Cyrano de Bergerac
Morality’s Decisions: Cyrano de Bergerac’s Version of Honor
“The most important human endeavor is the striving for morality in our actions. Our inner balance and even our very existence depend on it. Only morality in our actions can give beauty and dignity to life.” – Albert Einstein
Distinguishing between right and wrong is a skill people learn over the span of their lifetime. Individuals who choose positively rewarded options allow themselves to live with a clear conscience. Those who choose to do negatively thought out options create a guilty conscience. In the play Cyrano de Bergerac, by Edmund Rostand, readers follow the story of a man who is deeply in love with a woman, however, the woman loves another man. As a result, the man agrees to help the other man “woo” the woman; these events, though somewhat slanted against Cyrano, portray the man as a heroic character. Through Cyrano’s decision to assist Christian, Rostand discusses moral principles and reveals adhering to values make one an honorable person.
Acknowledging one’s own beliefs creates a stronger self-drive to one’s moral values. Cyrano makes his first appearance in the theatre, where a citizen challenges his presence and claims Monfleury has a powerful patron and Cyrano does not. Cyrano declares he has no need for a patron and can protect himself with his sword. The citizen makes the mistake of telling Cyrano he was trying not to look at his nose, which Cyrano takes offense to. “My nose, sir, is enormous. Ignorant clod, cretinous moron a man ought to be proud, yes, proud, of having so proud an appendix of flesh and bone to crown his countenance, provided a great nose may be an index of a great soul-affable, kind, endowed with wit and liberality and courage and courtesy- like mine…” (Rostand, 28) This quote signifies that Cyrano acknowledges how his nose is a part of him. He sees his nose as a symbol of the values he stands by. For one to insult his nose is like insulting the characteristics that make him a principled being. Knowing what one believes in creates a stronger commitment to views.
Choosing actions based on value rather than personal gain takes great strength. During the siege of Arras, Roxane unexpectedly arrives and the climax unfolds. She tells Christian that she now loves him for his soul and not just his physical appearance. Christian, knowing Cyrano is his “soul,” tells Cyrano to reveal the truth to Roxane and allow her to choose between them. He then goes to into battle and is the first to be killed. Once Cyrano learns of Christian’s death, he no longer feels he can tell Roxane how he truly feels.“Something. Yes. Whatever it doesn’t matter now. Here’s something new to tell you. Christian- this I swear because it’s God’s own truth- was a great soul” (Rostand, 147). This quote reveals how Cyrano does not want to taint the memory Roxane has of Christian, and as a result he does not tell her the truth. Although honesty is one of his beliefs, he lies to Roxane and maintains the ideal man he and Christian have created.
Distinguishing between what is right and wrong is based on one’s own perspective. As Cyrano reads the letter, which was supposedly written by Christian aloud, Roxane realizes that it had been Cyrano writing the letters and it was stained with his tears. She recognizes the voice from years ago that was speaking to her from below the balcony. “His blood, though, stained by his blood” (Rostand 168) Cyrano is guilty about Christian’s death and continuously denies being in love with Roxane. He acknowledges Christian’s sacrifice and refuses to admit he has loved Roxane all these years. Cyrano admired Christian for his ability to expose his true emotions to Roxane although he could not necessarily express them himself. He believes he must remain loyal to Christian and his consistent denial of his love for Roxane serves as the evidence.
One’s virtues are depicted by taken actions. As Cyrano faces death in the final scene, he recognizes that he has lost everything. He has lost Christian, who he had considered a friend, and he has lost Roxane, whose love he had desired so much. The only thing that remains is his white plume, which represents his own personal virtues, such as his name, righteousness, and courage. “You take everything… Take them and welcome. But… there is one thing goes with me when tonight I enter my last lodging…See it there, a white plume over the battle – A diamond in the ash of the ultimate combustion – My panache” (Rostand, 174-175). Once Cyrano dies, he will be remembered for his righteousness. He recognizes this and says it is the one thing that has not been tainted throughout his entire life for he has followed through with his values. Over his lifetime Cyrano has portrayed his values through his actions and recognizes this despite the outcome of the events that took place.
