Joshua holds a master's degree in Latin and has taught a variety of Classical literature and language courses.
Themes in Cyrano de Bergerac
Eloquence - the skill of assembling one's words creatively and meaningfully - is a highly pervasive theme throughout this play. Rostand constantly references playwrights and poets, invoking their talents as measures of this quality. From Act I, criticism of characters' abilities to craft their words well is a significant part of their interactions with one another, particularly where Cyrano is concerned. The protagonist himself is, of course, extremely capable both in a verbal joust and in the gentle art of poetry, and he takes great pride in his ability to turn a phrase. Cyrano's aptitude at artistically pointed wordplay is also frequently used as the drama's consistent comedic element, effectively making Cyrano de Bergerac a tragicomedy: a dramatic work involving both tragic and comedic elements.
Beauty takes on many forms as a theme in Rostand's work. Certainly, the lovely Roxane and the handsome Christian embody a physical beauty that makes them desirable to one another. However, Cyrano's eloquence is also a thing of powerfully compelling beauty. It's this very power of expression, in fact, that is so successful in wooing Roxane when put in the mouth of the inarticulate Christian. In Act IV, Roxane even confesses to her beloved that she first loved him out of physical attraction. But now that she has become acquainted with his (Cyrano's) beautiful soul through his poetic letters, she realizes that it's his words that have won her heart rather than his looks.
Unrequited love is one of the more obvious themes in Cyrano de Bergerac, but sometimes in some ways that aren't as apparent. The deep passion that Cyrano feels for Roxane, despite their lifelong history together, is tragically never reciprocated until his final moments. This uneven display of affection is of course an ongoing and important plot element, so it's immediately apparent. Nevertheless, Christian's love for Roxane is truly the one that remains unanswered. While it's true that she originally became infatuated with Christian over his physical characteristics, it is the character of his words that has truly won her over. Therefore, since Christian's words are really expressions of Cyrano's love, it is his affection that Roxane actually responds to.
Disguises are everywhere in this play, but many of them are subtle. The use of a means of hiding our true selves is physically apparent in Roxane's mask and covering in Act II, as well as in various other changes of dress and demeanor (i.e. the Count de Guiche's plan to hide away at a monastery). There are also many metaphorical masks worn by various characters, especially Cyrano. For instance, the boisterously flamboyant protagonist uses his panache to mask his own insecurities over his appearance (you might recall his famously huge nose), as well as other aspects of his character that are more sensitive and vulnerable (i.e. his heartfelt passion for Roxane).
Hidden Hearts: Analyzing Cyrano de Bergerac
Have you ever had friends who were obnoxiously loud or overbearing, but you knew they were using their public presence to hide their insecurities? Maybe for them it was acne or a weight issue, but for the boisterous Hercule-Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac it is the unsightly size of his nose. He is obviously quite sensitive concerning his appearance, which we can see when he uses his trademark eloquence to verbally trounce a young viscount who has mentioned it. While it's true that Cyrano frequently uses his way with words as a shield against the harsh jokes and glances, he also possesses a poetic soul that he longs to share with his beloved Roxane.
Drawn to the handsome Christian, however, it is his soul that Roxane would rather hear. Displaying a true beauty of character to rival Roxane and Christian's physical loveliness, Cyrano desires Roxane's happiness far above his own, so he shares his beautiful eloquence with the inarticulate Christian. In effect, Cyrano has taken on a new disguise in Christian since he is able to use the young cadet's relationship with Roxane as an outlet for expressing his true emotions toward her. Though his love is still not reciprocated in the way he would prefer, Cyrano finds a new sense of freedom and emotional release in his coaching of Christian.
The real tragedy in all of this is that Roxane does truly reciprocate the love expressed by Cyrano, but she never realizes this until it's too late. Christian, who had been disguised as an artistically articulate lover, understands this fact all too well. His mask had been his undoing since Roxane truly loved him for his words, which were not his own. Hiding behind the handsome cadet has the same effect for Cyrano because he is reluctant to let Roxane know otherwise for fear she would be emotionally wounded. Since neither man lets Roxane see their true selves, neither is ever truly loved by her in his own right. Cyrano, however, does get one final glimpse of Roxane's true affection as he dies, leaving her with the knowledge that it was his heart hidden behind Christian's handsome face all along.
The most prevalent themes in Edmond Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac relate to eloquence, beauty, unrequited love, and the many ways in which we disguise ourselves. As a tragicomedy - a dramatic work involving both tragic and comedic elements - the play is kept consistently lighthearted in the face of heartbreak through Cyrano's renowned eloquence. However, he also hides the beauty of his words behind the physical attractiveness of Christian. Eventually, this leads to neither man's affections being reciprocated by the lovely Roxane, who cannot see through their disguises until it is much too late.
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