Cyrano de Bergerac: Theme Analysis
Nobility of character
Cyrano is an excellent swordsman, poet, philosopher, soldier, wit, and musician. He is the epitome of the seventeenth-century cavalier ideal of the courtier-soldier-poet. He lives according to his ideals of honor, courage, independence, and loyalty to his friends, region (Gascony), and country. He is unwilling to compromise his ideals, even though to do so would bring him worldly success such as de Guiche enjoys.
In sacrificing his own self-interest for his friend Christian’s sake, Cyrano retains his noble character unstained, as is symbolized by the white plume with which he plans to present himself before God. His death, while tragic, is also transcendental and glorious.
The price of deception
The one deception that the otherwise noble Cyrano practices is in relation to Roxane. Because he feels that she could never love him due to his nose, he deceives her into believing that her eloquent wooer is Christian. Cyrano pays for his deception in that because of it, he can never be united with Roxane. As a penance for his deception, he must undergo the torture of living close to her without being able to claim her love openly. She only guesses his secret when he is about to die.
Inner and outer beauty
Cyrano and Christian are opposites and foils (a foil is a character who contrasts with another character and emphasizes that character’s traits by comparison) to one another, in that Cyrano is inwardly beautiful and outwardly ugly, whereas Christian is outwardly beautiful but somewhat dull. This picture is complicated by Cyrano’s possession of many attractive qualities that are apparent on the surface: he is witty, eloquent, and swashbuckling. However, these qualities are outward manifestations of his inner vitality, whereas Christian’s outward beauty is not matched by inner richness of character. Christian is a noble character, but he is not as colorful, as intelligent, or as interesting as Cyrano.
When Cyrano and Christian collaborate to win Roxane’s love, at first glance it seems as if they form a complete romantic hero who is both handsome and noble. But neither can properly win Roxane’s love, because the character whom she loves is a fiction. Finally, Roxane becomes the arbiter between inner and outer beauty, in that she has to choose between the two. Cyrano’s inner beauty that finally wins Roxane, but ironically, he is not able to claim her love because of his past deception of her and his loyalty to Christian. Cyrano’s humble acceptance of his ‘penance’ for his past deception and his loyalty to his friend are, of course, also aspects of his inward worth.
This is not a play in which inward beauty gains outward reward, as is obvious from the contrast between Cyrano’s ultimate poverty and loneliness, and de Guiche’s success. It does, however, show that inner beauty gains its own type of reward, in the form of an unstained conscience. Cyrano dies with his white plume of honor unstained, whereas de Guiche admits that he feels stirrings of unease in his conscience about the compromises he has made.
The power of words
Literature, or the composition of words into an artistic form, is shown as a potent force in the play and, in fact, as a matter of life and death. This is part of Rostand’s portrayal of the seventeenth-century ideal of the courtier-soldier-poet, who was expected to be equally proficient at writing a sonnet as fighting off a group of enemies with a sword. Cyrano exemplifies this ideal.
The first sign of the importance of literature within society comes in the opening scenes of the play. Cyrano risks alienating the entire theater-going public in driving the bad actor Montfleury from the stage. He then risks starvation by compensating the theater manager with his entire monthly allowance. Shortly afterwards, an ambush of a hundred men is set for the poet Lignière because he has written a satire on a powerful nobleman. Poetry can both win a woman (Roxane) and drive one away (Lise). Ragueneau abandons a moderately prosperous living to become an author, and is forced to take a series of temporary jobs instead.
An unwise choice of words regarding Cyrano’s nose could mean death for the speaker, as is shown by the rapid exit of the Guardsmen in Act 2, scene 9. They fear for their lives after Christian has begun provoking Cyrano by punning on his nose.
The quality of a person’s literary output is portrayed as being linked to the quality of his soul. Cyrano’s refusal to compromise the integrity of his art by taking a patron who may want to control his writing shows his independence of spirit and devotion to truth. Even Cyrano’s death may be connected with his satirical attacks on powerful people; de Guiche warns that he has made “enemies,” though he does not specify how.