In Cyrano’s mind, he must sacrifice his own happiness in order to live with himself. It takes great courage to watch the one he loves be with another. Rostand emphasizes the need of following moral values whether it is valuing honor over practicality. Putting others’ needs before his own and firmly abiding by what he believes in are the characteristics of a heroic character. To adhere to one’s beliefs even if the outcome is not as beneficial as being practical shows a dedication to the values one follows.
Cyrano: The Tragic Hero
Tragedies are often emotionally draining, whether they are classic or contemporary. The word itself implies heartbreak; a soldier lost at war or a ship wrecked at sea would be described as tragic. Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand is entertaining story. It differs from the works of Macbeth and Oedipus because it is not strikingly sad, yet the protagonist of Cyrano de Bergerac dies a sad death after a sad life. Everyone has flaws, and maybe those flaws take too much away from our lives, but the character of Cyrano has a striking flaw, his immense fear of rejection and general insecurity. Cyrano lets this flaw invade every relationship he has, all the decisions he makes. Cyrano de Bergerac is a flawed man in a contemporary tragedy.
Cyrano de Bergerac values many things, including literature and theater. One of the first appearances that he makes is in defense of his beloved theater, to get an actor he hates of the stage. Cyrano hates this actor personally, Montfleury. It isn’t explained why Cyrano is not concerned that other people may disagree with him, for hating on Montfleury or for ruining a show. As a reader, it’s obvious that this could not make Cyrano a popular man. However, it is later explained that Cyrano enjoys making enemies (or says he does). Cyrano says, “I love when others hate me,” (page 114). Although he seems to want people to decide they don’t like him, it is apparent that he is using this as a method of self-defense, because he is so insecure that he is trying to justify the amount of people that hate him. If you want people to hate you, when they do aren’t they just doing you a favor? No matter what, Cyrano is putting himself in a situation where he is the winner, but this is out of insecurity. He makes people hate him because he hates himself.
Cyrano spends the entire story secretly in love with Roxane. Roxane values him as a friend, and by the end relies on him every day. During the time in between, she falls in love with his writing to her. Even after Roxane’s lover, and the man he was pretending to write as, is dead, Cyrano doesn’t tell her how he feels or that he was the one she fell in love with. Cyrano spends fifteen years trying to stay close to Roxane even after he stops writing the letters. If Cyrano had ended up with Roxane, he wouldn’t have become the unhappy, lonely man that he died as. Cyrano’s downfall was because he held in this secret. He let himself be alone by not going for the woman he loved, and he let his loneliness make him even more cynical, and that ate him away. This was entirely because he was too insecure and afraid of rejection. When his best friend, Le Bret, suggests that he tell the women, for whom he has such passion, the truth, he rejects it. Cyrano says, “My old friend—look at me, and tell me how much hope remains for me with this protuberance!” (page 48). He specially blames his reasoning for keeping his love a secret on his insecurity of his nose, his tragic flaw.
Cyrano’s literal death is due to an “accident” that De Guiche alludes to in a conversation with Le Bret. De Guiche says, The other day at Court, such a one said to me: “This man Cyrano may die—accidentally,” (page ). Cyrano has already made it apparent that many people hate him, and apparently enough to lead to his death. Cyrano is already an impoverished, miserable man at this point because of combination of his choices with Roxane and with other people. Once again, this is because Cyrano is so insecure that he destroys his relationships with other people. Had it not been for his insecurities, his tragic flaw, he would not have had this eventual downfall and this sad death. He was killed because of the way he interacts with people, making them enemies, which he does out of insecurity.
Cyrano is a likable character that teaches a lesson of self love and bravery. It’s difficult to read such a tragic story and not believe that he is a tragic character, having lead a lonely life and having died a miserable death. Cyrano de Bergerac is a story about a man who is too insecure to make the right decisions and this leads to his downfall. This tragedy inspires self-reflection in the same way that tragedies like Macbeth strengthen morals and real tragic events inspire unity.
The Inevitable Flaw
The tragedy is perhaps one of the oldest and most captivating forms of literature. While each is unique, nearly all tragedies exhibit certain traditional similarities in content and structure. One of the most defining of these similarities is the presence of a “tragic hero,” always accompanied by some form of “tragic flaw,” which ultimately leads to their downfall. In Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac, the eponymous protagonist in many ways identifies with the traditional tragic hero, particularly with regards to the presence of his own tragic flaw. Cyrano’s insecurity about his physical appearance – his nose in particular – forms the tragic flaw that increasingly propels him toward his own kind of downfall.
