Cyrano De Bergerac

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Appearances and Identity Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Appearances and Identity Theme Icon
The Many Kinds of Love Theme Icon
Panache Theme Icon
Social Hierarchy and the Romantic Ideal Theme Icon
Loyalty and Honor Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Cyrano De Bergerac, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Appearances and Identity Theme Icon

From the first scene of Act 1—in which patrons gather in a theater to watch a play-within-the-play—it’s clear that Cyrano de Bergerac is a play about acting, appearances, and illusions. In the course of its five acts, Rostand offers some surprising ideas about the philosophy of appearances, which challenge and sometimes flatly contradict the cliché that “true beauty comes from within.”

Part of the conceit of Cyrano de Bergerac is that Christian de Neuvillette, in spite of his handsome face, is ill-equipped to woo the beautiful Roxane, because he’s not particularly bright: one could say that “deep down” he’s less attractive than his face would suggest. It’s only with the help of Cyrano de Bergerac, an ugly, big-nosed man with a sharp wit and a talent for eloquent turns of phrase, that Christian succeeds in wooing Roxane. Cyrano, secretly in love with Roxane himself, sends her letters in Christian’s name, and even speaks for Christian. By themselves, neither Christian nor Cyrano could woo Roxane—one is too ugly, and the other is too foolish. Only the combination of Christian’s face and Cyrano’s words can do the trick.

At times, Cyrano suggests that words and ideas are a better expression of one’s true nature than are physical appearances. Roxane’s love for Cyrano’s letters seems more “real” than her attraction to Christian’s face, because the former comes dressed in beautiful language, while the latter is only skin-deep. When Cyrano speaks to Roxane, pretending to be Christian, his voice is hesitant at first, but as his words become more passionate, his voice grows more comfortable. The overall impression is that Cyrano is expressing his real feelings for Roxane, displaying a wise and sensitive soul with which the shallow Christian could never compete.

And yet the play also implies that on a certain level, one’s words are no more “real” than one’s face. At other points in the play, Rostand makes it very clear than Cyrano’s words are another kind of performance. Cyrano uses poetry and witty insults to construct an image of himself as a proud, aggressive, and intimidating man. He even composes poetry while dueling with an enemy, the Viscount Valvert, in front of a big crowd of onlookers—a clear sign of the way he uses words and outward appearances as weapons. The inadequacy of language—the fact that words, even at their best, only “seem”—is clear during the course of Cyrano and Christian’s seduction of Roxane. Cyrano’s words can be manipulated and misattributed. As a result, Cyrano and Christian craft a third, fictitious human being—blessed with Christian’s face and Cyrano’s voice—who appears to exist, but doesn’t.

In the end, then, Cyrano sets up a problem that’s familiar to anyone who’s ever been involved in putting on a play: how can outward appearances, such as faces, mannerisms, gestures, words, and speeches, possibly convey who a person “truly” is? At times, it’s suggested that some outward appearances—like Cyrano’s letters and speeches—can convey a sense of a person’s true personality, their “inner life.” And yet Rostand also advances a more radical possibility: outward appearances are humans’ true personality. Nowhere is this clearer than in the final moments of the play, during which the dying Cyrano tells Roxane that his defining trait—the one thing that separates him from all other people—is his “panache”: i.e., his daring, his style, his appearance of energy. Like everyone else, Cyrano has an inner life, with his own secrets, hidden desires, etc. And yet his actions—that is, his many performances and appearances—are what truly define him.

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Appearances and Identity Quotes in Cyrano De Bergerac

Below you will find the important quotes in Cyrano De Bergerac related to the theme of Appearances and Identity.
Act 1, Scene 2 Quotes

He's prouder than all the fierce Artabans of whom Gascony
has ever been and will ever be the prolific Alma Mater! Above his Toby ruff
he carries a nose!--ah, good my lords, what a nose is his! When one sees it
one is fain to cry aloud, 'Nay! 'tis too much! He plays a joke on us!' Then
one laughs, says 'He will anon take it off.' But no!--Monsieur de Bergerac
always keeps it on.

