Cyrano de Bergerac
Act IV, scenes i–v
Your true self has prevailed over your outer appearance. I now love you for your soul alone.
Summary — Act IV, scene i
At the siege of Arras, the Cadets of Carbon de Castel-Jaloux languish, surrounded by the encamped Spaniards and lacking food and water. Le Bret keeps watch with Carbon early one morning, and they discuss the plight of the soldiers. They hear gunfire in the distance, and Cyrano runs in. Every morning he has been crossing enemy lines to post a daily letter to Roxane. Cyrano tells the startled guards that he promised Roxane that Christian would write her every single day. Cyrano looks at the sleeping Christian and says that Christian is dying of hunger but is still handsome.
Summary — Act IV, scene ii
Dawn breaks, drums sound, and Cyrano goes off to write another letter. The cadets awaken and complain about their hunger. There is talk of a mutiny, and Carbon asks Cyrano for his help.
Summary — Act IV, scene iii
Cyrano comes out and talks to the cadets, restoring morale with a clever speech and his passionate commitment to the cause. He implores a piper to play a song from Provence, and though the cadets become tearfully homesick, they do forget about their hunger. De Guiche enters, evoking a general murmur of resentment from the cadets. Cyrano tells the miserable cadets to stop moping and to look busy as de Guiche arrives.
Summary — Act IV, scene iv
Prompted by Cyrano, de Guiche boasts of his conduct in the previous day’s battle when, to confuse the Spaniards, he flung away the white plume that marked him as an officer. Cyrano then proclaims that a courageous man would never have flung away the white plume, and he offers to wear it in the next bout of fighting. De Guiche says Cyrano makes the pledge only because he knows the plume lies somewhere on the battlefield. To the cadets’ delight, Cyrano produces the plume from his pocket.
Furious, de Guiche seizes the plume and waves it to a sentry, who runs toward the Spanish encampments. De Guiche says that he has just given a signal and that the Spanish will attack in perhaps an hour. He says that the cadets will all die but that, in the process, they will buy the French forces as much time as possible. Cyrano thanks de Guiche solemnly for the opportunity to die with glory.
Christian tells Cyrano he wishes he could say farewell to Roxane, and Cyrano shows him the farewell letter he has just written. Christian notices the mark of a tear on the letter and nearly guesses Cyrano’s secret. He is interrupted by the arrival of a mysterious coach.
Summary — Act IV, scene v
De Guiche thinks that the coach is from the king’s service. But Roxane delightfully surprises both him and the other men when she climbs down from the coach. She says that the war was lasting too long and that she had to see Christian. Cyrano, Christian, and de Guiche tell her she must leave immediately because the Spaniards will attack soon. She refuses to leave, saying that she is brave—after all, she is Cyrano’s cousin. De Guiche leaves angrily.
Analysis — Act IV, scenes i–v
The beginning of Act IV marks a severe shift in tone and sentiment. The cadets, at war, are starving. Their morale is low, and they yearn to return home. Cyrano is the only soldier in decent spirits: his daily writing to Roxane gives him a sense of purpose in the difficult time. De Guiche decides to have his sentry advise the Spanish to attack the cadets, partly in revenge for his humiliation at the hands of Cyrano, but mainly because he needs to buy time as part of a larger military maneuver. Pitted against the overwhelming Spanish force, the cadets will suffer almost certain death.
The jokes in these scenes, while present, add to this shift in tone, providing a sense of unease rather than delight. For instance, while the hungry cadets sleep, Carbon evokes the proverb, “He who sleeps dines.” Le Bret agrees, but adds, “That’s not much comfort when you have insomnia.” Similarly, Cyrano’s observation, that Christian might be dying of hunger but still has his good looks, exemplifies a sense of humor that simultaneously creates and stifles laughter.
Still, Cyrano never misses an opportunity to highlight de Guiche’s hypocrisy and ignorance, and thus continues to bring a sense of vibrancy and life to the outwardly hopeless situation. The ironic exchange between Cyrano and de Guiche regarding the white plume adds to the impression that de Guiche is an inferior coward and buffoon. Cyrano accomplishes this feat through his use of irony and surprise. Intending to attack de Guiche for his cowardliness eventually, Cyrano prompts de Guiche to begin bragging about how he strategically fooled the enemy in the previous battle. After setting him up, Cyrano can now tear him down, showing not only how de Guiche threw away the symbol of courage, but how Cyrano braved the battlefield to retrieve the white plume.
Indeed, the white plume begins to symbolize idealistic bravery, honor, and glory. Worn by colonels, it serves the practical purpose of signaling to a brigade the whereabouts of the troops’ leader. However, it also might leave the colonel vulnerable to personal attack from the opposition. Yet, while de Guiche sees the plume as a limitation and cleverly evades the Spanish threat by casting it aside, Cyrano illustrates that the plume serves a higher purpose, adding respectability and honor to battle, so much so that Cyrano risks his own life to retrieve and honor it. Perhaps more romantic than realistic in nature, the plume and the ideals associated with it serve as a beacon for Cyrano’s insurmountable, uncompromising spirit.
