In Paris, in the year 1640, a brilliant poet and swordsman named Cyrano de Bergerac finds himself deeply in love with his beautiful, intellectual cousin Roxane. Despite Cyrano’s brilliance and charisma, a shockingly large nose afflicts his appearance, and he considers himself too ugly even to risk telling Roxane his feelings. One night, Cyrano goes to the playhouse at the Hotel de Bourgogne to make trouble: he has forbidden the actor Montfleury to take the stage for one month, but Montfleury plans to perform in the night’s production of La Clorise, with Roxane in the audience. Also in the audience is a young, handsome nobleman named Christian, who confides in his friend Ligniere that he loves Roxane.
When Montfleury takes the stage, Cyrano bullies him off it. A group of aristocrats tries to send Cyrano away, but he challenges them all to a duel. He fights Valvert, a Vicomte whom the Comte de Guiche has selected as a husband for Roxane. As he fights, Cyrano improvises a poem about the duel. Then, upon speaking his last line, Cyrano thrusts his sword home. His victory causes a sensation, and Roxane’s duenna brings him a message from her mistress, asking him to meet her in the morning. As he agrees, he learns that Ligniere has offended a powerful nobleman with his latest satire and that a hundred men are waiting to ambush him on his way home. Cyrano boldly proclaims that he will see Ligniere safely home and, if necessary, fight all hundred men in the process.
The next morning, Cyrano meets Roxane at Ragueneau’s pastry shop. He nearly tells her his feelings, but she confides in him that she loves Christian, who will soon join Cyrano’s company of guards, the Cadets of Gascoyne. She asks Cyrano to protect Christian, and he agrees. Outside, a crowd has gathered, buzzing with the news about Cyrano’s triumphs the night before. Cyrano angrily ignores them, upset by his meeting with Roxane. When the cadets arrive, Christian tries to prove his courage by insulting Cyrano’s nose—an act generally considered fatal. Instead of killing Christian, however, Cyrano embraces him and tells him about Roxane’s feelings. Delighted at first, Christian then becomes distraught. He considers Roxane an intellectual and sees himself as a simple, unpoetic man. Then Cyrano has a bright idea: Cyrano can write to Roxane -pretending to be Christian. Christian agrees, welcoming the opportunity to reach Roxane’s heart. Now, Cyrano can express all his thoughts and feelings secretly.
One night soon after, Roxane confides in Cyrano that she thinks Christian is the most ravishing poet in the world. Cyrano’s disguised letters have moved her inexpressibly. Christian tells Cyrano he no longer wants Cyrano’s help, and then 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, but their happiness is short-lived: de Guiche, angry to have lost Roxane, declares that he is sending the Cadets of Gascoyne to the front lines of the war with Spain.
At the siege of Arras, the cadets languish and suffer from hunger. Cyrano writes to Roxane every single day, using Christian’s name. Moreover, he risks his life each morning by sneaking through the Spanish lines to a place where he can send the letters. De Guiche reveals that the Spaniards will attack within the hour. Suddenly, a coach arrives and Roxane climbs out of it. She has longed to see Christian, again and brings a feast to the soldiers. But Christian has guessed Cyrano’s secret feelings for Roxane, and he forces Cyrano to tell her the truth and make her choose between them. On the cusp of revealing his feelings, Cyrano is interrupted by a sudden gunshot that kills Christian. Cyrano cannot tell Roxane the truth. She faints, and de Guiche redeems himself by taking her to safety while Cyrano charges into the battle.
Fifteen years later, Roxane lives in a convent, and Cyrano visits her every week. His friend Le Bret informs Roxane that Cyrano is doing very poorly—he has made many powerful enemies, and his life is constantly in danger. Then, Ragueneau rushes in and privately tells Le Bret that Cyrano has been ambushed and hit with a heavy log pushed out of a high window. His health severely jeopardized, Cyrano could die by simply raising his head from his pillow. Le Bret and Ragueneau rush off to their friend’s side. No sooner have they gone than Cyrano appears at the convent, walking slowly and with a pained expression on his face, but sounding as cheerful as ever. He gives Roxane a news update.
As night falls, Cyrano asks to read Christian’s last letter to her. He reads it, and when it is completely dark, he continues to read, as if he knows the letter by heart. Roxane realizes that Cyrano wrote the letters—she has found the soul she was in love with all along. Upset, Ragueneau and Le Bret rush in, proclaiming that Cyrano has killed himself by getting out of bed. Cyrano removes his hat, revealing his heavily bandaged head. Roxane exclaims that she loves him and that he cannot die. But Cyrano draws his sword and engages in one last fight with his “old enemies”—falsehood, prejudice, and compromise—slashing at the air insensibly. Then he collapses and dies, smiling as Roxane bends over him and kisses his face.
Sparknotes erroneously states in its Analysis — Act I, scenes i-iii (2nd Paragraph), “In Act I, scene iv, after Cyrano fights in a dramatic duel, his friend Cuigy wittily claims that Cyrano’s name is Dartagnan,” of The Three Musketeers fame.
What actually happens in Rostand’s play is this: an appreciative Musketeer, thoroughly entertained by the duel, commends Cyrano on his swordsmanship and then quickly leaves.
Cyrano asks Cuigy, “What was that gentleman’s name?”
Cuigy answers, “Oh…D’Artangnan.”
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Sparknotes says in regards to the following quote "VALVERT: Your nose is . . . very big. CYRANO: Yes, very. VALVERT: Ha! CYRANO: Is that all?" that "Remembering the promise he made to Roxane to keep Christian safe, Cyrano responds to Valvert’s ridiculing of his nose with biting, ironic criticism instead of violence." At this point in time, Roxane has said nothing to Cyrano about Christian, and indeed, Cyrano kills Valvert upon the final line of his balade.