Summary and Analysis
Act I — Scenes 2-3
Christian is introduced in Scene 2 by the poet, Lignière. The poet/baker, Ragueneau, enters dressed in his Sunday best, and talks with Lignière. He asks about Cyrano, who has forbidden Montfleury to act, but who has not yet appeared. Ragueneau describes Cyrano's nose as well as his reputation as a swordsman. When Roxane enters the theater, Lignière tells Christian, who has fallen in love with her without knowing her identity, who the lady is. He also tells Christian that De Guiche, who is married to Richelieu's niece and is very powerful, wants Roxane to marry a complaisant courtier, Valvert, so that De Guiche can make her his own mistress. In Lignière's opinion, Christian hasn't a chance with the lady.
After Lignière leaves the theater, Christian learns from a pickpocket that Lignière has written a poem that has offended some powerful person. This highly placed man plans to have the poet killed and has hired a hundred armed men to waylay Lignière on his way home. Christian goes off to find Lignière and warn him.
Montfleury goes onto the stage and begins his first speech, the prologue of the play, but he is interrupted by the voice of Cyrano telling him to stop. He makes several attempts to continue his speech, but is interrupted by Cyrano each time.
It may seem that nothing much happens during the first three scenes. People wander in and out, we are given snatches of conversations, and in Scenes 2 and 3 Christian and Lignière come and go, as does Ragueneau. Actually, these characters are giving us information that we will need later in order to understand the play.
As in Scene 1, there is a variety of characters introduced. The marquis who comments that Christian is handsome enough, but not really in the latest fashion, is an excellent example of the précieuse attitude (an attitude, prevalent in seventeenth-century France, that what a person appeared to be was more important than what he really was). Our knowledge of the marquis — he is vain, and affected in language, manners, and dress — will help us to understand that of Roxane, since she is also one of the précieuse.
We are told of the political climate in France and of the worsening relationship with Spain, which prepares us for the later mention of the forthcoming battle of Arras. Duels were fought then, and we discover that an insult in a poem was sufficient cause for murder. We may rightly assume that the theater is important since members of the Academy are present. (The French Academy is composed of very distinguished intellectuals who are, among other duties, the arbiters of the French language. Their rank is higher than any other in France today — for purposes of seating arrangements at official dinners, for example — though the Academy has lost much of its former prestige.)
By the end of Scene 3, we have been introduced to the three men who are in love with Roxane, and their characters have been explained. Christian is an "honest, brave soldier" who fears that he will not have the words to win her. De Guiche is powerful and arrogant. Cyrano is a noble, brave man, "an exquisite being."
Roxane is introduced as well, and so we have the conflict of the play: De Guiche's interest in Roxane, Christian's love for her, and Cyrano's love for Roxane.
It might, perhaps, be worthy of mention here that Rostand represented most of his characters who have historical counterparts according to the generally reputed personality of the character. Montfleury's obesity was satirized by both Moliere and the historical Cyrano, and Lignière refers to him as a "hippopotamus."
The groundwork for the events that occur toward the end of Act I is laid in the knowledge that Lignière is in danger. We are also prepared for Cyrano's appearance: He has a huge nose that no one dares mention to him, even by implication. The interest shown in him arouses our own interest and curiosity. If such a character had appeared without preparation, he might well have seemed merely ridiculous. In other words, we are now prepared for the delightful events in Scene 4.