Cyrano de Bergerac is a play by Edmond Rostand based on the life of the real Cyrano de Bergerac. The first four acts are set in 1640, while the fifth is set in 1655. The play is one of the most popular in the French language and has been filmed several times (and even made into an opera). It was written in 1897 and was an immediate triumph.
The entire play is written in verse, in the classic rhymed couplets with 12 syllables per line called alexendrins. It is also meticulously researched, down to the names of the members of the Académie Française and the dames précieuses glimpsed before the performance in the first scene.
It has been translated and performed many times, and is responsible for introducing the word panache into the English language.
Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac, a Cadet (nobleman serving as a soldier) in the French Army, is a brash, strong-willed man of many talents. In addition to being an incredible duelist, he is a remarkable poet and is also shown to be a musician. However, he has an extremely large nose, which is a target for his own self-doubt. This doubt prevents him from expressing his love for his cousin, the beautiful Roxane, as he believes that his ugliness forbids him to "dream of being loved by even an ugly woman" by his nose.
At the same time as he is debating whether or not he should propose his love to her, she comes to see him. In a moment of great dramatic irony, she tells him that she believes she loves Christian de Neuvillette, a young cadet in the same regiment as Cyrano. Although disheartened by this chain of events, Cyrano agrees to protect Christian at Roxane's request.
When Cyrano confronts Christian, he sees that Christian too loves Roxane, but is a fool who doesn't know how to talk to women, even though he's a "handsome devil". Desperate to express his love for Roxane, even if it is unrequited, Cyrano offers to provide Christian with the type of dashing verse that he is associated with. In Act II, Scene ii of the 2003 Signet Classic edition, Christian states that "I need eloquence, and I have none!" to which Cyrano replies "I'll lend you mine! Lend me your conquering physical charm, and together we'll form a romantic hero!"
The two arrange love letters and memorized speeches to attempt to woo Roxane. This culminates in the famous scene where Roxane is on top of a balcony believing she is speaking to Christian, but is speaking to Cyrano pretending to be Christian. Their brilliant plan, however, is blocked by Antoine de Guiche. de Guiche, the officer in charge of Cyrano and Christian's regiment, dislikes Cyrano and delights in ordering the Cadets to the siege upon Arras, a historically correct event that was a part of the war against Spain that was occurring that year in Flanders. Though Roxane attempts, using subterfuge, to keep de Guiche from sending the army away, (and uses de Guiche's order to secure her secret marriage to Christian) de Guiche sends the regiment to Arras.
In a military encampment plagued by famine, Cyrano becomes obsessed with writing love letters to Roxane and crediting them to Christian. de Guiche, who is shown to be ridiculed by the soldiers he commands, orders the regiment on a suicide mission. However, Roxane, taken by the love letters, arrives with provisions. Roxane tells Christian that she loves him just for his soul, and would love him even if he were ugly. Hearing this, Christian tries to get the resistant Cyrano to tell Roxane about the entire scheme. However, the battle starts and Christian dies before Cyrano can properly inform her. Cyrano's pride and sense of honor preclude him from telling Roxane about the secret of the man who just died. The cadets charge in a mostly fruitless attack, bringing Act IV and the portion of the play set in 1640 to a close.
The play resumes in 1655, 15 years after the events in Arras. Cyrano has become poor because his pride prevents him from receiving aid. His brash manner, however, has continued to earn him enemies. He visits Roxane, who still mourns for Christian, every Saturday at the cloister where she now lives. Cyrano is stricken on the head by firewood thrown from an open window while walking down the street. It is suspected that the incident was set up by someone that Cyrano had insulted in the past. After being treated by a doctor "acting out of charity", Cyrano gets up out of his bed and leaves to go keep his weekly appointment with Roxane. He asks to read Christian's last letter (which Cyrano, of course, actually wrote), and Roxane gives it to him. It is a moving farewell that Christian supposedly wrote in case of his death in battle. As Cyrano reads it aloud, Roxane remembers hearing the same voice speaking words of love to her long ago. She turns and sees that Cyrano is reciting the letter from memory, and realizes that not only did he write all of Christian's letters, but that she has actually always loved Cyrano, and he her. Two of Cyrano's best friends, Le Bret and Ragueneau, enter, concerned for Cyrano's health, and tell Roxane that Cyrano has "killed himself" by going to visit her. It is then that Cyrano is forced to admit that he is dying from his wound. Roxane now declares that she loves him and begs him not to die. But Cyrano grows delirious, stands up, and imagines that he is fighting a duel with Death himself, saying that it is better to fight in vain. Declaring that the only thing that cannot be taken away from him is his "panache", he falls dead.
Movies and other adaptions
Rostand's play has been the subject of several films, including a 1950 film starring José Ferrer (for which he won an Academy Award), a 1990 French-language version starring Gérard Depardieu, and a comedic Hollywood version, Roxanne, starring Steve Martin.
An opera in French, Cyrano de Bergerac, whose libretto by Henri Cain is based on Rostand's words, was composed by the Italian Franco Alfano and has recently been revived by the Metropolitan Opera, New York, starring Plácido Domingo in the title role.
Walter Damrosch wrote another operatic adaptation of Cyrano de Bergerac, which premiered in 1913 at the Metropolitan Opera.
In 1964, The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo presented a cartoon adaptation of Cyrano.
In the early 1970s, a musical adaptation, called Cyrano, starring Christopher Plummer, appeared in Boston and then on Broadway.
On the PBS show Wishbone, it was the story featured in the episode "Cyranose".
The teen movie Whatever It Takes (film), was loosely based off of it.
Frank Langella created a chamber piece simply titled "Cyrano".