Hercule Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac, a cadet (nobleman serving as a soldier) in the French Army, is a brash, strong-willed man of many talents. In addition to being a remarkable duelist, he is a gifted, joyful poet and is also shown to be a musician. However, he has an extremely large nose, which is the reason for his own self-doubt. This doubt prevents him from expressing his love for his distant cousin, the beautiful and intellectual heiress Roxane, as he believes that his ugliness denies him the "dream of being loved by even an ugly woman."
Act I – A Performance at the Hôtel Burgundy
The play opens in Paris, 1640, in the theatre of the Hôtel Burgundy. Members of the audience slowly arrive, representing a cross-section of Parisian society from pickpockets to nobility. Christian de Neuvillette, a handsome new cadet, arrives with Lignière, a drunkard who he hopes will identify the young woman with whom he has fallen in love. Lignière recognizes her as Roxane, and tells Christian about her and the Count De Guiche’s scheme to marry her off to the compliant Viscount Valvert. Meanwhile, Ragueneau and Le Bret are expecting Cyrano de Bergerac, who has banished the actor Montfleury from the stage for a month. After Lignière leaves, Christian intercepts a pickpocket and, in return for his freedom, the pickpocket tells Christian of a plot against Lignière. Christian departs to try to warn him.
The play “Clorise” begins with Montfleury’s entrance, and Cyrano disrupts the play, forces him off stage, and compensates the manager for the loss of admission fees. The crowd is going to disperse when Cyrano lashes out at a pesky busybody, then is confronted by Valvert and duels with him while composing a ballade, wounding him as he ends the refrain (as promised: he ends each refrain with "When I end the refrain, 'Thrust Home'.") When the crowd has cleared the theater, Cyrano and Le Bret remain behind, and Cyrano confesses his love for Roxane. Roxane’s duenna then arrives, and asks where Roxane may meet Cyrano privately. Lignière is then brought to Cyrano, having learned that one hundred hired thugs are waiting to ambush him on his way home. Cyrano, now emboldened, vows to take on the entire mob single-handed, and he leads a procession of officers, actors and musicians to the Porte de Nesle.
Act II – The Poets’ Cookshop
The next morning, at Ragueneau’s bake shop, Ragueneau supervises various apprentice cooks in their preparations. Cyrano arrives, anxious about his meeting with Roxane. He is followed by a musketeer, a paramour of Ragueneau’s domineering wife Lise, then the regular gathering of impoverished poets who take advantage of Ragueneau’s hospitality. Cyrano composes a letter to Roxane expressing his deep and unconditional love for her, warns Lise about her indiscretion with the musketeer, and when Roxane arrives he signals Ragueneau to leave them alone.
Roxane and Cyrano talk privately as she bandages his hand (injured from the fracas at the Port de Nesle); she thanks him for defeating Valvert at the theater, and talks about a man with whom she has fallen in love. Cyrano thinks that she is talking about him at first, and is ecstatic, but Roxane describes her beloved as "handsome," and tells him that she is in love with Christian. Roxane fears for Christian’s safety in the predominantly Gascon company of Cadets, so she asks Cyrano to befriend and protect him. This he agrees to do.
After she leaves, Cyrano’s captain arrives with the cadets to congratulate him on his victory from the night before. They are followed by a huge crowd, including De Guiche and his entourage, but Cyrano soon drives them away. Le Bret takes him aside and chastises him for his behavior, but Cyrano responds haughtily. The Cadets press him to tell the story of the fight, teasing the newcomer Christian. When Cyrano recounts the tale, Christian displays his own form of courage by interjecting several times with references to Cyrano’s nose. Cyrano is angry, but remembering his promise to Roxanne, he holds in his temper.
Eventually Cyrano explodes, the shop is evacuated, and Cyrano reveals his identity as Roxane's cousin. Christian confesses his love for Roxane but his inability to woo because of his lack of intellect and wit. When Cyrano tells Christian that Roxane expects a letter from him, Christian is despondent, having no eloquence in such matters. Cyrano then offers his services, including his own unsigned letter to Roxane. The Cadets and others return to find the two men embracing, and are flabbergasted. The musketeer from before, thinking it was safe to do so, teases Cyrano about his nose and receives a slap in the face while the Cadets rejoice.
Act III – Roxane's Kiss
Outside Roxane's house Ragueneau is conversing with Roxane's duenna. When Cyrano arrives, Roxane comes down and they talk about Christian: Roxane says that Christian’s letters have been breathtaking—he is more intellectual than even Cyrano, she declares. She also says that she loves Christian.
