Cyrano de Bergerac (play)

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Cyrano de Bergerac
Cyrano de Bergerac, the man for whom the play is named and upon whose life it is based
Written by Edmond Rostand
Date premiered28 December 1897
Original languageFrench
Genre Romance
SettingFrance, 1640

Cyrano de Bergerac is a play written in 1897 by Edmond Rostand. There was a real Cyrano de Bergerac, and the play is a fictionalisation following the broad outlines of his life.


The entire play is written in verse, in rhyming couplets of twelve syllables per line, very close to the classical alexandrine form, but the verses sometimes lack a caesura. 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.

The play has been translated and performed many times, and it is responsible for introducing the word "panache" into the English language. [1] Cyrano (the character) is in fact famed for his panache, and he himself makes reference to "my panache" in the play. The two most famous English translations are those by Brian Hooker and Anthony Burgess.

Plot summary

Hercule Savinien de 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 a remarkable duelist, he is a gifted, joyful poet and is also a musical artist. However, he has an obnoxiously large nose, which causes him to doubt himself. This doubt prevents him from expressing his love for his distant cousin, the beautiful and intellectual Roxane, as he believes that his ugliness would prevent him the "dream of being loved by even an ugly woman."

Act I – A Performance at the Hôtel de Bourgogne

The play opens in Paris, 1640, in the theatre of the Hôtel de Bourgogne. Members of the audience slowly arrive, representing a cross-section of Parisian society from pickpockets to nobility. Christian de Neuvillette, a handsome new cadet, arrives with Lignière, a drunkard who he hopes will identify the young woman with whom he has fallen in love. Lignière recognizes her as Roxane, and he tells Christian about her and the Count de Guiche's scheme to marry her off to the compliant Viscount Valvert. Meanwhile, Ragueneau and Le Bret are expecting Cyrano de Bergerac, who has banished the actor Montfleury from the stage for a month. After Lignière leaves, Christian intercepts a pickpocket and, in return for his freedom, the pickpocket tells Christian of a plot against Lignière. Christian departs to try to warn him.

The play "Clorise" begins with Montfleury's entrance. Cyrano disrupts the play, forces Montfleury off stage, and compensates the manager for the loss of admission fees. The crowd is going to disperse when Cyrano lashes out at a pesky busybody, then is confronted by Valvert and duels with him while composing a ballade, wounding (and possibly killing) him as he ends the refrain (as promised, he ends each refrain with Qu'à la fin de l'envoi, je touche!: "Then, as I end the refrain, thrust home!") When the crowd has cleared the theater, Cyrano and Le Bret remain behind, and Cyrano confesses his love for Roxane. Roxane's duenna then arrives, and asks where Roxane may meet Cyrano privately. Lignière is then brought to Cyrano, having learned that one hundred hired thugs are waiting to ambush him on his way home. Cyrano, now emboldened, vows to take on the entire mob single-handed, and he leads a procession of officers, actors and musicians to the Porte de Nesle.

Act II – The Poets' Cookshop

The next morning, at Ragueneau's bake shop, Ragueneau supervises various apprentice cooks in their preparations. Cyrano arrives, anxious about his meeting with Roxane. He is followed by a musketeer, a paramour of Ragueneau's domineering wife Lise, then the regular gathering of impoverished poets who take advantage of Ragueneau's hospitality. Cyrano composes a letter to Roxane expressing his deep and unconditional love for her, warns Lise about her indiscretion with the musketeer, and when Roxane arrives he signals Ragueneau to leave them alone.

Roxane and Cyrano talk privately as she bandages his hand (injured from the fracas at the Port de Nesle); she thanks him for defeating Valvert at the theater, and talks about a man with whom she has fallen in love. Cyrano thinks that she is talking about him at first, and is ecstatic, but Roxane describes her beloved as "handsome," and tells him that she is in love with Christian de Neuvillette. Roxane fears for Christian's safety in the predominantly Gascon company of Cadets, so she asks Cyrano to befriend and protect him. This he agrees to do.

After she leaves, Cyrano's captain arrives with the cadets to congratulate him on his victory from the night before. They are followed by a huge crowd, including de Guiche and his entourage, but Cyrano soon drives them away. Le Bret takes him aside and chastises him for his behavior, but Cyrano responds haughtily. The Cadets press him to tell the story of the fight, teasing the newcomer Christian de Neuvillette. When Cyrano recounts the tale, Christian displays his own form of courage by interjecting several times with references to Cyrano's nose. Cyrano is angry, but remembering his promise to Roxane, he holds in his temper.

