"He's the proudest gascon alive -and then his nose! You wait to see him take it off, but no, the thing is real and he's proud of it!"
Cyrano's nose, while only one small component of his singular being, has a large influence on his thoughts, his actions, and his beliefs. He is profoundly aware of it, knowing that it is very large and captures people's attention. He concludes that he is distasteful in the eyes of women, and concerns himself with developing a defense mechanism to get through life -he jokes about his nose and mocks its excessive size in order to make people think he is okay with it. In fact, he is very self-conscious of it to the extent that he allows it to overshadow all of his other accomplishments and worthy character traits; his choice to pursue Roxane through Christian is the most conspicuous manifestation of his devaluing himself.
"No, when I walk abroad, I bear a haughty plume of independence. Everything shines about me..."
Cyrano's words and actions belie his lack of self-confidence. The audience knows the truth, but other characters in the play see what Cyrano wants them to see: that he is bold, brash, independent, and in control of his own life. He often goes about touting his successes and enforcing his particular views on art and life on other people, such as the unlucky Montfleury. His excessive personality adds a great deal of humor to the play, but in this line Rostand also does some nice foreshadowing: he alludes to the white plume disputed over by De Guiche and Cyrano during battle, which echoes Cyrano's famous last word of "panache", literally meaning 'a plume of feathers upon a helmet'.
"I like to feed them, and it does give me a chance to read my verses."
Ragueneau provides a great deal of comic relief in the play, but he occasionally has an honest, serious moment like this one in which he acknowledges his silliness and his desire for companionship. He admits here that the poets who visit his shop are really only doing so for the free food, but he does not care because he likes their presence and the opportunity to read his own verses. For all of Ragueneau's dabbling in various professions, poetry is what sustains him; the comparisons between food and poetry are unmistakable. This ties Ragueneau to Cyrano, another character for whom poetry is much more than words alone.
"I want to lead my life, to be free, to dream, to open my eyes to the world and write what I see..."
One of the things that Cyrano boasts the most about is his independence, which is something that he cherishes deeply and adheres to in an almost monastic fashion. He does not like being told what to do or how to act, he does not want a patron who will interfere with his creative spirit, and he does not mind indigence or discomfort if he is still able to be autonomous. His independence comes at a price, though; as Le Bret tells him, he should not annoy people so much and try to lead a more harmonious existence. His independence is also somewhat of a mask for his ambivalence about his looks and skills, for it is clear that he wishes to be with a woman, and Roxane in particular, but feigns a deep love for independence rather than risk rejection.
"Together we can make the perfect man: your looks, my voice."
This brief comment of Cyrano's sums up the central conflict of the play, which is that both men love Roxane but neither man can secure her love by virtue of their strength alone; rather, they must work together and form a sort of hybrid figure. This "perfect man" initially succeeds but eventually becomes very problematic. Cyrano is depressed he cannot have Roxane himself, Christian chafes under the ruse he is using, Roxane is misled and loses two lovers instead of one. The play's message seems to be, then, that being true to oneself may be the more difficult path but is ultimately the more satisfying and noble.
"I do! I love the way he turns sweet nothings into perfect form!"
This statement is important in two respects. First, it represents Roxane's buying into Christian and Cyrano's ruse: she has fallen in love with Christian through the words of Cyrano. Second, it alludes to the power and function of poetry in general. Poetry turns thoughts into expressions, is an act of creation, is sustaining and nourishing and fulfilling. Rostand articulates this perspective multiple times in his text.
"And yet it seems to me that here, tonight, will be the first time I can speak to you."
Cyrano is independent, self-assured, brash, and loves using words to criticize, cajole, mock, defend, and wound. His words are his ammunition and his life-force. However, sometimes he cannot use words as he wishes to. His words for Roxane are filtered through another (Christian), or whispered under cover of darkness. In this famous scene he gets to use the words he wants and speak them directly to the woman he loves, but it is rather bittersweet because he is not being fully open and honest regarding his identity. The words, then, seem somewhat tainted by the mistaken identity and subterfuge, although on another level they are deeply romantic, authentic, and moving.
"Who would have thought it? The young precieuse turns out to be a heroine."
Cyrano lauds Roxane for coming to visit Christian on the front, as well as bringing food and drink to the weary cadets. This is a worthy action on the part of Roxane, but it is hard not to feel slightly frustrated with her "heroism" when she so so clearly lacks insight, perspicacity, and wisdom regarding her romantic situation. She comes across as frivolous, shallow, and oblivious: she fell in love with Christian without even speaking to him, then demanded he only give her fantastic words of love, and ended up completely misjudging the situation. On the other hand, she was deliberately misled, so categorical condemnation of Roxane is not fully satisfying.
"All of my darkest fears are coming true. He's still writing his squibs against fake nobles, fake piety, fake heroes -everyone!"
Cyrano's last years are far from glorious. He seems to be depressed over being unable to tell Roxane how he truly feels, and also over the events at the Siege of Arras. He is caught up in his writing, which no longer seems noble and sustaining but rather vainglorious and petty. He is impoverished and has many enemies. Le Bret is thus justifiably worried; however, Cyrano is living the life he wants to. He could have had a wealthy patron who dictated what he wrote and did, but he would rather be poor and have to look over his shoulder so he can write what he wants. It is a trade-off that he seems perfectly pleased with, although it does indeed result in his premature and ignoble death.
"...yet there's something still that will always be mine...something I'll take unstained out of this world in spite of you...my panache."
These justifiably famous last lines are a testament to what makes Cyrano de Bergerac such a memorable character: his zest, his boldness, his independence, his arrogance, and his style. He knows that while he may have had difficulties, such as with Roxane and De Guiche and others, he always remained true to himself. The term 'panache' was made famous thanks to this play, as it initially meant a plume on a helmet but has since become associated with Cyrano's swagger and style.
Cyrano de Bergerac Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Cyrano de Bergerac is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.