Cyrano de Bergerac: Summary, Characters & Author

Instructor: Joshua Wimmer

Joshua holds a master's degree in Latin and has taught a variety of Classical literature and language courses.

You'll probably never encounter a French duke or a 'dame précieuse' in the real world, but you can find them readily in Rostand's 'Cyrano de Bergerac.' Read on to get a synopsis of this famous play and a chance to meet its colorful cast and playwright!

Synopsis of Cyrano de Bergerac

Edmond Rostand first produced his play Cyrano de Bergerac in 1897. Though the play is fictional, Rostand based the titular character on a real man, Hercule-Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac. In the play, Cyrano is a tragic, though larger-than-life figure whose similarly large nose keeps him from openly wooing the woman he loves.

Act I

Rostand's theatrical masterpiece opens with a scene in a theater where there are rumors that the lead actor has been forbidden to perform. The boisterous Cyrano de Bergerac affirms these rumors when he forces the rotund actor offstage. Soon after, though, Cyrano's one weakness is revealed: his enormous nose. After giving a young viscount a sound tongue-lashing for having commented on it, Cyrano - a legendary swordsman of his day - prepares to take on a hundred assassins who have been contracted to kill his friend.

Act II

Act II depicts the following morning in the pastry shop of Ragueneau. Cyrano soon comes in, expecting to meet his cousin and love, Roxane. Known for his eloquent way with words, Cyrano writes a letter to Roxane describing his feelings for her; however, his hopes are dashed when she expresses her own affection for the handsome Christian de Neuvillete, whom she spied the previous evening at the theater. When Christian arrives, Cyrano gives him the letter he had written and promises to teach him the art of seduction through words since Christian himself is not so sharp-witted.

Act III

We find in Act III perhaps the most iconic scene of the whole play - one that has been imitated and re-imagined time and again. Here, Roxane wants Christian to speak from his heart the same way he speaks in his letters. Of course he can't do this, so Cyrano steps in again to feed him lines and eventually to take his place beneath Roxane's balcony. Successfully wooed by Cyrano's beautiful words, Roxane and Christian hastily marry before he is ordered with the other Gascon cadets to the siege at Arras.

Act IV

While entrenched and starving at Arras in Act IV, the Gascon cadets receive a surprise visitor following Cyrano's daily run through the lines of fire to deliver 'Christian's' letters to Roxane. It is the chef Ragueneau who has brought much needed food and the company of Roxane. Since the enemy attack has been directed to the cadets' location, Christian and Cyrano try desperately to have Roxane leave. Nevertheless, she elects to stay as the battle begins, letting Christian know that she now loves him, not for his looks but for his heart. When Cyrano is about to tell Roxane the truth of the matter, it is discovered that Christian has been shot. As Christian lies dying, Cyrano decides to keep his authorship of the letters secret.

Act V

The play's final act opens in a church yard fifteen years later where Roxane comes loyally to mourn her short-lived husband. She is visited there punctually every Saturday by the faithful Cyrano. This Saturday, however, Ragueneau and some friends of Cyrano's have expressed to Roxane their concern for his safety following Cyrano's repeated jeers and criticisms of various influential people. A little late for their meeting, Cyrano finally arrives, but is obviously not well. Roxane finally consents to let him read Christian's final letter to her, but as the twilight dims, she notices that he is reciting rather than reading it. As Cyrano begins to expire from an injury he received shortly earlier that day, Roxane finally learns the truth of his love for her, and they all get to witness the gallant final moments of this epitome of panache.

Characters in Cyrano de Bergerac

Hercule-Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac was an actual French dramatist and infamous duelist of the mid-17th century! The play by Edmond Rostand presents a fictional account of this real person, but captures many of the temperamental poet's characteristics and mannerisms. Because of his larger-than-average nose, Cyrano tended to compensate with a larger-than-average personality. And so Rostand's character is equally boisterous and flamboyant - a trait now forever known as 'panache' as a result of Cyrano's claim to it. Behind this façade of self-assured boldness, though, Cyrano is a truly caring and selfless individual. He is always afraid to reveal this sensitivity, however, due to the fact that his looks already leave him vulnerable.

Madame Madeleine Robin, or simply Roxane, is Cyrano's cousin and the love of his life. As a dame précieuse, she is a clever and well-read lady, able to match wits with Cyrano's wordplay. Roxane is kind and romantic, though she later openly admits to being superficial in her initial attraction to Christian. She risks her own life to bring sustenance to the starving soldiers on the front lines, as well as to see her beloved Christian. Roxane is a truly tragic figure in the play, since she eventually loses all the people whom she has ever loved and that have ever loved her.

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