Cyrano de Bergerac: Notes

Cyrano de Bergerac: Notes

Cyrano de Bergerac: Notes

Cyrano de Bergerac: Notes


This is the famous 19th-century play about a great swordsman and poet with the unseemly large nose. Although he is feared by opponents, he cannot court the woman of his dreams, except through anonymously sent poems, which makes for a romantic and adventurous tale.


The classical tradition of French drama was formalized in the seventeenth century, and the eighteenth century was an imitation of the seventeenth. During this time, the plays were usually centered on characters from history—most often Greek or Roman history or literature—and were of a psychological nature. Any violent or shocking action, such as a battle, was simply told about and never re-enacted on stage. Aristotle’s unities were closely observed—that is, the action took place within a time span of no more than 24 hours, in one geographical location, and concerned one main character.

The state of French drama during the nineteenth century was as tumultuous as was the state of French politics. Victor Hugo broke the restrictive chains of French classicism with the famous “Preface” to Cromwell (1827), the manifesto of romanticism. Over the next 25 years, his dramas employed action as well as other dramatic devices denied to the classicists. During this period of literary and political upheaval, the schools of romanticism, naturalism, symbolism, and realism developed in France. Yet Cyrano de Bergerac does not really fit into any of these categories. Some have considered it a revival or culmination of romantic drama, but it did not truly revive this school nor continue it. Cyrano was presented in 1897 for the first time, half a century after Hugo’s last effort, and is not a part of any school or movement.

Rather, Cyrano seems an outgrowth of the medieval French literature—the songs of the troubadours. Most notable of these were the Chanson de Roland and Roman de la Rose. The tales of Roland concerned a hero, brave, noble, loyal, and steadfast, who avenges any affront by killing the offender, and whose word is his bond. The Roman de la Rose is the prime example of the other kind of popular literature of that period, the type that idealized Woman and Love. The love in these tales was respectful, submissive, almost religious. Cyrano combines these two genres in its central character and its story. Rostand himself came from southern France where these tales originally developed and where the historical Cyrano de Bergerac had his roots.

Cyrano can also be considered as a virtuoso play, one written to exploit the talents of a particular actor. (See the section of this study guide entitled, “Cyrano as a Virtuoso Play,” for a more complete examination of this question.) Previously, Rostand had . . .

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