A Feminist Critique of Cyrano de Bergerac
In Edmond Rostand’s play Cyrano de Bergerac, there are few female characters, and even fewer of importance, with Roxanne being the only main female character. However, by taking an in-depth look at how she is portrayed through her actions, speech, and the thoughts of the other characters on her, one can deduce the book’s take on women. The greatest factors of interest taken when assessing the disposition of the novel are Roxane’s displayed intellect, her ability of choice when it came to suitors, and the drastic effect and influence men, through love, had on her.
The main thing Roxane has going for her is her looks. She is described by Cyrano as “A mortal danger, without intention; charming without thought. A trap by nature set, a damask rose in which, close hid in Ambush, Love is lurking! He who has known her smile has known perfection.”(Rostand, 33) While the text shows her as an object of men’s sexual desires, it also gives her a sense of strength, with the power to entrap and therefore have some control, using her gift of beauty as a weapon to ensnare men and get her way. In addition, she is also has a “subtle wit”(Rostant, 13) to match and is called a “precieuse”(Rostand, 13) which is a 17th-century term for literary French women who “affected an extreme care in the use of language(“Precieuse”). This accounts for her lack of interest of Christian’s plain talk, which lacked eloquence. It also speaks to her intelligence, as does the cunning nature she displayed when she, on the spot, outwitted de Guiche by altering his letter in order to wed Christian. She also uses her beauty to her advantage in a crafty way, employing it to get through the enemy Spanish lines in order to see Christian and bring the troops food. By means of these actions, she demonstrates that she is more than simply a beauty, unlike Christian. However, this too can be seen as an example of an impossible standard to which, through Cyrano, the author Rostand holds women.
Due to Roxane’s alluring nature, she attracted many suitors, namely Cyrano, Christian, and De Guiche. Even though she is deceived by Cyrano and Christian charade, she was able to make her own choices when it came down with who she wanted to be with. The 1890’s, when the book was written, and the mid 17th century, when the play takes place, were very different times for women, and marriage was often about status and the woman’s feelings about the situation were rarely considered. In the beginning of the play, it seemed that Roxane would meet such a fate, with Ligniere expressing to Christian, “The Comte de Guiche… would marry Roxane to a Monsieur de Valvert, old and dull… She’s not consenting, but De Guiche has power.”(Rostand, 13) This shows the unfortunate reality of the time, exposing the harsh truth. It is only through her strength and wit that she manages to get out of the situation. But, she does and is able to follow her heart and marry Christian.
However, just because she found love, does not mean it was best for her. She was completely overcome by the love she felt, and made herself into a fool, completely forgoing the expression of intelligence she had shown earlier on. She risked her life to see Christian at the battlefield, and upon his death, threw her life away. Although she did not, as she wished, kill herself in turn, her withdrawal from society into the convent showed she was ruled by her feelings for a man. This in itself is unfeminist. One may interpret it as a show of her true love, but in reality, it is Cyrano and Christian looming over her and controlling her life, even beyond the grave.
Roxane, the beautiful love interest of the play, had her strengths and came off as a more empowered and capable woman than most of the ones who had lived and were portrayed in the time period in which the play takes place. But although it may have been slightly progressive in that sense for its age, it still has sexist tones in the nature of it which overshadow the good. Men are ultimately the downfall for Roxanne, taking her liveliness, her youth, her way of life, and her power.
Rostand, Edmond. Cyrano De Bergerac. Edited by Oscar H Fidell. Translated by Howard Thayer Kingsbury, Washington Square Press, 1966.
“Precieuse.” Dictionary.com, Dictionary.com, www.dictionary.com/browse/precieuse?s=t.
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In Edmond Rostand’s play Cyrano de Bergerac, there are few female characters, and even fewer of importance, with Roxanne being the only main female character. However, by taking an in-depth […]