In Paris in 1640, a large, boisterous group of city-dwellers attends a bawdy play. At the play is a young, handsome Baron named Christian de Neuvillette. Lately, Christian has become enamored with a beautiful young woman. That night, he learns from a local drunk, Ligniere, that the woman’s name is Roxane. Ligniere explains that Roxane is being pursued by the young, haughty Viscount de Valvert. Valvert is acting on the behalf of the powerful Count de Guiche, a man who’s clearly attracted to Roxane, but who already has a fiancée.
As the play begins, a stranger shouts, “Stop!” and jumps onto the stage. The man, Cyrano de Bergerac, who has an enormous nose, explains that he has banned the play’s principle actor, Montfluery, from ever appearing in a play again. Members of the audience complain that Cyrano is ruining the play, but they fall silent when Cyrano draws his sword. Cyrano’s close friends, Le Bret and Ragueneau, explain that Cyrano is a talented, clever gentleman, and warn their peers not to make fun of Cyrano’s nose. Valvert makes jokes about Cyrano’s nose, and in response, Cyrano challenges Valvert to a duel. During the duel, Cyrano amazes the spectators of the play by composing an elaborate, insulting poem about Valvert on the spot, and he defeats Valvert just as he finishes his rhyme.
Cyrano, who serves as a soldier in the military, learns that Ligniere will be attacked by a vast army of 100 men that night. Cyrano also tells Le Bret and Ragueneau that he’s in love with his cousin, who’s revealed to be Roxane. Cyrano is afraid to confess his feelings, because although he’s brilliant and eloquent, he thinks that his ugly face will surely disgust Roxane. That night, Cyrano receives word that Roxane wants to meet with him the next morning. Excited, Cyrano bravely volunteers to defend Ligniere from his enemies that night.
The next morning, Cyrano goes Ragueneau’s pastry shop, where he’s to meet with Roxane. The previous night, he’s successfully defended Ligniere from 100 soldiers, inspired by his love for Roxane. Roxane arrives at the pastry shop and tells Cyrano that she has a secret to confess: she’s in love with one of Cyrano’s fellow soldiers in the army: Christian. Cyrano is visibly disappointed by this news, but he agrees to protect Christian from danger and find out if Christian loves Roxane in return.
After Roxane leaves, the Count de Guiche enters the pastry shop. Although he greets Cyrano as a friend, Cyrano broodingly ignores de Guiche, deeply offending the Count. Cyrano’s fellow cadets crowd the pastry shop, eager to hear about Cyrano’s fight the previous night. Cyrano notices Christian among the soldiers. Christian, who’s new to the army, tries to prove his bravery by insulting Cyrano’s nose. Furious but unable to take his revenge on Christian, Cyrano asks Christian if he loves Roxane. Christian replies that he does, but admits that he lacks the verbal skills necessary to woo Roxane. Cyrano produces a love letter (which, unbeknownst to Christian, he’s written for Roxane) and tells Christian to give it to Roxane in his own name. Christian gratefully accepts the letter, not realizing that Cyrano loves Roxane. Together, Cyrano and Christian plan to seduce Roxane, with Christian serving as the “face” of the operation and Cyrano supplying the eloquent words.
A few weeks later, Christian has successfully wooed Roxane, sending her letters composed by Cyrano. The time has come for Christian to meet Roxane face-to-face. When Christian first speaks to Roxane, he’s so tongue-tied that Roxane is deeply disappointed—because of Cyrano’s letters, she’d been expecting a genius. Humiliated, Christian runs away. Next, Roxane crosses paths with the Count de Guiche, who’s still madly in love with her. De Guiche begs Roxane for the chance to see her later that night—he explains that he’s being shipped out to fight in Arras soon. Knowing that if de Guiche is sent to fight, Christian and the other soldiers will have to go with him, Roxane tells de Guiche to see her later that night.
Later in the night, Christian and Cyrano go to Roxane’s house to woo her. Roxane, standing at her window, is at first reluctant to speak any further to Christian. But Cyrano, imitating Christian’s voice, succeeds in impressing her, with Roxane unaware that the man she’s listening to is her cousin, not Christian. Roxane is so overcome with love for “Christian” that she tells him to come into her house so that they can embrace one another. Meanwhile, a Monk walks to Roxane’s house on behalf of Count de Guiche. Roxane cleverly tricks the Monk into marrying her to Christian on the spot. By the time the Count arrives at Roxane’s home, she’s married to Christian. Furious, de Guiche vows to have Cyrano and Christian shipped to the front lines in the Siege of Arras. Before Cyrano and Christian are shipped off to fight, Roxane makes Cyrano promise to make sure Christian writes to her often.
At the Siege of Arras, there is a horrible famine, and Christian senses that he’s starving. Cyrano writes long, romantic letters to Roxane, always signing them with Christian’s name. One day, the Count de Guiche arrives at the soldiers’ camp and announces that a battle is about to take place. Suddenly, Roxane arrives at the camp. She explains that she’s become so overcome with love for Christian—thanks to Cyrano’s letters—that she felt compelled to come see him. Roxane explains that she’s fallen in love with “Christian’s” eloquence and wit—at this point, she doesn’t care what he looks like. Christian secretly finds this disturbing, since it means that Roxane is actually in love with Cyrano.
As the battle is about to begin, Cyrano gives Christian one last letter to give Roxane, in case he’s killed. Christian begins to realize the truth: Cyrano loves Roxane just as much as he does. Christian insists that Cyrano must tell Roxane the truth. Just as Cyrano is about to admit his feelings to Roxane, though, there’s a shot: Christian falls dead, the first casualty of the battle. Cyrano realizes that he can never tell Roxane how he feels. After Christian’s death, Roxane goes to live in a convent and mourn her dead husband.
Fifteen years later, Cyrano has become a lonely, unpopular man. His aggressive manner and penchant for fighting has made him dozens of enemies. Every week, he goes to visit Roxane at her convent, but he never admits that he loves her.
One day, de Guiche—now a powerful Duke—comes to visit Roxane at her convent. He warns Le Bret and Ragueneau, Cyrano’s last remaining friends, that someone is about to ambush Cyrano by dropping a heavy weight on his head, and they run off to alert him. Shortly afterward, Cyrano shows up at the convent, his hat pulled low over his head. Cyrano and Roxane talk about their lives, and reminisce about Christian. Roxane produces the letter Christian wrote her, and Cyrano begins quoting the letter from memory. Roxane realizes that Cyrano was the one who wrote Christian’s letters.
Suddenly, Le Bret and Ragueneau rush back—they were too late. Cyrano takes off his hat, revealing a heavy bandage: he’s already been attacked, and is slowly dying of his wounds. Tearfully, Roxane, Ragueneau, and Le Bret rest Cyrano on the ground. Moments from death, Cyrano tells Roxane that he’s always loved her. Roxane, weeping, tells Cyrano that she’ll always remember him, just as she’s remembered Christian ever since his death. With his final breaths, Cyrano claims that there’s one thing he’ll take with him to heaven when he dies: his “panache.”