Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Cyrano de Bergerac - Edmond Rostand


At the risk of sounding like a bit of a fool, I have to say that I was surprised at how much I enjoyed reading Edmond Rostand’s 1897 play Cyrano de Bergerac. The version of the play that I read was translated by Lowell Bair and first published by Signet Classics in 1972. My surprise came from not having particularly enjoyed either movie version of Cyrano that I’ve seen, and assuming that was the play’s fault rather than the fault of the two movies. 

The unrealistic plot of Cyrano de Bergerac, as it turns out, is precisely what makes it so charming. Imagine what has to be the greatest swordsmen in French history (the play is set in 1640), a man who can write poetry aloud while in the midst of a swordfight for his very life. Such a man would be a romantic hero in any country of the period, but because Cyrano has also been blessed with one of the longest noses in French history, he is not exactly having to fight off the women. 

Our hero is, in fact, madly in love with his first cousin, Roxanne. Roxanne, though, is the kind of woman who can only imagine herself ever falling in love with a handsome man – and in Cyrano’s friend Christian, she finds just what she is looking for. Unfortunately for Christian and Roxanne, Christian’s ability to creatively express his feelings is at the opposite end of the scale from his good looks. If Roxanne ever figures out just how dull-witted the man is, she is certain to ban him from her life. And that’s where Cyrano comes in. 

Cyrano’s ability to write a love letter is exceeded only by his ability to kill eight or ten men in a single swordfight. Christian obviously needs help (probably in both areas), and Cyrano is willing to write his love letters as a way of himself staying close to Roxanne. The beautiful Roxanne, though, has attracted more than two suitors (even though she doesn’t even realize that Cyrano is one of them), and that complicates the plot considerably. 

Cyrano de Bergerac
is dramatic; it is funny; and its puns (especially those regarding Cyrano’s nose) are brilliant. The play’s final act is obviously overly-melodramatic, but actually, it’s really no less realistic than the rest of the play. The same theater-goers who laughed their way through most of the play probably never thought they would be leaving the theater in tears when the final curtain closed, but I’m willing to bet that’s exactly what happened to many of them. The fictional Cyrano de Bergerac is an unforgettable character, and even though the play’s author believed the play to be a literary disaster, it turned out to be the one that made Rostand (left) famous – and has kept him that way.

2 comments:

  1. This is one of those stories I think everyone knows, but I wonder how many have actually read the original play. I haven't. But you make me want to. It sounds delightful. :D

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    1. I suspect you'd enjoy it more than you think you would, Lark. It's really pretty funny at times...very clever puns.

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