality, Cyrano is also in love with Lady Roxane, who is apparently his cousin, which wasn’t an issue in 17th-century France. The problem is Cyrano won’t confess his love to her, since he’s afraid she’ll laugh at him (and his nose).

Just then, Roxane’s duenna (or governess) shows up and says that Lady Roxane wants to meet Cyrano tomorrow at Ragueneau’s pastry shop. Cyrano essentially says, "I’m so excited, I could fight giants!" Lignière shows up drunk and is all, "Fighting giants sounds great, but how about fighting the hundred armed assassins waiting to kill me instead?" Cyrano dashes off to do so.

Cut to the next morning, at Ragueneau’s pastry shop. We see that Ragueneau prefers writing poetry to being a chef, which is a problem when your primary source of income is… being a chef. Also, his wife, Lise, is cheating on him with a musketeer. Cyrano shows up, which is great, because this tells us that he didn’t die last night. Ragueneau congratulates him for killing everyone last night.

When Roxane arrives, Cyrano gets her alone. They banter for a bit, and we find out that they used to play together as children. Roxane, noting an injury on Cyrano’s hand (from his battle last night), doctors it—just as she used to when they were children. She then reveals that she loves "someone."

Cyrano gets excited (in the PG way) until Roxane describes this someone as "beautiful," at which point Cyrano knows she can’t possibly be talking about him, which is depressing in more ways than one. That "someone" turns out to be Christian, the newly arrived cadet from Act I. Roxane asks Cyrano to protect Christian, since he’s basically a rookie, and to help him write her a love letter. Cyrano, eager to please Roxane, agrees... which we have to say is just a teensy-bit masochistic.

Roxane leaves, and a group of cadets—including Christian—shows up. Everyone lavishes Cyrano with attention for his victory last night, except for Christian, who shamelessly pokes fun at Cyrano’s nose. Everyone is waiting for Cyrano to bust out in anger, but he checks himself since he’s just sworn to protect Christian. Still, the guy’s only human, so several nose jokes later, he flips out and takes Christian alone into a back room, presumably to duel. Once alone, however, he tells Christian the whole deal with Roxane, conveniently leaving out the fact that, actually, he himself loves the woman, too.

Christian is pumped, since (as we already know) he loves Roxane back. He confesses, though, that he’s not so great at talking to the ladies; he gets too nervous. Cyrano agrees to woo Roxane via letters under the pretense of being Christian. This sounds like a great plan, and we’re sure that no feelings will ever get hurt in the process.

The next scene takes place outside Roxane’s house. Ragueneau reveals to the Duenna that his wife ran off with the musketeer, and that he subsequently tried to hang himself, but that Cyrano saved him just in time. Now he works as some sort of manservant for Roxane. Cyrano shows up and has chatty time with Roxane in her room. She reveals that she’s really excited about Christian, but mostly because he has such a captivating way with words. This tickles Cyrano’s fancy to no end, since he knows he’s responsible for the letters in question.

It’s all sunshine and rainbows until Comte de Guiche shows up. Cyrano dashes off so he isn’t seen alone with Roxane (which was not really allowed back then), and the Comte earns his Super Jerkosaur title by revealing that, having been made Colonel of the cadets, his first act is to take everyone—including Cyrano and Christian—off to war against Spain. Roxane gets crafty and declares that she loves de Guiche. This is an interesting twist, since he’s already married and was planning to marry her off to his lackey, Valvert.

Married or no, de Guiche isn’t going to say no to a babe like Roxane. So he falls for her act hook, line, and sinker. Roxane then says that, since she loves him, she’ll help him get back at his enemy—Cyrano de Bergerac. Keep the entire group of cadets at home, she says, and Cyrano will suffer the agony of missing the glory of battle. De Guiche agrees and sets up a later rendezvous with Roxane at a nearby convent.