Act IV, scenes vi–x
Summary — Act IV, scene vi
Carbon presents the company to Roxane, and, to their surprise and delight, she produces Ragueneau—and the feast that he has prepared for the cadets—from the coach. The men gorge themselves, but when de Guiche reappears, they hide the food.
Summary — Act IV, scene vii
De Guiche announces that if Roxane stays for the battle, he will stay to fight as well. The men decide that he must be a Gascon after all, and they offer him some food. He refuses, and they are even more impressed. Cyrano tells Christian that he has written Roxane more often than Christian thought—in fact, every day. Christian again suspects Cyrano’s secret, but Roxane interrupts.
Summary — Act IV, scene viii
Christian asks why Roxane risked death to see him again, and she says that she was driven mad by his beautiful love letters. She says that, at first, she loved only his beauty, but now she has forgotten about his beauty and loves his inner self, the soul she felt in the letters. When Roxane says she would love him even if he were ugly, Christian is miserable. He sends her to go speak to the cadets and to smile at them because they are about to die.
Summary — Act IV, scene ix
Christian tells Cyrano that Roxane is no longer in love with him. Instead, he says, she loves his “soul” and that means she loves Cyrano. He accuses Cyrano of secretly returning her love. Cyrano cannot deny it. Christian says that Cyrano must tell Roxane and ask her to choose between them. Christian calls Roxane and runs off toward the other men. Cyrano asks Roxane if she could really love Christian if he were ugly. She says that she could. Cyrano feels ecstatic and is on the cusp of revealing his secret when suddenly they hear gunfire. Le Bret cries out for Cyrano. He whispers something in Cyrano’s ear, and Cyrano says that now he can never tell Roxane his feelings. A group of men comes into the camp, carrying something. Soon, we see it is Christian’s body. He is dying.
Summary — Act IV, scene x
The men run off to fight, and Roxane collapses over Christian’s body. Cyrano leans down and whispers into Christian’s ear that he told Roxane the secret, and that she chose Christian. The battle breaks out all around them and Christian closes his eyes, dead. Next to Christian’s heart, Roxane finds the farewell letter that Cyrano wrote for Christian to give her. She faints with grief, and Cyrano sends Ragueneau and de Guiche to take her away and protect her. Carbon emerges from the fighting, twice wounded. But the army has returned, and the men will win if they can hold out only a little longer. Cyrano tells Carbon not to worry. Now, he says, he has two deaths to avenge: Christian’s and his own. Cyrano charges into battle. When he hears a Spaniard ask, “Who are these men who are so eager for death?” he begins to sing the song of the Cadets of Gascoyne. Cyrano charges off into a hail of bullets, singing as he fights.
Analysis — Act IV, scenes vi–x
The theme of inner versus outer beauty escalates and comes to a climax during the battle scene. Even as Roxane reveals that she values inner beauty more than physical attractiveness, Cyrano has been forging letters to her. His actions call into question his own integrity and open up the possibility that ultimately, he has calculated to win Roxane himself. Cyrano’s character appears tarnished at the very moment his words move Roxane to honor inner goodness. Her announcement completes the dissection and destruction of the romantic hero that Cyrano and Christian together created. Playing different halves of the hero, both Cyrano and Christian have proven to be inadequate. Because Cyrano cannot take credit for winning Roxane’s love without revealing his duplicity, the play’s triumphant moment belongs to love and to poetry, not to Cyrano.
The irony of this scene is staggering. Roxane travels far and takes great risks to tell Christian her wonderful news, and it turns out to be the worst news that Christian, and even Cyrano, could possibly hear. Still, Cyrano commits another act of tremendous chivalry when he consoles Christian—and tells him that Roxane picked Christian—just before he dies. Christian dies an honorable and happy death, as a good soldier and a fulfilled lover. Cyrano would rather spend the rest of his life apart from the woman he loves than dishonor the memory of his friend.
Moreover, Christian’s death symbolizes the death of the superficial half of the romantic hero. By denouncing the value of outer beauty, Roxane renders Christian an unimportant and useless part of the composite romantic hero.Though she doesn’t know it, Roxane loves the other half, the soul of the hero, played by Cyrano. Christian quickly dies and disappears from the play. Yet his death also prevents Cyrano from telling Roxane the truth and perhaps from making a moral mistake—dishonestly winning her love.
The war parallels the emotional war between the main characters. The climax of the play occurs on the battlefield when Christian, Cyrano, and Roxane interact with startling dialogue and emotion. The tension between Christian and Cyrano eases, dissolving the fused romantic hero they had attempted to become.
As Cyrano’s duplicity intensifies, de Guiche begins to redeem himself. He turns out to be a Gascon under all his Parisian trappings. One of the soldiers reveals that de Guiche has a Gascon accent. Because the main conflict in Cyrano de Bergerac lies within Cyrano, Rostand transforms his rather superficial villain into a newly minted hero without sacrificing the play’s dramatic drive.
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