Eventually Cyrano explodes, the shop is evacuated, and Cyrano reveals his identity as Roxane's cousin. Christian confesses his love for Roxane but his inability to woo because of his lack of intellect and wit. When Cyrano tells Christian that Roxane expects a letter from him, Christian is despondent, having no eloquence in such matters. Cyrano then offers his services, including his own unsigned letter to Roxane. The Cadets and others return to find the two men embracing, and are flabbergasted. The musketeer from before, thinking it was safe to do so, teases Cyrano about his nose and receives a slap in the face while the Cadets rejoice.

Act III – Roxane's Kiss

Outside Roxane's house Ragueneau is conversing with Roxane's duenna. When Cyrano arrives, Roxane comes down and they talk about Christian: Roxane says that Christian's letters have been breathtaking—he is more intellectual than even Cyrano, she declares. She also says that she loves Christian.

When de Guiche arrives, Cyrano hides inside Roxane's house. De Guiche tells Roxane that he has come to say farewell. He has been made a colonel of an army regiment that is leaving that night to fight in the war with Spain. He mentions that the regiment includes Cyrano's guards, and he grimly predicts that he and Cyrano will have a reckoning. Afraid for Christian's safety if he should go to the front, Roxane quickly suggests that the best way for de Guiche to seek revenge on Cyrano would be for him to leave Cyrano and his cadets behind while the rest of the regiment goes on to military glory. After much flirtation from Roxane, de Guiche believes he should stay close by, concealed in a local monastery. When Roxane implies that she would feel more for de Guiche if he went to war, he agrees to march on steadfastly, leaving Cyrano and his cadets behind. He leaves, and Roxane makes the duenna promise she will not tell Cyrano that Roxane has robbed him of a chance to go to war.

Roxane expects Christian to come visit her, and she tells the duenna to make him wait if he does. Cyrano presses Roxane to disclose that instead of questioning Christian on any particular subject, she plans to make Christian improvise about love. Although he tells Christian the details of her plot, when Roxane and her duenna leave, he calls for Christian who has been waiting nearby. Cyrano tries to prepare Christian for his meeting with Roxane, urging him to remember lines Cyrano has written. Christian however refuses saying he wants to speak to Roxane in his own words. Cyrano bows to this saying, "Speak for yourself, sir."

During their meeting Christian makes a fool of himself trying to speak seductively to Roxane. Roxane storms into her house, confused and angry. Thinking quickly, Cyrano makes Christian stand in front of Roxane's balcony and speak to her while Cyrano stands under the balcony whispering to Christian what to say. Eventually, Cyrano shoves Christian aside and, under cover of darkness, pretends to be Christian, wooing Roxane himself. In the process, he wins a kiss for Christian.

Roxane and Christian are secretly married by a Capuchin. Outside, Cyrano meets de Guiche. Cyrano, his face concealed, impersonates a madman, with a tale of a trip to the Moon. De Guiche is fascinated, and delays his journey to hear more. When Cyrano finally reveals his face, de Guiche suggests Cyrano should write a book.

The newly wed couple's happiness is short-lived: de Guiche, angry to have lost Roxane, declares that he is sending the Cadets of Gascony to the front lines of the war with Spain. De Guiche triumphantly tells Cyrano that the wedding night will have to wait. Under his breath, Cyrano remarks that the news fails to upset him.

Roxane, afraid for Christian, urges Cyrano to promise to keep him safe, to keep him out of dangerous situations, to keep him dry and warm, and to keep him faithful. Cyrano says that he will do what he can but that he cannot promise anything. Roxane begs Cyrano to promise to make Christian write to her every day. Brightening, Cyrano announces confidently that he can promise that.

