Despite my education it seems I’ve sorely missed that period where one discusses the themes and nature of Cyrano De Bergerac.
As a result I’ve been often hesitant to ever approach a subject a discussion for fear that my analysis would be considered obvious and therefore trite. But, the subject of Cyrano is something quite dear to my heart both as a writer and as a man. So I will this once request this of you, my audience, that if my arguments seem obvious, if I have tread common ground then please grant me a look at some alternate interpretations of the character.
For this, to illustrate my points I will focus on the 1950 depiction in the film of course titled, Cyrano De Bergerac, where Cyrano is played by Jose Ferrer. This is specifically because it takes great care to highlight certain inconsistencies in Cyrano and his view of the world.
Of course, for all the rest of you who’ve had no idea what I’m talking about, I’ll explain.
Cyrano De Bergerac was an actual historical figure. He was a noted dramatist and duellist in his time. He is noted for having a large nose in fictional depictions of himself and portraits would adhere to that (though not to the scale of the fictional works). The play and subsequent adaptations thereof speak of his life in largely broad strokes with grand dramatizations. So from here on out, if you wish to do a comparison of the real Cyrano to the fictitious one I’m afraid you’ll have to look elsewhere.
The play depicts Cyrano as a passionate, headstrong man. Conversely his writing is without peer and his swordsmanship is unparalleled. The story has him, by his brash nature, earning fights with many people several of which leads to deaths by his hands. During this time we learn of his great affection for his cousin Roxanne.
They’re French. Just go with it.
We also learn that this is something that has likely started in their youth. Cyrano has never made the effort to express these feelings as he feels his own unusual appearance; that of his large nose, denies him any chance at true love. He eventually comes across a young man named Christian who is also in love with Roxanne. Cyrano comes to the conclusion that he can feed Christian the words needed to woo Roxanne and thusly at least one good man will love her.
This is done frequently though letters and then in the infamous balcony scene (one I would argue is a parody of Romeo and Juliet but I’m not at that point yet) where Cyrano takes over for Christian, wooing Roxanne with his own voice.
Then Roxanne and Christian get married because shenanigans ensue.
Just go with it okay? Do you really want to read a ten page journal entry?
Anyway things boil to a head when Christian and Cyrano are at war. With Spain! Christian learns that Cyrano has sent Roxanne letters of love daily in Christian’s place despite the immense danger in doing so. He also conversely learns that Roxanne condemns herself for loving Christian at first for his appearance and not the beauty in his soul. Christian would rather be loved for the man he is then what Cyrano portrays him to be and vows to tell Roxanne. Of course, he gets shot within minutes of this decision and dies.
Because heaven forbid we have a sensible conclusion to this situation.
Cyrano decides not to tell Roxanne the truth and for about fourteen years she lives at a convent mourning Christian and Cyrano visits her weekly. This continues until one day he takes a fatal blow to the head and, ignoring physician’s orders, goes to visit Roxanne. In his state he lets slip his secret and she learns the truth.
Only for him to hallucinate and die shortly after.
So, bottle summary is over. Let’s look at the man with the rudder for a nose.
Cyrano is, right from the outset, obsessed with the concept of dramatic storytelling. In every interaction and stretch of dialogue he’s shown as less a man and more a character on the stage. I look at this a couple of ways. First, Cyrano pushes himself to his physical and intellectual limits constantly, in many ways this can be seen as an act in defiance of his own physical deformity. He gives away his money to seem cavalier; he denies himself offered food to appear strong. Above all else is his constant reference to his Panache, a white plumed feather upon his hat. It is the symbol of his flamboyant nature, his courage, and all that he values within himself and strives to embody.
At the same time, in the 1950 film especially, we see flaws in Cyrano’s own view of the world. When he first kills a man in a duel in the start of the film, he starts the duel being comical, waxing romantic and actually writing a ballade about the fight as he fights it. But then when he finally strikes a fatal blow the film goes silent as if the romanticism of the act has departed and Cyrano is left with little more than the body of a bloodied man on his hands.
Shortly after a woman offers him food but he refuses. She’s openly shown as caring for him and quite easily having romantic feelings. He ignores this, despite his own friends pointing out that he is a considerable man and that his own feelings about his romantic possibilities are probably wrong. At the same time though, this lifestyle of adventure, despite the peril it pulls him into, earns him great respect from others and thus validates that lifestyle.
In reality, it’s only Christian that ever truly tests the ideals of Cyrano. He openly comments on the flaws of their plans, wants more from his relationship with Roxanne than Cyrano dares and in the end admits that he wants to be loved for whom he is rather then a false ideal.
Cyrano’s obsession with his own panache has often led to the criticism that he was never truly in love with Roxanne but rather the idea of her created in his own head out of the kindness she shows him. In the several versions I’ve heard I’ve not heard him ever speak of her features (aside from broad strokes about beauty) or aspects of her personality, only that he loves her and how he loves her.
Even in the end, rather than spending his final moments in her arms he has one last dramatic monologue. When she’s at his knees proclaiming her love he is mostly dismissive of it, stating how it does not alleviate his own ugliness. He only asks that she only think well of him. And then he raises taking up the role of the warrior, battling what he perceives as his vices. In the end he does not praise the fact that he has at last found love, only that his Panache is left uncompromised.
Something that, in the end may not be a virtue after all.
In choosing a dramatic life Cyrano has earned a dramatic death, brought on by his refusal to compromise his own self-view. It is almost as if this were a warning to so many young men with artistic souls. It warns to not follow in Cyrano’s footsteps but in Christian’s (aside from getting shot, obviously) and to not compromise in the means by which one attains love. To try and if one fails, to move on and not allow passions to overcome reason.
And that may be the greatest and hardest lesson for a man to learn.
So too does this work exist.