Sunday, September 27, 2009

An Heroic Comedy

Cyrano de Bergerac

by Edmond Rostand

De Guiche: Have you read Don Quixote?
Cyrano: I have--and found myself the hero.

Cyrano: To sing, to laugh, to dream,
To walk in my own way and be alone,
Free, with an eye to see things as they are,

- Edmond Rostand (Cyrano de Bergerac, pp. 86-7, 89)

Cyrano de Bergerac: An Heroic Comedy in Five Acts is a play written in 1897 by Edmond Rostand. Perhaps most know the story. Hercule Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac, a cadet in the French Army, is a brash, strong-willed man of many talents. In addition to being a remarkable duelist, he is a gifted poet and is also shown to be a musician. However, he has an extremely large nose, which is a target for his own self-doubt. This doubt prevents him from expressing his love for his distant cousin, the beautiful Roxane, as he believes that his ugliness forbids him to "dream of being loved by even an ugly woman."

I consider this among my favorite plays for both its romantic air of the grand opera and the poetic monologues of its eponymous hero. An unconventional love story, it is more a fable for the importance of virtue, loyalty and friendship. What more magnanimous man in literature is there than Cyrano de Bergerac? I am sure that I will return to this play again and again as it reminds me of the best that is possible for man and mankind. I recently reread the famous Brian Hooker translation which I would heartily recommend.

Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand. Brian Hooker, trans. Bantam Classics, New York. 1950 (1898)


Anthony said...

I recall reading that Rostand was subject to an injunction against this play appearing in the US. A successful accusation of plagiarism I think. Is this injunction still in force, do you know?

James said...

I can only refer you to the article on the play at Wikipedia (