Cyrano de Bergerac

Cyrano de Bergerac Study Guide

Cyrano de Bergerac is one of the most famous 19th century works for the stage. It has been staged countless times and is still a mainstay of high school, college, and professional theater. It has also received a great deal of scholarly attention and is often part of secondary curricula.  

The play was notable because it deviated from the realist form that most works of drama in 19th century France embraced. Instead, it had a highly artificial style: its swordsmen, love story, mistaken identities, emphasis on poetry and art, and melodramatic ending strayed far from the naturalist tendencies of contemporary dramatists. Because of this, the directors of the theater were nervous about its reception, cutting its budget. Rostand had to pay for the costumes and expressed frustration with the sets. It was a vehicle for Rostand's famous actor friend, Constant Coquelin, who would perform the titular role over 410 times.  

Cyrano's first showing on December 28th, 1897, however, was a smashing success; reports say that the audience clapped for a full hour after the curtain fell. Contemporary audiences adored the play's protagonist and the romanticism expressed throughout. They also embraced its historical context, for the play was set in the dramatic days of the 1640s when Louis XIII was King and the brilliant and manipulative Cardinal Richelieu led the country into the Thirty Years' War. The battle at the end of the play is the Siege of Arras, in which the real Cyrano took part.  

One of the most notable features of the play is that all of the main characters are based on real people who lived during the 17th century. The real Cyrano de Bergerac was born in 1919 in Paris and was the cousin of Madeleine Robineau, who was married to the Baron de Neuvillette. The Baron died in the siege and Madeleine retired to a convent. Cyrano was known for both his nose and his dueling skills; after taking part in the Siege of Arras, he was known for his his satirical writing (which included a story about a trip to the moon) and his scientific experiments. He staged one play, but it was deemed too scandalous for repeat performances. He did actually die from a wooden beam being dropped on his head, as is the case in this play. The characters of Le Bret, Ragueneau, Cuigy and Brissaille, and Ligniere are also accurate.  

The play has been performed on Broadway hundreds of times, with Anthony Burgess's 1970 translation and adaptation being very popular. There have been many translations throughout the years, though, with theater companies rarely using the whole text of the play. Additionally, there have been film, ballet, opera, book, and radio adaptations.