Act IV – The Gascon Cadets

The Siege of Arras. The Gascon Cadets are among many French forces now cut off by the Spanish, and they are starving. Cyrano, meanwhile, has been writing in Christian's name twice a day, smuggling letters across enemy lines. De Guiche, whom the Cadets despise, arrives and chastises them; Cyrano responds with his usual bravura, and de Guiche then signals a spy to tell the Spanish to attack the Cadets, informing them that they must hold the line until relief arrives. Then a coach arrives, and Roxane emerges from it. She tells how she was able to flirt her way through the Spanish lines. Cyrano tells Christian about the letters, and provides him a farewell letter to give to Roxane if he dies. After de Guiche departs, Roxane provides plenty of food and drink with the assistance of the coach's driver, Ragueneau. De Guiche attempts to convince Roxane to leave the battlefield for a second time. When she refuses, de Guiche says he will not leave a lady behind. This impresses the cadets who offer him their leftovers, which de Guiche declines but ends up catching the cadets' accent which makes him even more popular with the cadets. Roxane also tells Christian that, because of the letters, she has grown to love him for his soul alone, and would still love him even if he were ugly.

Christian tells this to Cyrano, and then persuades Cyrano to tell Roxane the truth about the letters, saying he has to be loved for "the fool that he is" to be truly loved at all. Cyrano disbelieves what Christian claims Roxane has said, until she tells him so as well. But, before Cyrano can tell her the truth, Christian is brought back to the camp, having been fatally shot. Cyrano realizes that, in order to preserve Roxane's image of an eloquent Christian, he cannot tell her the truth. The battle ensues, a distraught Roxane collapses and is carried off by de Guiche and Ragueneau, and Cyrano rallies the Cadets to hold back the Spanish until relief arrives.

The second-to-last scene. First performance of the play. Published in "l'illustration", 8 January 1898 Cyra.jpg
The second-to-last scene. First performance of the play. Published in "l'illustration", 8 January 1898

Act V – Cyrano's Gazette

Fifteen years later, at a convent outside Paris. Roxane now resides here, eternally mourning her beloved Christian. She is visited by de Guiche, who is now a good friend and now sees Cyrano as an equal (and has been promoted to duke), Le Bret, and Ragueneau (who has lost his wife and bakery, and is now a candlelighter for Molière), and she expects Cyrano to come by as he always has with news of the outside world. On this day, however, he has been mortally wounded by someone who dropped a huge log on his head from a tall building. Upon arriving to deliver his "gazette" to Roxane, knowing it will be his last, he asks Roxane if he can read "Christian's" farewell letter. She gives it to him, and he reads it aloud as it grows dark. Listening to his voice, she realizes that it is Cyrano who was the author of all the letters, but Cyrano denies this to his death. Ragueneau and Le Bret return, telling Roxane of Cyrano's injury. While Cyrano grows delirious, his friends weep and Roxane tells him that she loves him. He combats various foes, half imaginary and half symbolic, conceding that he has lost all but one important thing – his panache – as he dies in Le Bret and Ragueneau's arms.

Stage history

Benoit-Constant Coquelin created the role of Cyrano de Bergerac (1897) Coquelin aine.jpg
Benoît-Constant Coquelin created the role of Cyrano de Bergerac (1897)

On 27 December 1897, the curtain rose at the Théâtre de la Porte Saint-Martin, [2] and the audience was pleasantly surprised. A full hour after the curtain fell, the audience was still applauding. The original Cyrano was Constant Coquelin, who played it over 410 times at said theatre and later toured North America in the role. The original production had sets designed by Marcel Jambon and his associates Brard and Alexandre Bailly (Acts I, III and V), Eugène Carpezat (Act II), and Alfred Lemeunier (Act IV). The earliest touring production of Cyrano was set up by Charles Moncharmont and Maurice Luguet. It was premiered in Monte Carlo on 29 March 1898, and subsequently presented in France, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Egypt, Greece, Italy, Algeria, Tunisia and Spain. Special, transportable sets emulating the Parisian production were created for this tour by Albert Dubosq:

La troupe qui interprétera Cyrano de Bergerac se composera de quarante personnes. Les costumes et les décors seront identiques à ceux de la Porte Saint-Martin; les costumes, au nombre de deux cent cinquante, faits sur mesure, les armes, cartonnages, tout le matériel seront exécutés par les fournisseurs de ce théâtre; les décors seront brossés par Dubosq qui est allé, ces jours derniers, s’entendre à Paris avec les entrepreneurs de la tournée. ... la troupe voyage avec tout un matériel de décors à appliques, charnières, pièces démontables qui, pouvant se planter sur n’importe quelle scène et se divisant en tous petits fragments, s’installe aisément dans des caisses, sans peser relativement trop lourd et dépasser les dimensions admises par les chemins de fer. [3]

{The troupe that will perform Cyrano de Bergerac will comprise forty people. The costumes and decorations will be identical to those of the Porte Saint-Martin; the costumes, two hundred and fifty in number, made to measure, the weapons, cardboard boxes, all the material will be made by the suppliers of this theater; the sets will be painted by Dubosq who, in recent days, has been to Paris to get along with the touring entrepreneurs. ... the troupe travels with a whole set of sconces, hinges, removable parts which, being able to be planted on any stage and being divided into very small fragments, can be easily installed in crates, without weighing relatively too much heavy and exceed the dimensions permitted by railways.}

Richard Mansfield was the first actor to play Cyrano in the United States in an English translation.

