Summary and Analysis
Act I — Scene 4
Montfleury tries to continue his speech, but is repeatedly interrupted by Cyrano. The audience jeers Cyrano, who offers to fight anyone who will come forward in Montfleury's defense, but no one comes. Montfleury leaves the stage. The theater manager points out to Cyrano that if he does not allow the play to proceed, the manager will have to refund the money to the patrons. Cyrano tosses a sack of gold to him, which is obviously more than adequate to cover the loss. Cyrano is not worried by the fact that Montfleury has a powerful patron who may be angry at Cyrano's preventing the performance.
The vicomte, Valvert, says to Cyrano, "Your nose is, hmm ... is ... very ... hmm ... big." This leads to one of the memorable moments of the play in which Cyrano, with great wit and charm, suggests what many types of people might say about his nose. After this tirade by Cyrano, De Guiche tries to lead the vicomte away, but the foolish man delays long enough to sneer at Cyrano for not wearing gloves. Cyrano replies that his elegances are moral ones. Then he announces that he will fight a duel with the vicomte and that, while they are fighting, he will compose a ballade (a poem consisting of three stanzas of eight lines each, concluding with a four-line refrain). At the end of the refrain, he says, he will end the duel with a thrust. He does exactly as he has promised.
When the hall is almost empty, Le Bret asks why Cyrano has not eaten dinner. He confesses that he has no money. Le Bret asks about the sack of gold that Cyrano threw to the theater manager, and Cyrano confesses that that was his month's income — he has nothing left. "What foolishness," says Le Bret. "But what a beautiful gesture!" Cyrano replies.
The first three scenes of the first act have accomplished, among other things, the setting of the play and the introduction of nearly all the major characters, including Cyrano. But Cyrano does not appear on the stage during these three scenes. All we know about him — who and what he is, as well as the size of his nose — comes from the dialogue of no less than half a dozen other characters. This preparation is extremely important, for if we were not so well prepared beforehand — if, for instance, Cyrano were to be visible on stage at the rise of the opening curtain — our reaction to this apparently ludicrous character would be completely different from what it is. As it is, we have heard a great deal about Cyrano in these early scenes, and Scene 3 ends with Cyrano on stage (but hidden by the crowd) speaking to Montfleury.
Scene 4 begins with Cyrano making himself visible to the audience. Notice that there is not necessarily a curtain or any break in the action between scenes. And here is an excellent example of Rostand's dramatic technique. When a major character makes an important entrance, the eyes, as well as the interest of the audience must be directed to that character. A standard device for accomplishing this is by having a minor character precede the major character on stage and announce his arrival. Rostand's device is enormously more effective. Cyrano's presence on stage is indicated only when he speaks his first line to Montfleury, and suspense is heightened as the audience tries to locate the speaker. In case some of the audience still do not know where to look for Cyrano, Rostand has Cyrano raise his arm and wave his cane. Now we know exactly where he is, and the attention of the audience is riveted to the spot. And now we are finally allowed to see the man for whose entrance we have been so well prepared.
This long scene is not only exciting from both the intellectual and physical standpoints, but it serves to refine our knowledge of Cyrano's character. And it is his character and personality that make most of the events in the play seem real and logical regardless of how unlikely they might appear otherwise. In other words, given Cyrano's character, there is a "willing suspension of disbelief" on the part of the audience.
Cyrano's extreme sensitivity about his nose (the historical Cyrano is supposed to have been just as touchy) is made clear when he challenges the vicomte to a duel and doubly insults him by besting him in the duel and composing a poem at the same time.
Cyrano is highly intelligent, talented, brave, impetuous, and sensitive. He is more than that: After the duel, we learn that he has no money left. His comment that tossing the bag of gold onto the stage to reimburse the theater manager was a beautiful gesture tells us that the "beau geste" means more to him than bread. He is extremely idealistic and has a very dramatic temperament.
From the discussion about the patron of Montfleury, we learn that all artists are expected to have a patron — one who supports his protégé with money and position. Cyrano has no patron. He stands alone, beholden to no man, independent, unafraid, and unprotected.