Edmond Rostand Biography
Edmond Rostand was born in Marseilles, France, on April 1, 1868. When he was twenty-two years old, he married the poet, Rosemond Gerard, and presented his first book, a volume of poems, to her as a wedding gift.
His first play, Les Romanesques, which concerned two young lovers, appeared four years later. And the next year, 1895, La Princesse Lointaine, was produced. It was the story of the Provencal poet, Rudel. Rostand's next play was La Samaritaine, written for the popular French actress, Sarah Bernhardt. Most critics did not like it because one of the characters — and a minor one, at that — was Christ.
Cyrano de Bergerac made its first appearance in 1897 with the actor, Coquelin, in the title role and was presented for 500 consecutive performances. It was the most popular play of the era, and since its first performance there has hardly been a time when it was not in production somewhere in the world. For, although the play is typically French, it is highly popular in other countries, even when it is translated poorly or cut unmercifully.
Rostand's next play, L'Aiglon, was about Napoleon's heir. It was too French for foreign audiences, who did not always revere Napoleon as much as did the French, and even in France it was never as popular as Cyrano. After its production, Rostand retired to the country for ten years to write Chantecler. It received some acclaim, but Paris audiences did not like it nearly as well as they had Cyrano.
Rostand was elected to the French Academy at the age of thirty-three, the youngest member at that time. After the production of Chantecler, he was raised to Commander of the Legion of Honor and received a "Grand Diploma."
When World War I began, Rostand volunteered for service, but was refused. He consoled himself by writing patriotic poetry. One poem, praising America, was dedicated to Sarah Bernhardt, and another was occasioned by the sinking of the Lusitania.
Rostand was never robust, his health being one reason that he retired to the country, and he died in Paris on December 2, 1918. He left one drama, La Derniere Nuit de Don Juan, with an unfinished prologue, which further illustrated his idea of the unattainable ideal being more desirable than the real or practical.
In the dedication to Cyrano de Bergerac, Rostand says that he would like to dedicate the play to the spirit of Cyrano, but since that has passed on to Coquelin, the actor, he dedicates it to Coquelin. Because the actor who plays Cyrano is so very crucial to the success of the play — all the other characters are merely supporting roles — it is fortunate that an actor whom the author considered perfect for the role was able to introduce it.