Walter Hampden on the cover of Time in 1929, while he was the producer, director, star and theatre manager of a Broadway revival of Cyrano de Bergerac Walter-Hampden-TIME-1929.jpg
Walter Hampden on the cover of Time in 1929, while he was the producer, director, star and theatre manager of a Broadway revival of Cyrano de Bergerac

The longest-running Broadway production ran 232 performances in 1923 and starred Walter Hampden, who returned to the role on the Great White Way in 1926, 1928, 1932, and 1936. [4] Hampden used the 1923 Brian Hooker translation prepared especially for him, which became such a classic in itself that it was used by virtually every English-speaking Cyrano until the mid-1980s. In 1946 Hampden passed the torch to José Ferrer, who won a Tony Award for playing Cyrano in a much-praised Broadway staging, the highlight of which was a special benefit performance in which Ferrer played the title role for the first four acts and Hampden (then in his mid-sixties) assumed it for the fifth. Ferrer reprised the role on live television in 1949 and 1955, and in a 1950 film version for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor. It became Ferrer's most famous role.

Other notable English-speaking Cyranos were Ralph Richardson, DeVeren Bookwalter, Derek Jacobi, Michael Kanarek, Richard Chamberlain, and Christopher Plummer, who played the part in Rostand's original play and won a Tony Award for the 1973 musical adaptation. Kevin Kline played the role in a Broadway production in 2007, with Jennifer Garner playing Roxane and Daniel Sunjata as Christian. A taped version of the production was broadcast on PBS's Great Performances in 2009. In 2018, David Serero is the first French actor to play Cyrano in America in the English language.

Later stage versions




The English 1950 film Cyrano de Bergerac.




Ralph Richardson as Cyrano in the BBC Home Service production translated by Brian Hooker and adapted for radio by JOHN POWELL - July 1966. Kenneth Branagh starred as Cyrano, Jodhi May as Roxanne, and Tom Hiddleston as Christian, in a 2008 BBC Radio 3 production using the Anthony Burgess translation and directed by David Timson. This production first aired on BBC Radio 3 on 23 March 2008 and was re-broadcast on 4 April 2010. [37]

Len Cariou and Roberta Maxwell starred in a 1980 CBC Television version directed by Peabody-winner Yuri Rasovsky.

Tom Burke and Emily Pithon starred in a 2015 BBC Radio 4 version for 15 Minute Drama , spanning five 15-minute episodes. It was adapted by Glyn Maxwell, and directed by Susan Roberts. [38]


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 was first presented in an Italian translation in 1936. In recent years, the original French version has been revived in productions including the Opéra national de Montpellier with Roberto Alagna in 2003, and a 2005 Metropolitan Opera production with Plácido Domingo in the title role; both are available in DVD recordings.

Victor Herbert's unsuccessful 1899 operetta Cyrano de Bergerac , with a libretto by Harry B. Smith based on the play, was one of Herbert's few failures.

Walter Damrosch's Cyrano , another operatic adaptation of Cyrano de Bergerac, premiered in 1913 at the Metropolitan Opera.

Eino Tamberg composed another opera titled Cyrano de Bergerac in 1974, to a libretto in Estonian by Jaan Kross, based on Rostand's play. [39] The opera Cyrano by David DiChiera to a libretto by Bernard Uzan premiered at the Michigan Opera Theatre on 13 October 2007. [40]

Scientific studies: "Cyranoids"

Inspired by the balcony scene in which Cyrano provides Christian with words to speak to Roxane, Stanley Milgram developed an experimental technique that used covert speech shadowing to construct hybrid personae in social psychological experiments, wherein subjects would interact with a "Cyranoid" whose words emanated from a remote, unseen "source". [41] [42]

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