Cyrano de Bergerac

by: Edmond Rostand

Act I, scenes i–iii

Enthralled, the crowd forms a ring around the combatants. Cyrano and Valvert draw their swords and begin to fight. As they fight, Cyrano invents a poem that matches exactly the action of the duel. As promised, on the last line of the refrain, he thrusts, and Valvert falls backward, beaten and badly wounded. The crowd cheers ecstatically. Gradually, the crowd disperses for dinner. Le Bret asks Cyrano why he does not go to eat and Cyrano replies that he has no money. Le Bret asks about the purse of gold Cyrano threw to the stage manager, Bellerose, and Cyrano reveals that it was all the money he had and that it should have lasted him for a month. The refreshment girl offers him food. Eager not to injure his pride or betray a lack of respect for the girl’s offer, he accepts only one grape, a half of a macaroon, and a glass of water.

Summary — Act I, scene v

Le Bret reminds Cyrano that his extravagant behavior is making him enemies. Cyrano says that the thought of having so many enemies makes him happy. Cyrano confides in Le Bret that he has insecurities concerning his nose and his romantic failures. He also reveals to Le Bret that he hates Montfleury because one day Montfleury glanced flirtatiously at the woman whom Cyrano loves. Le Bret asks about the woman but quickly realizes that the only woman beautiful and brilliant enough for Cyrano to love must be Roxane. Cyrano says that given his appearance, he can never reveal his love.

Summary — Act I, scene vi

Roxane’s duenna appears and interrupts their conversation. She has a message for Cyrano: Roxane wants to see him. Tremendously excited, and perhaps a bit nervous, he agrees to meet her at Ragueneau’s shop at seven o’clock the next morning.

Summary — Act I, scene vii

Ligniere rushes in. He tells Cyrano about the hundred men waiting at the Porte de Nesle to kill him and announces that he is too afraid to go home. He asks if Cyrano can host him for the evening, but Cyrano scoffs: “A hundred men, you say?—You’ll sleep at home tonight!” He declares that he will fight all hundred men and escort Ligniere safely home. Le Bret asks why Cyrano would want to help a drunkard, and Cyrano says that he once saw Ligniere drink a whole font of holy water dry after a beautiful woman had blessed herself with it. For a gesture like that, he says, he will -protect Ligniere.

The actors and musicians rehearsing in the theater buzz about Cyrano’s behavior. He tells them that he wants an audience and that they can follow him. But he warns them that he wants no protection. As he strides boldly out of the theater, the crowd forms a procession to follow him to the Porte de Nestle.

Analysis — Act I, scenes iv–vii

In these scenes, Cyrano appears almost superhuman in his grace, agility, and wit. He demonstrates his uncanny sense of humor and his willingness to laugh at himself and his nose. In standing up to Valvert, he shows off his unparalleled wit, as well as his courage and strength. His ability to compose a ballad while simultaneously displaying his talent for swordfighting is remarkable. His display of modesty and humility toward the theater patrons and the refreshment girl shows his gentlemanly nature. Cyrano’s unsightly nose becomes only one of many characteristics that distinguish him from everyone else in the play. This first act establishes Cyrano as uniquely gifted and heroic. More than merely a central character, he is a living legend.

Cyrano also shows his humble side in these scenes. He presents his heroism and eclectic skills to the public, and shows his emotional turmoil and self-doubt to his closest friends. He explains to Le Bret that he sometimes becomes depressed because of his nose and because he is not like the other lovers he sees. In some ways, his sense of alienation seems to prompt Cyrano to search for love even more ardently. But he is also unreasonably tough on himself, focusing only on his failures, imperfections, and weaknesses.

Rostand subtitles Cyrano de Bergerac a “heroic comedy,” a description that applies perfectly to the first act. Cyrano’s brash, arrogant behavior is so astonishing that his ridiculously long nose, which might otherwise be the defining feature of his character, is humorous only for a moment. The nose becomes another extraordinary feature of this extraordinary character, and we are moved to laugh with Cyrano rather than at him. Rostand successfully diverts the tendency to fixate on Cyrano’s odd appearance by emphasizing his extraordinary character instead. Cyrano’s countless displays of wit, valor, and heroism—most notably his resolve to defend Ligniere from a hundred men—make him into an exaggerated stereotype of the swashbuckling, seventeenth-century poet-cavalier.

There is an inherent parallel between the audience in the Hotel de Bourgogne and the audience watching (or reading) Rostand’s play. The reactions of the crowd enable us to sense the scope and magnitude of Cyrano’s feats. They shout platitudes and celebratory adjectives that help put Cyrano’s feats into perspective, evoking a sense of immediacy and presence.