Cyrano de Bergerac: Act 4, Scenes 1-5
Act 4, scene 1
The scene shifts to the encampment of Carbon’s regiment at the siege of Arras, just before dawn. Christian is asleep. Le Bret and Carbon are keeping watch. They look thin, and Carbon remarks to Le Bret that they have run out of food. The sound of gunfire is heard. Cyrano arrives. Every morning, he crosses the enemy line to post a letter to Roxane, keeping his promise to her. He vanishes into a tent to write another letter.
Act 4, scene 2
Reveille sounds. The Guards wake up and immediately start complaining about how hungry they are. Carbon asks Cyrano to come of the tent and entertain the men.
Act 4, scene 3
Cyrano comes out of the tent and restores the men’s morale with his witty banter. He gets a piper to play an old Gascon song, which reminds the men of their homeland. There is a murmur of disapproval as de Guiche is seen approaching. Cyrano asks the men to start a game of cards, so that de Guiche will not see them suffer.
Act 4, scene 4
De Guiche arrives and boasts about his courage on the battlefield the previous day. Cyrano asks him about his white plume of feathers (the badge of an officer). De Guiche explains that he threw away his white plume to confuse the Spaniards, and led his troops in a charge that broke through the enemy line. A silence falls upon the Guards. Cyrano says that a courageous man would not have thrown away his white plume, whatever the danger, and that he himself would be proud to wear it. De Guiche replies that Cyrano is only saying this because he knows the plume is lost on the battlefield. Cyrano pulls the plume from his pocket and hands it to de Guiche. After a pause, de Guiche collects his thoughts, seizes the plume, and waves it at a man, who runs off. De Guiche explains that the man is a double agent who will take a message to the Spaniards. De Guiche has just given the signal for the Spaniards to attack the Guards. Many Guardsmen will die, but the ruse will buy time for the French until the Marshal arrives with reinforcements. The Spanish attack is likely to come in one hour’s time. Cyrano thanks de Guiche for giving them the opportunity to die with honor.
Christian thinks sadly of Roxane and wishes that he could put his thoughts in a letter to her. Cyrano, who expected the Spanish to attack today, produces a letter that he has already written. Christian notices a tear stain on it. Cyrano admits that the thought of never seeing Roxane again is terrible. Christian grows uneasy and may be about to guess Cyrano’s secret when they are interrupted by the arrival of a carriage. The Guards are astonished to see Roxane get out.
Act 4, scene 5
Roxane says she came to the battlefield because she got fed up with writing. She crossed the Spanish lines and was shot at. When she was stopped by Spaniards, she told them she was going to see her lover and they let her pass. De Guiche, Christian, and Cyrano all tell her that she must leave immediately, as they will soon be under attack. Roxane insists that she will stay, saying that if Christian dies, she wants to die beside him. De Guiche protests that their position is the weakest of all; Cyrano adds that this is why de Guiche assigned them to it. Roxane realizes that de Guiche has deliberately sent Christian to his death, and this makes her all the more determined to stay. She suggests that de Guiche might like to leave before the fighting starts. A furious de Guiche leaves to check the cannon, saying that he will return soon.
Analysis of Act 4, scenes 1–5
With the beginning of Act 4, the tone shifts from boisterous comedy and satire to a more tragic note. At the battlefront, the Guards are starving and demoralized. Only Cyrano retains a positive outlook, and is called upon by Carbon to cheer up the men, which he does. Cyrano’s resilience can be attributed for the most part to his extraordinarily courageous and resourceful nature, but may be partly due to his love for Roxane and his focus on writing letters to her.
De Guiche, too, darkens in tone, shifting from his former role as stage villain opposing the young lovers to a potential murderer. He hopes that Christian, his rival in love of Roxane, will die on the battlefield. He also wants vengeance against Cyrano for repeatedly humiliating him. To this end, he has arranged for the Guards to be stationed in the weakest position and signals to a double agent to let the Spanish know that they can attack. It is significant that he uses his white plume of feathers (the sign of an officer) to signal the attack. De Guiche has already thrown this plume away on the battlefield in order to save his own skin. The plume becomes a symbol of courage and honor, and de Guiche’s treatment of it shows his cowardice and duplicity. Although he justifies his action militarily by claiming that allowing the Spanish to slaughter the Guards will buy time for the French, it seems a murderously cruel and vindictive way to gain his ends. Cyrano’s risking his own life to pick up the plume and his insistence that he would be proud to wear it (even if it made him a target for the enemy) sets him up in contrast with de Guiche. Where de Guiche is cowardly, Cyrano is brave; where de Guiche uses deception to save his own life, Cyrano stands for truth.
Roxane shows her spirit and courage by choosing to join Christian on the battlefield and, if necessary, to die with him. Her refusal to be discouraged or deflected from her purpose (she has come through mortal danger with a smile and a joke) mirrors Cyrano’s buoyant spirits. Again, she is shown to be a fitting lover for Cyrano, not for the rather bland Christian.
Suspense escalates around Cyrano’s secret as Christian seems about to guess it, when they are interrupted by the arrival of Roxane’s coach. The men’s collaborative deception seems increasingly unsustainable.