One of the great men of history, who is a great example of how words can make a difference.
Cyrano de Bergerac was a real person, but his fame today is based on an 1897 play, loosely based on Cyrano’s life, by Edmond Rostand. Rostand’s play, Cyrano de Bergerac, spawned several film adaptations, an opera, a ballet, and is still performed regularly all over the world.
Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac, a Cadet 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.”
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 intimidated by Roxane’s intelligence and has no wit or intelligence of his own, 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. 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 memorize speeches to attempt to woo Roxane. Christian decides that he does not need Cyrano’s help anymore, but humiliates himself in front of Roxane, and begs Cyrano to help him again. This culminates in the famous scene where Roxane is on top of a balcony believing she is speaking to Christian, but is actually speaking to Cyrano pretending to be Christian. After winning back Roxane’s love through Cyrano’s poetry, Christian is married to Roxane. 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. Though Roxane attempts to keep de Guiche from sending the army away through subterfuge (and uses de Guiche’s order to secure her secret marriage to Christian), she fails.
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, 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 and notices how he is reading within the dark. 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” (i.e., honor; the word also means “a feathered headgear”), he dies in Roxane’s arms.