On Cyrano


I am madly in love with Cyrano de Bergerac.  Just ask anybody.  It must be the nose:  I’ve always had a soft spot for a man with a strong profile.

I haven’t had the opportunity to teach Cyrano for many years, and I miss it.  The class where I had the play worked into the curriculum was transferred into the hands of my colleague Dan when the student body numbers changed and I was needed elsewhere; but even now, Dan will tell his students to ask me how I feel about Cyrano, and I can’t help but melt at the mention of his name.  The reaction frequently elicits odd looks from young people.  But then–they’re callow teenagers.  They just don’t understand.

He’s the man of my dreams, Cyrano:  wildly intelligent, witty, sarcastic.  And oh, how well he handles a sword!  The duel in rhyme in act I is the most perfect piece of performance poetry in the history of mankind:

CYRANO

(Declaims)

“Ballade of the duel at the Hotel de Bourgogne

Valvert buys it. Ha!

Between de Bergerac and a Boeotian.”

VALVERT

(Sneering)

What do you mean by that?

CYRANO

Oh, that?  The title.

 

Who else would refuse to begin a sword fight until he had chosen his rhymes?  The way Cyrano ends it, too, is magnificent:  with the final repeat of his refrain (“Then, as I end the refrain–thrust home!”), he lunges through the guard of Valvert and scores.  From the very first time I read that scene, Cyrano had me, body, soul, heart and mind.

He’s a man of strong passion, is Cyrano.  When people talk about the famous balcony scene, when he feeds lines to the verbally

Silly woman. I know who I'd choose.

inept Christian de Neuvillette in order to help that dunce win Roxane, many are caught up in the humor of the situation.  I always get hung up on the terrible sadness of it:  Cyrano’s words in his rival’s mouth, given to Christian because that’s who Roxane wants.  It’s the ultimate in sacrifice, and it’s heartbreaking.  I always want to cry for Cyrano here–ironically, because I want him to win Roxane for himself, because that’s who he wants.

By corollary, this whole business makes me furious with Roxane.  What kind of freaking idiot is she?  With a man as passionate and intelligent as Cyrano is, how could she possibly go for that pretty boy, Christian?  With her heedlessness, she hurts Cyrano again and again, but she’s far too blind to see it.  I spend most of the play wanting to smack her:  open your eyes, woman!  Look at what’s right in front of you! Of course, she does finally see Cyrano for who he is and what he’s done, but it’s far too little, too late:  right after he’s suffered a traumatic brain injury when his enemies drop a log on his head from an upper story.  Because of his unrequited love, he’s lived a lonely and unhappy life, and right when it ends, foolish Roxane realizes what she’s missed.  Thanks a lot, sister. Oh, how that burns my cookies.  And of course, at the end of the play, he’s dead.  That breaks my heart, too.  Every time I read the play, my heart gets broken again…because I love Cyrano so much.

What gets me every time is the play itself–the way Edmund Rostand has written the character.  Somewhere in my closet at the back of the classroom I have a copy of the 1950 film of the play, starring Jose Ferrar.  When I think of Cyrano, his is the image that comes to mind, with the incredible nose and the

Oh, a man with a strong profile...

equally impressive eyebrows–and that sardonic sneer simply can’t be beat.  However, I’ve also seen other versions, including a stage production by the Aquila Theater group of London and New York:  in that one, an oddly stylized production (the nose in question was obviously false, held onto the actor’s face by a strap–and Roxane, literally, wore an electric dress), I still fell madly in love with Cyrano, still wanted to knock some sense into Roxane, and still cried when my beloved poet and duelist died.  The character, obviously, transcends the production.  His words, in any actor’s mouth, are what win me over.

Thus, when the students ask, I have to tell them.  Yes.  I’m madly in love with Cyrano.  If he weren’t fictional–if he weren’t dead–if he had eyes for anyone aside from Roxane–I’d run off with him in a flash.

Postscript:

Always on the lookout:  two pictures I took in Paris–

le r

Cafe le Rostand, Paris

Au Cadets de Gascogne, complete with my niece Kate.

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