What' the Deal with Cyrano's Nose
In nineteenth-century France, a young playwright named Edmond Rostand romanticized the life of the minor author and historical figure called Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac with his play Cyrano de Bergerac.The setting is seventeenth-century Paris, France. During this time, France had what was known as the Preciosity movement, and the movement was an effort by men and women of that time to change the French culture to one of virtue and mind over the “vulgarity” of the culture before. Vulgarity was anything from spitting wine on a woman’s bosom to assaulting a person with a leg of meat.Cyrano de Bergerac primarily focuses on the love triangle between its main characters Cyrano, Roxane, and Christian.
Because of the contrast between the appearance of the characters and their actual intelligence, Cyrano de Bergerac criticizes society’s hypocrisy and superficiality. In the play Cyrano de Bergerac, the character Christian symbolizes the hypocrisy of the society in which he lives when his behavior is coupled with cultural values of the setting’s time period, 1640 to 1655.This time frame places the characters of the play in the era of Preciosity where a sharp mind and eloquent speech were the most desired qualities in a person (Kerr 7).Further, Edmond Rostand uses the exact term “precieuse” several times in the play (Connor xxv).In addition, the playwright purposely sets the entire Second Act of the play in Ragueneau’s bake shop and eatery, where poets meet to write.
Rostand’s choice of setting is important because it puts the focus of the audience on the arts, intellect, and eloquence.Because Rostand places great emphasis on the Second Act’s setting, it shows how important the intellect is to Cyrano’s community.Mr. Ragueneau himself forgoes profit and gives free food to poets who will write poetry for him (Rostand 55; 2.4).
All this underscores the importance of intellect to the society. These aspects of the setting help set Christian up as a symbol of hypocrisy because they serve as a reference point that highlights the severe difference in treatment between him and Cyrano. Roxane is symbolic of the duplicity of the society in which she lives.Christian describes Roxane as a precieuse (Rostand 75; 2.10). As a precieuse, she is supposed to value inner beauty and intelligence the most.
However, the audience discovers her hypocrisy when she meets with her cousin Cyrano at Ragueneau’s bakeshop. Here, she tells Cyrano she is in love with Christian.When describing him, Roxane tells Cyrano that Christian, “bears plain upon his forehead the stamp of wit, of genius! He is proud, noble, young, brave, handsome…” (Rostand 58; 2.5). Cyrano then asks if she has spoken with Christian.
Roxane replies that she has never had a single conversation with him.Cyrano logically inquires how can she know if Christian is witty when she has never spoken to him.Roxane responds stubbornly, “No!No! …
I can see at a single glance, his utterances are fine, pointed” (Rostand 59; 2.6).When she says this, Roxanne admits she extrapolates Christian’s intelligence from his beauty.Her assumption proves that Roxane is not only superficial but also judges a person’s intelligence on outward appearance. In reality, Christian does not possess one iota of cleverness.He even describes himself as a dunce (Rostand 75; 2.
10). When left to his own devices, Christian is only capable of bluntly and ineloquently telling Roxane of his love (Hall 1). Christian showcases his simple mind when he, “utters his bald I love you!” (Hall 1).He bungles his declaration so badly, by being blunt, that an unimpressed Roxane tells him to go away (Rostand 88; 3.5). Eventually, Cyrano has to take over.
Cyrano tries to improve the situation by feeding Christian his lines from a hiding place.However, Christian cannot even recite someone else’s poetry to woo Roxane. Thus, Cyrano talks to Roxane for Christian in the dark of night under her balcony, so Christian can successfully woo Roxane.She does not notice a difference and assumes that Christian is still the one speaking to her. Roxane is too shallow to have suspicions about the changes in Christian’s speech. At this moment, Christian is a symbol of his society’s duplicity.
Cyrano, despite being the personification of wit and intelligence, he is still seen as unfavorable due to his lacking visage.In contrast to Christian, Rostand establishes Cyrano as having an ugly face but an unmatchable wit. During the first act, a man named Vicomte Valvert insults Cyrano’s nose.With an outstanding display of mental acrobatics, Cyrano responds with a plethora of superior insults that the Vicomte could have used. The exchange escalates into a duel.Cyrano’s verbal and mental dexterity is so incredible that he composes a ballade of four stanzas with eight lines per stanza promising, “I will with the same breath compose one and at the last line, I will hit you” (Rostand 32; 1.
4).Incredibly, Cyrano’s word strokes match his sword strokes.This event clearly conveys to the audience that Cyrano possesses, to an astonishing degree, the nimble mind his society claims to esteem most.Further, Roxane is conscious of Cyrano’s towering intellect and bravery. This understanding makes her actions in the play more contemptible.
Roxane displays an awareness of her hypocrisy in the way she treats Cyrano.She uses Cyrano as a tool despite how mentally attractive he should be to her if the primary trait she desires in a suitor is someone who can turn a phrase.In Ragueneau’s bakeshop, Roxane tells Cyrano, ROXANEA poor boy who until now has loved me timidly, from a distance without daring to speak… And cousin, is it no a strange coincidence-that he should serve in your regiment!… Ah, it was because someone yesterday let death into my soul by telling that in your company you are all Gascons,…all!.
