Many of the characters in the play lie or are deceitful in order to achieve their desires. Christian, worried that Roxane will not love him because he is stupid, allows Cyrano to write letters and woo Roxane for him. Cyrano is also lying, engaging in deceitful behavior to make Roxane fall in love with someone she does not truly know. To be fair, the deceit in terms of Cyrano and Christian's plot is done partially for honest purposes because Cyrano wants Christian to be happy and does not believe he can have Roxane for himself; nonetheless, the ruse is difficult to maintain and the play ends with a sense of loss and regret. De Guiche is the only character that is open with his desires, although he is still manipulative and cannot be trusted. Roxane herself does not lie or openly deceive, but her shallowness allows her to be easily deceived.
Despite the frequent deception practiced by the main characters, almost all of them demonstrate courage. Cyrano and Christian are courageous on the battlefield, even when they know they are there for less-than-noble reasons. Roxane exposes herself to harm so she can join her (supposed) beloved in death if necessary. Courage is much discussed as well, with De Guiche's incident with the white plume demonstrating his cowardice. He is only redeemed in Cyrano's eyes when he offsets that earlier failure with courage in battle. Courage is also seen as the central character trait for Gascons, although in the Gascony cadets and Cyrano in particular, courage is also associated with foolhardiness.
Poetry permeates the text, with characters writing it, speaking it, promoting it, and craving it. Poetry is seen as sustaining and meaningful, capable of providing aesthetic value and emotional nourishment. Poetry is more important than money or fame or appearances. Cyrano's poetry is as important to him as his skills as a swordsman are, and it is what he uses to woo Roxane and eventually secure her love. If there is anything negative Rostand wants to convey about poetry, it is simply to be aware of the motivations behind it and not become too caught up in its beauty and grace; after all, Roxane's all-consuming desire for poetic words of love leads her to fall in love with the wrong man and ignore reality.
Identity is a complicated theme in the text. All the characters have a group to which they belong and thereby seem assured of their identities -Roxane is a precieuse; Christian is a cadet; Cyrano is an independent, bold poet and a swordsman; De Guiche is an aristocrat; etc. -but this is rarely the end of the story. The characters often take on the identity of another, disguising their voices, faces, and motivations. Cyrano in particular is a fascinating character study, for while on the one hand he seems very confident in his abilities and asserts frequently and loudly who he is and who he is not, he is also involved in a deceitful masquerade that confuses his identity with Christian's. His shame over his large nose is crucial to his psychology, causing him to doubt parts of his identity and seek to obfuscate them. True identities are eventually revealed, but at a tremendous emotional cost.
Love and Friendship
Romantic love and friendship are key to the text. Romantic love forms the central conflict of the play, as both Christian and Cyrano love Roxane and engage in a series of manipulations and mistaken identities in order to woo her. Love is seen as an ideal to attain, but also something that can cause people to act in ways not befitting their station or character. True love is what everyone claims to want, but none of the characters actually experiences it. Friendship, especially as evinced in Le Bret and Cyrano's relationship, is also significant. Le Bret is the only person with whom Cyrano can be honest, and the former does not shy away from telling the latter how he feels. Friendship in another sense -that of the Gascony cadets -is also important, as the relationships between cadets sustains them in the harrowing and stressful experience of war.
The play is not just about love and mistaken identities and poetry; it has a darker strain in it, in which characters seek revenge when they are wronged. De Guiche in particular does not handle being slighted well, and his reactions bring Christian, Cyrano, and Roxane to the Siege of Arras where the crucial events of the play unfold. Revenge is also what secures the brave Cyrano's death, albeit in a less-than-noble fashion. Characters pledge to avenge the lives of those they love, or engage in subtler forms of revenge such as living out one's remaining years in a convent. Being vengeful does not bring any of the characters any real satisfaction, just as lying or being deceitful do not. Rostand's play is thus very moralistic.
Although characters talk, write, serenade, and sing, communication is actually quite discordant in the play. The messages exchanged are often not from the person the recipient expects, and the message conveyed is often not what the writer/speaker intended. Characters misunderstand each other, mislead each other, and use words that mask their true feelings. Words can be used as defense mechanisms and ways to wound people as well; Cyrano's encounters in Act I with a busybody and Valvert speak to both of those realities.
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.