December 09, 2021

#08-163: Cyrano de Bergerac

From a 19th-century production of Cyrano

Note: A classic play about a man with a big nose and a bigger heart, as good at swordplay as at wordplay.

Get Ready: Is it better to be good-looking but not too good with words, or unattractive but a good talker?

Let's look at the well-known play Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand. Written in 1897, it has been staged in over 30 major productions, and been the subject of around 20 films in addition to numerous other TV and radio adaptations.

As the story begins, Hercule Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac is a talented nobleman currently serving as a soldier in the French Army. He is a man of many talents: shooting, poetry, music, and more. And he is in love with his distant cousin Roxane, but dares not approach her because of his embarrassingly huge nose.

Another soldier, Christian de Neuvillette, is attending the theater with his friend Lignière, who also is in love with Roxane. Christian catches a pickpocket, who trades his freedom for the news that there is a plot against Lignière. Christian sets off to warn his friend.

Now, Cyrano had banned a certain actor from the stage. When that actor appears, Cyrano stops the play, which leads to a duel with Valvert, Roxane's betrothed, intertwined with Cyrano reciting poetry. After the duel, in an otherwise-empty theater, Cyrano confesses to his friend Le Bret that he loves Roxane. Just then, Roxane's chaperone arrives to request a meeting between her mistress and Cyrano, when Cyrano is called away to defend Lignière against one hundred hired thugs.

The next morning, Cyrano arrives at his friend Ragueneau's bake shop to meet with Roxane, for whom he has written an impassioned letter. As they speak privately, Roxane bandages his hand, injured the previous night in his fight with the thugs. She speaks of a man with whom she has fallen in love. At first Cyrano thinks she's referring to him--until she describes her love as "handsome," and goes on to say he is a soldier named Christian. She asks Cyrano to befriend and protect the younger man from the rowdy soldiers.

Roxane leaves as other soldiers arrive. While Cyrano brags about the previous night, Christian boldly teases him about his nose. Though he is angry, Cyrano hold his temper for Roxane's sake.

Eventually, though, he explodes. After clearing the shop, he tells Christian he is Roxane's cousin. Christian confesses his love, but laments that he is too dull-witted to woo her. Here Cyrano sets up the central part of the plot: he will write letters for Christian to copy and send to Roxane as his own.

Roxane loves the letters she receives, telling Cyrano the words are more beautiful than his own! Unfortunately, she will soon expect Christian to speak similar words to her face. Cyrano attempts to coach the youth, but when Christian gets frustrated, Cyrano agrees that he should speak for himself.

Christian of course speaks poorly, so Cyrano arranges for Christian to stand under Roxane's balcony: he whispers words to Christian from below, and Christian speaks them to Roxane. (This is one of the play's most famous scenes.) Eventually, since it's dark, Cyrano takes over and says the words himself. As a result, Roxane comes down and kisses Christian.

The young lovers are secretly married, but one of Christian's rivals--and his superior--is incensed at losing her, and vengefully sends Christian's regiment into battle. Roxane reminds Cyrano of his promise to keep the young man safe, and Cyrano says he'll do what he can.

From the battlefield, Cyrano writes to Roxane twice a day--in Christian's name. Roxane makes her way to the camp with food and drink for the starving men. She tells Christian that his letters are so beautiful that she would love his soul even if he were ugly. Christian passes this on to Cyrano, urging him to tell Roxane the truth. But before he can do so, Christian is shot and killed, and Cyrano feels he must help preserve Roxane's memory of him.

The final act takes place fifteen years later. Roxane is living in a convent, mourning her lover Christian. Cyrano has been dropping by regularly to bring her news, but on this day, he is wounded in an accident on his way there. Knowing this visit will be his last, he reads one of Christian's letters to her, and she recognizes that this is the voice that spoke to her from under the balcony so many years ago. He denies that it was he, though, until he dies in delirium.


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Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. adaptations
  2. convent
  3. delirium
  4. distant
  5. dull-witted
  6. frustrated
  7. laments
  8. mourning
  9. rowdy
  10. woo

  1. dissatisfied; uncomfortable
  2. not closely related
  3. badly behaved
  4. a place where nuns live
  5. versions of a production for other media
  6. expresses sadness
  7. disorder of the mind
  8. expressing grief
  9. stupid
  10. court; seek to win

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for December 9, 2021

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. e; 2. d; 3. g; 4. b; 5. i; 6. a; 7. f; 8. h; 9. c; 10. j