It is a little square in the old Marais, the site of Roxane’s charming house. Ragueneau, dressed in servants’ livery, is telling Duenna a story of how his wife left him for a musketeer and took all their money and he was going to kill himself but Cyrano intervened and gave him the job of being Roxane’s steward.
Duenna and Roxane are preparing to go across the street to Clomire’s to hear a talk about love. Cyrano and two pages playing theorbos enter. Cyrano won the boys for the day since he won a bet with d’Assoucy about grammar with the price of a day’s music. He is done with them though, and tells them to go bug Montfleury.
Roxane brags to Cyrano how much she loves Christian because he is so clever and writes so beautifully to her. She reads some examples and calls him a genius; Cyrano tries to pretend to be jealous but is flattered.
De Guiche approaches and Roxane tells Cyrano to hide inside with Duenna.
De Guiche tells Roxane he is heading off to war and wanted to say goodbye to her. She becomes horrified when she hears the Guards, including Cyrano and Christian, are going too. De Guiche takes this for concern about him and is pleased.
Roxane tells De Guiche to take revenge on Cyrano by not letting the Guards go. De Guiche is tickled by this idea, not guessing her reasoning. He waxes poetic about his love for her and she plays along. He departs.
Roxane and Duenna prepare to go to Clomire’s. Cyrano asks what the talk will be about, and she says she will talk about love. The women depart.
Christian arrives and Cyrano hands him his new verses. Christian refuses, saying he does not want to pretend anymore and is sure that he will be fine now that Roxane loves him. He becomes scared when he sees her, though, but Cyrano leaves him to his own devices.
The precieuses, Duenna, and Roxane all say their goodbyes to each other. Roxane sees Christian and tells him to sit next to her on the bench and talk to her of love. He says he loves her, and she impatiently says to elaborate. All he can say are simple phrases like he adores her, and she grows more and more angry. She says she does not like him stupid like this. Finally, against his protestations, she gets up and goes inside her house.
Cyrano laughs to himself from the wings.
Christian begs for his help. Cyrano sees Roxane in her window above, and tells Christian to stand in the shadows and he will prompt him. Christian calls up to her, and throws pebbles at her window.
Roxane asks who it is and Christian replies. She is initially annoyed and tells him to go away , but when he claims that he will die of love she decides to remain and listen. He speaks on, and at one point she wonders why his words are halting. He says they take more time to feel their way to the dark to her. Cyrano takes over for Christian, imitating the young man.
She considers coming down but he says it is more romantic to talk together, unseen. He praises the charm of the shadows and the shapes. He says he can be his true self under the cloak of darkness. Privately, Cyrano revels in being able to actually speak these words to her.
He speaks on of how much he loves her and how “the tiniest things about you live in my memory” (108). He says his feelings “[have] all the madness and sadness of love, and still, it isn’t a selfish thing” (108). Roxane is nearly crying and tremulous; she loves “Christian” very much too. She claims to be drunk on his words.
Christian calls up and says he wants a kiss. Cyrano is shocked and chastises him, but Christian whispers that it is the perfect time. Roxane seems a little sad but agrees. Before this can happen the pages and their theorbos are heard, and a monk with a lantern comes to the house.
The monk says he seeks the house of the lady Madeline Robin, and Cyrano says it is not here but straight ahead. The monk goes on.
Christian tells Cyrano he must have the kiss and Cyrano sighs that it makes sense since they are both so beautiful.
Cyrano tells Roxane not to fear a kiss, which is akin to a confession, a secret, eternity. Christian starts to lose his nerve but Cyrano pushes him forward and he kisses Roxane.
Cyrano reveals himself and Roxane greets him in surprise. The monk returns to the scene.
The monk says that Cyrano was wrong and Madeleine Robin does live here. Cyrano pretends he had heard him wrong. The monk gives her a letter from De Guiche. She reads it privately; it is a confession of lust and says he is going to come visit her secretly that night before he goes off to war.
Roxane reads it aloud and changes the words, saying that De Guiche wants the monk to marry her and Christian secretly tonight. The monk is uncertain until she adds that De Guiche said he would donate a hundred silver pieces to the monastery.
Roxane tells Cyrano privately to occupy De Guiche when he comes that night so the marriage can be carried out.
Cyrano wonders how to occupy De Guiche, and he comes up with an idea. He wraps himself up in his cloak and lowers his hat.
Cyrano fakes an accent when De Guiche enters, confronting him to the man’s dismay. He begins to act strangely, saying he came from the moon. He asks what time and day and month it is, pretending he used to be up in the sky. De Guiche is annoyed.
Cyrano continues his ruse while De Guiche tries to leave. Cyrano asks for his excuse, as he just “blew in on the planetary wind” (119). He will not let De Guiche go, and tells him he knows six ways of penetrating heaven’s secrets. De Guiche despairs but asks what they are.
