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.
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.
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.