Cyrano de Bergerac By Edmond Rostand About Cyrano de Bergerac

Introduction

The classical tradition of French drama was formalized in the seventeenth century, and the eighteenth century was an imitation of the seventeenth. During this time, the plays were usually centered on characters from history — most often Greek or Roman history or literature — and were of a psychological nature. Any violent or shocking action, such as a battle, was simply told about and never re-enacted on stage. Aristotle's unities were closely observed — that is, the action took place within a time span of no more than 24 hours, in one geographical location, and concerned one main character.

Introduction

The classical tradition of French drama was formalized in the seventeenth century, and the eighteenth century was an imitation of the seventeenth. During this time, the plays were usually centered on characters from history — most often Greek or Roman history or literature — and were of a psychological nature. Any violent or shocking action, such as a battle, was simply told about and never re-enacted on stage. Aristotle's unities were closely observed — that is, the action took place within a time span of no more than 24 hours, in one geographical location, and concerned one main character.

The state of French drama during the nineteenth century was as tumultuous as was the state of French politics. Victor Hugo broke the restrictive chains of French classicism with the famous "Preface" to Cromwell (1827), the manifesto of romanticism. Over the next 25 years, his dramas employed action as well as other dramatic devices denied to the classicists. During this period of literary and political upheaval, the schools of romanticism, naturalism, symbolism, and realism developed in France. Yet Cyrano de Bergerac does not really fit into any of these categories. Some have considered it a revival or culmination of romantic drama, but it did not truly revive this school nor continue it. Cyrano was presented in 1897 for the first time, half a century after Hugo's last effort, and is not a part of any school or movement.

Rather, Cyrano seems an outgrowth of the medieval French literature — the songs of the troubadours. Most notable of these were the Chanson de Roland and Roman de la Rose. The tales of Roland concerned a hero, brave, noble, loyal, and steadfast, who avenges any affront by killing the offender, and whose word is his bond. The Roman de la Rose is the prime example of the other kind of popular literature of that period, the type that idealized Woman and Love. The love in these tales was respectful, submissive, almost religious. Cyrano combines these two genres in its central character and its story. Rostand himself came from southern France where these tales originally developed and where the historical Cyrano de Bergerac had his roots.

Cyrano can also be considered as a virtuoso play, one written to exploit the talents of a particular actor. (See the section of this study guide entitled, "Cyrano as a Virtuoso Play," for a more complete examination of this question.) Previously, Rostand had written La Samaritaine for Sarah Bernhardt, but that play did not meet with the popular or critical approval that Cyrano was to achieve. The fact that Cyrano has outlived the actor for whom it was supposedly written, and that many actors have played the lead role successfully surely outweighs the fact that the play might not have been written had not Rostand known an actor who was perfect for the role. More than many artistic efforts, Cyrano is a perfect blending of the author's personality, philosophy, and subject, resulting in a work of art that is enjoyable in and of itself, and which has been continually popular since its first performance.

A Note about Scene Division

Because many of Rostand's devices are confined to and isolated within the space of a scene or two, the authors feel that discussing the play in elements of one entire act at a time would be too broad a basis from which to work, and would lead to confusion on the part of the student. Act 11, for example, contains so many dramatic devices, moods, and characters that it would be very difficult to discuss without some reference point, such as scene divisions.

Since many English-language editions of Cyrano de Bergerac are not divided into scenes, an explanation of the scene division used here would seem to be in order.

The scene divisions used are the traditional ones: In general, the scenes end or begin when a character of some importance to the plot either exits or makes an entrance. The student using an English-language translation should have no trouble recognizing the divisions between the scenes if he refers to the exit or entrance of an important character or, simply, to the action described for a particular scene. The student using one of the French-language editions will in all likelihood find that the scene division used here is identical to that used in his copy of the play.

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As Cyrano writes a love letter to Roxane, he does not sign it because




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