Cyrano says one way for De Guiche to do this would be for him to cover himself in dew; then, when the vapor burned away, he’d ascend. Another would be to capture wind inside a chest and use its force to blow him upward. He could build a metal grasshopper on springs to bounce up into space with. He could fill a globe with smoke and rise up with it. He could rub animal marrow on his skin, which would draw him toward the waning moon. He could also stand on a metal plate and throw a magnet into the air and then the plate would rise to meet it. De Guiche is interested in spite of himself, and asks which method he chose. Cyrano tells him he went into the ocean’s tide and his hair was full of water and then he began to float away...suddenly in his real voice he proclaimed that they were married.
Confused, De Guiche asks who is and then sees Christian and Roxane and Ragueneau and Duenna and the monk coming out.
De Guiche sarcastically congratulates them on their well-laid plan, but tells Roxane to bid her new spouse goodbye since the regiment is leaving. Roxane is horrified. Drumbeats sound in the distance. Roxane begs Cyrano to look after him, and to tell him to write her a letter every day. Cyrano says to himself that he can promise that.
One of the most compelling parts of this Act is Cyrano’s beguiling of De Guiche with his tales of how he could get to the moon. These vignettes are derived from the real Cyrano’s writings in L’Autre Monde, first published as Etats et Empires de la Lune (1657); it is commonly considered one of the first works of science fiction. Mildred Allen Butler wrote in an article on the intersection of the real and fictional Cyranos, “Into his fantastic tales there was packed the poetry and philosophy of an aspiring soul and, in addition, the probings of a scientific mind which led him to prophecies of facts generally beyond the comprehension of the seventeenth century.” He described the apparatus of how he got to the moon, created a government for the habitation up there (which was very democratic), and put all of his beloved things there -birds, trees, philosophy, music, and poetry. Butler notes, “There one could pay for a meal with a sonnet; there his large nose was an asset, was honored.” The fictional Cyrano clearly delights in telling his tales, and it is all the more amusing and interesting know they were based on the actual man’s own writings.
There are a few references that need explaining, especially Arras, which becomes very important in the next act. Arras is a region in the northeast that was disputed many times in the past centuries. In 1640 it belonged to the Spanish, but Cardinal Richelieu desired it back in France’s possession, so he sent an army commanded by three marshals to besiege it. The Spanish attacked back, but the French finally regained it (only to fight over it multiple times in subsequent centuries). The Land of Love, mentioned in the context of the meeting of the precieuses, referred to the famous “Carte de Tendre”, an map illustration in a successful precieuse novel (it revealed three rivers flowing into the sea as a way to show the possible progress of a love affair). A theorbo is an instrument in the lute family, and a demisemiquaver is a thirty-second musical note.
The main content of this section is the wooing of Roxane by Cyrano/Christian. There are a lot of complex emotions on display here. Christian is tired of using Cyrano’s words and wants to be loved for who he really is, but quickly comes to see that Roxane does not want to hear his own trite, un-poetic verses, and decides he does need the other man’s help. As for the object of his affection, Roxane comes across as both sympathetic and unsympathetic -Christian’s words of love are certainly lackluster, but her demand for constant, excessive, romantic poetry is unrealistic. It is Cyrano, though, who really suffers, although he mostly convinces himself he is happy. He takes over for Christian in speaking the words of love, telling himself privately “Let’s just enjoy this unexpected chance to talk together quietly, unseen” (106) and “And yet it seems to me that here, tonight, will be the first time I can speak to you...under the cloak of night, I can be my true self, and dare” (106). Everything that Cyrano says as Christian, he actually means for himself; his words are loaded with irony and meaning. He says, “I always hide my feelings under wit” (107). He reminisces about how “the tiniest things about you live in my memory” (108). He becomes emboldened, suggesting, “Let’s see what happens if we let our souls drink deeply of the water as it rolls” (107) and warning against “our artificial manners, lest the games of wit dissolve the truth of feeling” (108).
All of these heartfelt, profound professions of love go nowhere for Cyrano, however, for a hasty wedding between Christian and Roxane is arranged (not to mention their kiss) after the serenade. Cyrano’s cunning, cleverness, wit, and passion are all on full display but do not actually benefit him; he is a classic example of an artist who helps facilitate love between others but cannot achieve it for himself.
Finally, the Comte De Guiche bears mentioning. He is clearly the main villain of the story, although one could argue that there are other, more abstract “villains” that come between Cyrano and the object of his affection, or change the course of the characters’ lives irrevocably. Nevertheless, De Guiche is easy to hate at first, for he is prideful, lustful, and murderous, especially when he cannot get what he wants. He is also initially depicted as cowardly, though there is room to reassess his character in Act IV.