Cyrano de Bergerac (CdB) is sheer delight to read; it overflows with silken poetry of easily comprehendible and sonorous phrases, laced with positive philosophy. One could delight in reading the entire play aloud (and it wouldn’t take more than two hours), just to listen to the sound of Rostand’s soothing words. It is a joy not to be missed by any adventurous reader!
The classic, Cyrano de Bergerac (CdB), was a fictionalized biography of a renowned French poet, successful playwright and a highly skilled swordsman, who was born in 1619 and died at age 36. The real-life Cyrano did, indeed, have an overly large nose if not quite so prominent as that attributed by Edmond Rostand, in the latter’s brilliant and poetic play on point. (Rostand, then 29, wrote CdB in 1900.) Rostand’s Cyrano was much larger than life in all respects. Consider his rejoinders to these questions: “Have you ever read Don Quixote...Yes, and I found myself the hero…Are you Samson…Yes, I am he…Are you The Three Musketeers rolled into one…Yes, I am they.” Rostand’s Bunyanesque Cyrano was “The lad with the long sword…the best friend and bravest soul alive…poet, musician, philosopher…and such a remarkable appearance too…a model for wild swashbucklers in a mask…There is no such nose as that nose…but God help the man who smiles at it.” Cyrano’s view of his nose was superciliously comic: “Know that I glory in this nose of mine, for a great nose indicates a great man – genial, courteous, intellectual, virile, courageous – as I am…” Yet, underneath his proud veneer, he “would not dream of being loved, even by an ugly woman”.
To think that Rostand wrote in French (in rhyming couplets that averaged 12 syllables per line), but, even in English, so much of its beauty, even many rhymes and much metered verse, are preserved by brilliant translation and adaptation. The following lines are not rhymed or metered as is the play’s norm, but they capture the essence of the admirable character that all literature knows as “Cyrano”. These brilliant, never-to-be-forgotten lines are from what I dub, “Cryano’s ‘No Thank You’ Monologue”:“There are things in this world a man does well to carry to extremes… Seek patronage of some great man and like a creeping vine on a tall tree Crawl upward, where I cannot stand alone? No thank you… And struggle to insinuate my name into the columns of The Mercury? NO thank you… Calculate, scheme, be afraid…Seek introductions, favors, influences? No thank you! No thank you! No thank you!” But, to sing, to laugh, to dream, to walk in my own way and be alone, Free with an eye to see things as they are, With a voice that means manhood – to cock my hat where I choose – At a word, a Yes, a No, to fight – or write. To travel any road under the sun, under the stars… Never to say or write a line I have not heard in my own heart… To stand alone…To render no share to Caesar – In a word, I am proud not to be a parasite… But, rather like the oak, sheltering multitudes – I stand alone, not high it may be – but alone.”
Thus it is that we must love this Cyrano. We want to be able to say of him, “We are he” – as said Flaubert of his less admirable Madame Bovary, “She is me.” The details of Cyrano are well-known to most and matter little.
In the end, Cyrano wins the love of his beautiful Roxanne, despite his appearance, although he dies in her arms from battle-wounds. It is the verse, the sardonic wit, the flare, the “panache” which he justly claims for himself that draws us to this masterpiece, and those who favor rhymed, metered verse must relish CdB. Those who dislike reading verse (and even those who do) should order the classic film on DVD, starring Jose Ferrer, who won TV’s Tony for Best Actor and later Hollywood’s Best Actor Oscar for his priceless role in the film. Ferrer is patent magic in the part, heroic, flawless, convincing, irresistibly lovable. If you haven’t seen it, buy it Online and treat yourself to a bit of cinematic Heaven on Earth.