From Cyrano’s first appearance in Act I, his insecurity concerning his nose quickly becomes evident. Cyrano instantly carries himself with great bravado, and then goes on to begin a bit of a public disturbance, starting various arguments with those who attempt to contest him. In the midst of one such argument, Cyrano somewhat gratuitously accuses his opponent of “…staring at [his] nose” (18). Cyrano raises this accusation seemingly only for the purpose of then having reason to defend it, which he does by claiming:
“I’m proudly wedded
To this nose I’ve got. A big nose is the sign
Of a good, courteous, intelligent, benign,
Liberal, courageous man” (19).
In making these vast, sweeping assertions that clearly cannot have any logical basis, Cyrano is noticeably overcompensating for his lack of confidence. He then goes on to vehemently attack his opponent, saying, “That inglorious face on the top of your neck / …is as utterly devoid / Of aspiration, lyricism, pride… / As those other cheeks, which now will feel my boot!” (19). In unnecessarily leaping to the defense of his own looks and attacking those of his opponent, Cyrano does little to distract from his insecurity. Rather, he merely manages to make his own vulnerability and obsession with physical appearance glaringly obvious.
With the introduction of Cyrano’s love interest – Roxane – Cyrano’s insecurity causes deeper conflict within the play. It initially seems however, that the tragic flaw that separates Cyrano from the object of his affections is his nose itself, as Roxane clearly presents a distinct obsession with physical beauty. She displays this many times throughout the play, such as in Act II, when – faced with the proposition that the object of her own affections, Christian, may be unintelligent – she refuses to entertain the possibility on the basis that, “He couldn’t. His hair is as golden as Apollo” (47). Cyrano recognizes this, and laments that because of Roxane’s preoccupation with physical appearance, he can never truly win her love, grieving: “What hope can I ever have / With this protuberance pointing to my grave?” (28). Here, Cyrano himself expresses the belief that his nose is, if not a “tragic flaw”, at least the source of his struggles.
As the plot continues to develop, it eventually becomes clear that Cyrano’s tragic flaw is not his nose in and of itself, but rather Cyrano’s own insecurities regarding that feature. After Roxane falls in love with Christian – based on what is truly the words and personality of Cyrano – she is able to declare, in Act IV, that she would “love him even–… ugly” (123). This assertion encourages the idea that, despite his ill appearance, Cyrano would still have had a fair chance with Roxane from the beginning. This realization gives Cyrano brief hope of achieving his love, however he is prevented by the untimely death of Christian. Nonetheless, Cyrano is once again given the opportunity to declare his love – albeit fourteen years later – in Act Five. However, even when Roxane discovers the truth of her own accord and solidifies the realization that she does and has in fact loved Cyrano, he continues to deny it, finally citing as a reason the idea that, “When Beauty said ‘I love you’ to the Beast / The prince in him was instantly released. / But, you see, I remain just as I was…” (143). Even though Cyrano is finally in full possession of the love he so desires, he goes to his death refusing it on the grounds that he does not deserve it because of his appearance. Therefore, the true tragedy of the play is not that Cyrano failed in his attempt to win Roxane’s love, or even in his death itself, but rather that he cannot accept the coveted love of Roxane because of the depth of his own insecurity. Hence, this latter weakness proves to be Cyrano’s true tragic flaw, as it leads to his ultimate downfall.
Cyrano de Bergerac was in many ways a unique – if not wholly revolutionary – work for its time. In mixing elements of tragedy and comedy, Rostand created a distinctive and original addition to the literary landscape. However, even this singular work is not lacking in many traditional concepts of the literary tragedy. Although Rostand does create some lack of clarity with regards to the exact of nature of Cyrano’s tragic flaw and even his exact downfall, he does eventually yield to the literary convention and ultimately defines them both. Even amidst the numerous individual qualities of the work, Rostand cannot avoid the all too familiar tragic hero, always followed by the daunting presence of his tragic flaw.
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.