Christian arrives next, ready to woo Roxane (who is still upstairs) from below her balcony. Unfortunately, he’s still Christian, and he’s still as eloquent as a trained monkey, so all he can come up with is, "I love you." Roxane, oh-so-demanding, isn’t satisfied with this, so she sends Christian away. To save the day, Cyrano steps into the shadows under the balcony and imitates Christian’s voice, wooing Roxane with poetry and general verbal fireworks. She’s all for it, and even kisses Christian (who pulls another switcheroo with Cyrano so that he gets the face-time).

Meanwhile, a Capuchin (a religious guy) shows up from the convent with a note from de Guiche detailing the convent rendezvous for later that night. He hands it to Roxane. Since the Capuchin hasn’t read the note himself, Roxane "reads" aloud, but alters its message. She tells the Capuchin that it consists of orders: for her and Christian to be married at once.

As the three of them rush off to the altar, Cyrano is left with the job of distracting de Guiche when he shows up. Cyrano does so with a clever song-and-dance-type gig where he pretends to be a drunkard who believes he has fallen from the moon. As soon as the marriage is over, Cyrano reveals the trick and de Guiche is all, "Blast! Foiled again!" Unfortunately, this means he’s definitely taking all the men to war, and he’s definitely doing so before Christian and Roxane get to seal the deal (meaning sleep together).

And we cut to the battle scene. All the cadets are starving and angry, and even more so when de Guiche shows up and acts like a general jerk (in other words, like himself). He tells a story of this one time when he ran away from battle like a ninny. He had to drop his white scarf so that he wouldn’t be picked out as a target (for his higher military rank).

Cyrano declares that, if he were there, he would have picked up the scarf to make himself more of a target, because he’s a baller like that. Exactly. De Guiche thinks this is a great story, so he responds by telling the men that they’re all going to die. No, seriously, he’s going to sacrifice them all to 100:1 odds to serve as a distraction for other French troops.

Next thing we know, Roxane has shown up with Ragueneau, bringing a feast for the men. Seeing Roxane there, de Guiche declares he will stay and fight to protect her. Cute, but he’s still evil. Roxane gets Christian alone and tells him that, actually, for a long time, she only loved him for his looks. The good news, she says, is that she now loves him because of his letters, because of who he really is. She would love him now, she adds, even if he were ugly.

Christian is devastated. He tells this all to Cyrano, who fails to hide his elation. Christian guesses the truth—Cyrano has loved Roxane all along. Cyrano tries to deny this, but Christian demands that he go tell Roxane the truth and see whom she chooses. Cyrano reluctantly agrees. He goes to Roxane, who affirms her earlier statement that she’s no longer a shallow nincompoop. Just as Cyrano is about to reveal the truth, however, Christian, off in the distance being his own brand of nincompoop, gets shot.  

Everyone rushes to his side; he’s dying. Cyrano whispers a lie to him—that he told Roxane the truth and she chose Christian. Christian dies happy, Roxane is still ignorant, and Cyrano is miserable. But he still dashes into the fray, eager to avenge Christian and win honor, glory, etc.

The next scene is fifteen years later. Roxane is living in a convent, having resigned herself to mourning the rest of her life for Christian. Cyrano, who once again is not dead and who still hasn’t told her the truth, visits her once a week to keep her company and to get his own dose of Lady Roxane time. De Guiche also visits Roxane, though he clearly has even less of a chance of winning her love (and also, he’s still married). On this particular visit, though, he asks her forgiveness, which she grants. Then, as he’s leaving, he bumps into Le Bret and tells him that Cyrano, who has still been making enemies at court with his constant dueling, had better be careful—he may suffer an "accident" one of these days.

Sure enough, some lackey drops a log on Cyrano’s head and mortally injures him. As he’s dying, he asks to read Christian’s last love letter aloud to Roxane. Roxane realizes that he has the letter memorized, and a few dull seconds later realizes that Cyrano wrote it. Shortly after that, the woman comes to the astounding conclusion that Cyrano wrote all the letters. Cyrano tries over and over to deny it, but Roxane won’t listen. She declares she loves him and kisses him. Then he dies, but not without several lengthy rhyming couplet speeches first. We would expect nothing less.