.. Yes, and you can imagine how distractedI am for him!…
But I thought, yesterday, when you towered up, great and invincible, giving his due to the miscreant, standing your ground against those caitiffs, I thought “Were he but willing, he of whom all are in awe…”… Ah, you will… protect him for me?… I always felt for you the tenderest regard!…
You will be his friend?… And never shall he have to fight a duel? (Rostand 58-60; 2.6) At this moment, Roxane is speaking to Cyrano to convince him to protect Christian.
She has no regard for safety of Cyrano, and Roxane only pays homage to bravery and altruism of Cyrano to flatter him into doing something for her.Roxane only judges Christian on his good looks, and she never considers that Christian could be ineloquent because of his gorgeous exterior.The fact is that Roxane only makes assumptions about others and never tries to explore people deeper.However, she claims to value the mind above all else.The words and deeds of Roxane are what make her another allegory for the theme of hypocrisy in the play Cyrano De Bergerac by Edmond Rostand.
Similarly, Cyrano’s nose is an image that Rostand uses to illustrate the hypocrisy and superficiality of other characters in the play. The large nose of Cyrano is constantly ridiculed by others, even though they are often in awe of his talent and bravery.Even Christian insults Cyrano’s nose upon first meeting him: CYRANO My adventure? Well, then, I was marching to meet them. The moon up in the skies was shining like a silver watch, when suddenly I know not what careful watch-maker having wrapped it in a cottony cloud, there occurred the blackest imaginable night; and, and the streets being nowise lighted, -mordious!- you could see no further than… CHRISTIAN Your nose. CYRANO Ah, very well….
I…. Very well.As I was saying…. Mordious!… one could not see in the very least.And I was walking along, reflecting that for a very insignificant rouge I was probably about to offend some great prince who would bear me a lasting grudge, that, in brief, I was about to thrust my… CHRISTIAN Nose… CYRANO Finger…. Between the tree and the bark; for the aforesaid prince might be of sufficient power to trip me and throw me… CHRISTIAN On my nose… CYRANO But, said I, “Gascony forward! Never falter when duty prompts! Forward, Cyrano!” and, saying this, I advance – when suddenly, in the darkness I barely avoid a blow… CHRISTIAN Upon the nose… CYRANO I ward it….
And thereupon find myself… CHRISTIAN Nose to nose… CYRANO Ventre-Saint-Gris!… with a hundred drunken brawlers, smelling CHRISTIAN To the nose’s limit… CYRANO … of garlic and of grease. I leap forward, head lowered… CHRISTIAN Nose to the wind… (Rostand 72-73; 2.9) From this passage, one can see how the people around Cyrano judge him on his appearance through the many digs Christian makes. Additionally, the audience witnesses Cyrano’s personal insecurity about his looks when he thinks a man stares at his nose: CYRANOFace about, I say … or else, tell me why you are looking at my nose. THE BOREI… CYRANOIn what is it unusual? THE BOREYour worship is mistaken CYRANOIs it flabby and pendulous, like a proboscis? THE BOREI never said CYRANOOr hooked like a hawk’s beak? THE BOREI … CYRANODo you discern a mole upon the tip? THE BOREBut … CYRANOOr is a fly disporting himself thereon? What is there wonderful about it? THE BOREOh … CYRANOIs it a freak of nature? THE BOREBut I had refrained from casting so much as a glance at it! (Rostand 27; 1.
4) It is odd that Cyrano naturally assumes that anyone looking at him is looking at his nose and making fun of it.Cyrano would not assume that the man is insulting him unless he felt inferior because of his nose, and Cyrano would not feel inferior, in the first place, if the people of his community valued intelligence as much as they claim to. The inferiority Cyrano feels represents Rostands critique on the gap between a societies values and the actions of its people.Even when Cyrano is dying, he still has a complex about his nose due to a lifetime of jeering.He obviously feels inferior to all other members of society despite his towering intellect and a big heart.
If his society were faithful to their values, this would not happen. Cyrano would not feel this way: ROXANEI have hurt you … I have wrecked your life, I! … I! CYRANOYou? … The reverse! Woman’s sweetness I had never known. My mother … thought me unflattering. I had no sister. Later, I shunned Love’s cross-road in fear of mocking eyes.
To you I owe having had, at least, among the gentle and fair, a friend. Thanks to you there has passed across my life the rustle of woman’s gown. (Rostand 158; 5.6) Here, the brave Cyrano finally admits defeat with his lifelong battle against his appearance versus his intellect (Smith 1). Once again, Cyrano shows that he has an inferiority complex about his nose.The audience can see how deep these feelings are when the dying words of Cyrano state that no one, even his own mother, ever loved him from his cradle to his grave due to his nose.
Cyrano is directly acknowledging his society’s hypocrisy when he states that despite all his intellectual brilliance society still stereotypes because of his appearance. Edmond Rostand uses the stark differences in appearance and intelligence of the main characters in Cyrano de Bergerac to make the task of exposing the hypocrisy of seventeenth-century France easy to discern. Throughout the play, Cyrano demonstrates the qualities most prized by the precieuses of his time. Cyrano is the one, not Christian, who “bears plain upon his forehead the stamp of wit, of genius!” (Rostand 58; 2.5). Cyrano is proud, noble, and brave, not Christian.However, this does him no good.The fact is that his nose overshadows his many virtues, and this proves his society ignores their lofty intellectual values.In Cyrano de Bergerac Rostand deliberately uses the actions of those around Cyrano to critizice the duplicity of society.