Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.
Cyrano de Bergerac places strong emphasis on values and ideals. Cyrano is the play’s eloquent and ardent defender of integrity, bravery, glory, and the pursuit of love and women. The play’s main conflict—Cyrano’s inability to tell Roxane how much he loves her out of deference to her request that he protect Christian—results from Cyrano’s unwavering promise to keep his word. Cyrano protects his secret nearly to his death; his death itself, though tragic, is also transcendent. The play suggests that by adhering to his values at the expense of his personal desire, Cyrano achieves an ideal, untarnished moral standing. Roxane herself is, in all ways, the ideal woman: she is intelligent, warm, caring, and beautiful.
Cyrano de Bergerac can be read as an allegory of inner and outer beauty. Cyrano, representing inner beauty, passively battles Christian, who represents outer beauty, for Roxane’s love. Roxane becomes the arbiter of the relative values of these characters and, by extension, of the values of inner and outer beauty. The play places a premium on inner beauty, integrity, and intellect. Yet Cyrano’s own swashbuckling, flamboyant character emphasizes his exterior rather than his interior traits.
What impresses Roxane and the other marquises is his ability to craft words deftly, to fight off unbelievable numbers of men, and to engage in brilliant gestures: throwing a bag of gold in the theater to pay for the night’s receipts and to stop the play; denying himself everything but the most meager meal out of respect for his own pride; and composing a poem to accompany his sword fighting. All of these actions are publicly impressive and derive their power from their outward manifestation. Cyrano’s and Christian’s outer beauties differ, of course: Christian is blessed with good looks while Cyrano’s bombast is a product of a clever mind. Nonetheless, when Roxane claims to be choosing between the outer beauty of Christian and the inner beauty of Cyrano, in many ways she is simply choosing between two different versions of an ostentatious, visible show.
Cyrano is in some ways a morally unblemished character, never veering from his strict moral standards. The play, however, seems to have a moral code that is even stricter than Cyrano’s own. Indeed, his one minor flaw—his willingness to deceive Roxane in order to to help Christian, and perhaps even to win her love himself—prevents him from having her at all. Because Cyrano deceives Roxane even after Christian’s death, he cannot declare his love for her. Doing so would show disrespect for Christian’s memory and make a mockery of her mourning. After Christian’s death, the play examines the repercussions of Christian and Cyrano’s duplicity by demonstrating the harsh existence that Cyrano must endure: living in close proximity to his one true love, but remaining emotionally barred from her. Through their deception, the two men have made Roxane fall in love with someone who does not exist: an ideal. As a result, she truly loves neither Christian nor Cyrano—she loves their magnificent collaboration. Cyrano and Roxane are never able to consummate the deep love that they undeniably share for each other.