Cyrano de Bergerac: Metaphor Analysis
Cyrano’s unusually large nose carries many symbolic meanings. Its extraordinary nature reflects the other extraordinary traits of Cyrano’s character. He is exceptional in his courage, integrity, and devotion to honor. He has extraordinary skills as a swordsman, poet, soldier, philosopher, and musician. He entertains people and lights up the stage with his great vitality. Seen as another larger-than-life trait in Cyrano’s larger-than-life character, his huge nose seems in some sense to be in proportion to the inner man.
As an extension of this line of thinking, some critics see Cyrano’s nose as a phallic symbol, a sign of his greater manliness in comparison to lesser men such as Christian and de Guiche. Supporting this interpretation is the deep shame that Cyrano attaches to his nose and his attempts to conceal it in the darkness of the night in his wooing of Roxane for Christian (the night being a traditional symbol of the unconscious and the disowned “shadow self,” as posited by the psychologist Carl Jung). Also relevant to the phallic symbolic theory is Cyrano’s final discovery that Roxane would love him in spite of the great size of his nose; perhaps she would even, as she says when Cyrano is questioning her about her attitude to deformity, love him more because of it. Within such an interpretation, the story (on one level) would be about the attempt to bring the realities of sexual love out of the shadows of the unconscious, where the idealized conventions of romantic love (exemplified by the handsome Christian) have hidden it.
More generally, Cyrano’s nose is his one imperfection, but when it comes to matters of love, he focuses on it to the exclusion of all his other great qualities. He is convinced that because of his nose, no woman could ever love him. His obsession is an extreme example of the almost universal human tendency to feel inadequate in the presence of the beloved. Anyone who has been convinced that he is not good enough to be loved by the one he loves, or who has felt his usual confidence evaporate in the loved one’s presence, will understand and sympathize with Cyrano’s plight.
The moon is first invoked in Act 3, scene 13, when Cyrano makes up tall stories about having dropped from the moon in order to distract de Guiche. The moon here symbolizes the heights to which Cyrano’s imagination stretches, as well as his learned interest in the heavenly bodies, which were being examined with the help of telescopes in Cyrano’s time.
When Cyrano is dying in Act 5, scene 6, he says he expects to go to the moon, rather than heaven, a statement that marks him as being outside conventional religion, a free-thinker. Cyrano’s statement relates to the belief in Christian theology that the moon occupied a sphere that was either an outer region of heaven (less close to God than the inner regions) or a region of limbo. Limbo was an area on the border of hell or heaven, where the souls of unbaptized infants and of virtuous pagans who died before the coming of Christ were believed to go after death.
Autumn (the fall) and twilight
As Cyrano is dying in Act 5, the time of year is autumn (the fall) and the time of day is approaching twilight. This is symbolic of death.
The blood and tears on Cyrano’s letter
The letter that Roxane keeps next to her heart after Christian’s death is stained with Christian’s blood and Cyrano’s tears. This is symbolic of the composite lover created by Cyrano and Christian’s deception. Because the blood is Christian’s, Cyrano feels that he cannot dishonor his dead friend’s memory by telling Roxane the truth. The tears and blood therefore additionally symbolize Cyrano’s painful secret.
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