When De Guiche arrives, Cyrano hides inside Roxane's house. De Guiche tells Roxane that he has come to say farewell. He has been made a colonel of an army regiment that is leaving that night to fight in the war with Spain. He mentions that the regiment includes Cyrano’s guards, and he grimly predicts that he and Cyrano will have a reckoning. Afraid for Christian’s safety if he should go to the front, Roxane quickly suggests that the best way for De Guiche to seek revenge on Cyrano would be for him to leave Cyrano and his cadets behind while the rest of the regiment goes on to military glory. After much flirtation from Roxane, De Guiche believes he should stay close by, concealed in a local monastery. When Roxane implies that she would feel more for De Guiche if he went to war, he agrees to march on steadfastly, leaving Cyrano and his cadets behind. He leaves, and Roxane makes the duenna promise she will not tell Cyrano that Roxane has robbed him of a chance to go to war.
Roxane expects Christian to come visit her, and she tells the duenna to make him wait if he does. Cyrano presses Roxane to disclose that instead of questioning Christian on any particular subject, she plans to make Christian improvise about love. Although he tells Christian the details of her plot, when Roxane and her duenna leave, he calls for Christian who has been waiting nearby. Cyrano tries to prepare Christian for his meeting with Roxane, urging him to remember lines Cyrano has written. Christian however refuses saying he wants to speak to Roxane in his own words. Cyrano bows to this saying, “Speak for yourself, sir.”
During their meeting Christian makes a fool of himself trying to speak seductively to Roxane. Roxane storms into her house, confused and angry. Thinking quickly, Cyrano makes Christian stand in front of Roxane’s balcony and speak to her while Cyrano stands under the balcony whispering to Christian what to say. Eventually, Cyrano shoves Christian aside and, under cover of darkness, pretends to be Christian, wooing Roxane himself. In the process, he wins a kiss for Christian.
Roxane and Christian are secretly married by a Capuchin while Cyrano waits outside to prevent De Guiche from disrupting the impromptu wedding. Their happiness is short-lived: De Guiche, angry to have lost Roxane, declares that he is sending the Cadets of Gascony to the front lines of the war with Spain. De Guiche triumphantly tells Cyrano that the wedding night will have to wait. Under his breath, Cyrano remarks that the news fails to upset him.
Roxane, afraid for Christian, urges Cyrano to promise to keep him safe, to keep him out of dangerous situations, to keep him dry and warm, and to keep him faithful. Cyrano says that he will do what he can but that he cannot promise anything. Roxane begs Cyrano to promise to make Christian write to her every day. Brightening, Cyrano announces confidently that he can promise that.
Act IV – The Gascon Cadets
The siege of Arras. The Gascon Cadets are among many French forces now cut off by the Spanish, and they are starving. Cyrano, meanwhile, has been writing in Christian’s name twice a day, smuggling letters across the enemy lines. De Guiche, whom the Cadets despise, arrives and chastises them; Cyrano responds with his usual bravura, and De Guiche then signals a spy to tell the Spanish to attack on the Cadets, informing them that they must hold the line while relief comes in. Then a coach arrives, and Roxane emerges from it. She tells how she was able to flirt her way through the Spanish lines. Cyrano tells Christian about the letters, and provides him a farewell letter to give to Roxane if he dies. After De Guiche departs, Roxane provides plenty of food and drink with the assistance of the coach’s driver, Ragueneau. She also tells Christian that, because of the letters, she has grown to love him for his soul alone, and would still love him even if he were ugly.
Christian tells this to Cyrano, and then persuades Cyrano to tell Roxane the truth about the letters, saying he has to be loved for "the fool that he is" to be truly loved at all. Cyrano disbelieves what Christian claims Roxane has said, until she tells him so as well. But, before Cyrano can tell her the truth, Christian is brought back to the camp, having been fatally shot. Cyrano realizes that, in order to preserve Roxane's image of an eloquent Christian, he cannot tell her the truth. The battle ensues, a distraught Roxane collapses and is carried off by De Guiche and Ragueneau, and Cyrano rallies the Cadets to hold back the Spanish until relief arrives.
Act V – Cyrano’s Gazette
Fifteen years later, at a convent outside Paris. Roxane now resides here, eternally mourning her beloved Christian. She is visited by De Guiche, Le Bret and Ragueneau, and she expects Cyrano to come by as he always has with news of the outside world. On this day, however, he has been mortally wounded by someone who dropped a huge log on his head from a tall building. Upon arriving to deliver his "gazette" to Roxane, knowing it will be his last, he asks Roxane if he can read "Christian's" farewell letter. She gives it to him, and he reads it aloud as it grows dark. Listening to his voice, she realizes that it is Cyrano who was the author of all the letters, but Cyrano denies this to his death. Ragueneau and Le Bret return, telling Roxane of Cyrano’s injury. While Cyrano grows delirious, his friends weep and Roxane tells him that she loves him. He combats various foes, half imaginary and half symbolic, conceding that he has lost all but one important thing – his panache – as he dies in Le Bret and Ragueneau's arms.