Related Characters: Ragueneau (speaker), Cyrano de Bergerac
Related Symbols: Cyrano’s Nose
Page Number: 28
Explanation and Analysis:

In this section, Ragueneau, a popular tavern-keeper, explains a few things about his friend, Cyrano de Bergerac. Cyrano, we're told, is an intensely proud person. He also has an enormous nose--so enormous that it looks like a prop for a party.

Ragueneau establishes the two key facts about Cyrano: 1) he's proud, and 2) he's got a huge nose. As we'll see very soon, these two facts are really one and the same: in other words, Cyrano is proud because he was born with a large nose. Cyrano has always had to defend his honor from bullies and wisecrackers. Although his nose could be considered an embarrassing debility, Cyrano has learned to "wear" his nose with pride, defending his honor against anyone foolish enough to poke fun at him.


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LIGNIERE (tasting his rivesalte in sips):
Magdalene Robin--Roxane, so called! A subtle wit--a precieuse.

Woe is me!

Related Characters: Baron Christian de Neuvillette (speaker), Ligniere (speaker), Magdalene Robin / Roxane
Page Number: 29
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, we're introduced to the potential relationship between Christian and Roxane. Christian is a young, handsome man--so handsome that few women can resist his face. And yet Christian isn't very bright; specifically, he gets tongue-tied very easily. As a result, Christian is devastated when he finds out that Roxane, the young woman he loves, has a "subtle wit"--Christian hasn't got much wit at all.

The passage sets up the central problem of the play: the inability of either Christian or Cyrano to woo the beautiful Roxane. Cyrano has a big nose, and Christian has an awkward tongue; however, by "pooling their talent," Christian and Cyrano find a way to woo Roxane together, fooling her into believing that she's come across a man who is both brilliant and beautiful.

Act 1, Scene 4 Quotes

'Tis enormous!
Old Flathead, empty-headed meddler, know
That I am proud possessing such appendice.
'Tis well known, a big nose is indicative
Of a soul affable, and kind, and courteous,
Liberal, brave, just like myself, and such
As you can never dare to dream yourself,
Rascal contemptible!

Related Characters: Cyrano de Bergerac (speaker), The Bore
Related Symbols: Cyrano’s Nose
Page Number: 49
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Cyrano quarrels with a "Bore"--a stranger who foolishly makes fun of Cyrano for his nose. Cyrano responds by boasting of his nose: he claims that his nose is proof of his good character and brave heart.

Cyrano's response to the Bore is a strategy that should be familiar to anyone who's ever had to fight off a group of bullies. Instead of pushing back when the Bore points out his nose, Cyrano agrees that he has a big nose, but then turns the tables to argue that his big nose is an asset, not a debility. In a way, Cyrano is right--over the course of a lifetime, he has trained himself to be brave and proud, in order to compensate for his ugly appearance. Furthermore, he is able to turn the mockery around on the Bore because of his "panache"--his carefully cultivated wit and flamboyance.

Sir, your nose is. . . hmm. . . it is. . . very big!

CYRANO (gravely):

THE VISCOUNT (laughing):

CYRANO (imperturbably):
Is that all?. . .

What do you mean?

Ah no! young blade! That was a trifle short!
You might have said at least a hundred things
By varying the tone.

Related Characters: Cyrano de Bergerac (speaker), Viscount de Valvert (speaker)
Related Symbols: Cyrano’s Nose
Page Number: 50-51
Explanation and Analysis:

In this famous scene, the Viscount de Valvert tries to insult Cyrano in the least creative way imaginable. Instead of thinking up an elaborate metaphor or pun about Cyrano's large nose, Valvert goes right for the throat, and calls the nose ... "very big." Cyrano responds with mock disgust, asking the Viscount why he didn't try for a more elaborate insult. (He then proceeds to list some of the cleverer ways the Viscount could have insulted him.)

Cyrano's behavior in this passage is a classic example of self-deprecating humor. Instead of fighting back against the Viscount's insult, Cyrano ingeniously takes the wind out of his enemy's sails, doing a far better job of insulting himself than the Viscount could ever manage. Although Cyrano is talented with the sword, his greatest asset is his mind, not his bravery. With words, Cyrano "wounds" the Viscount more deeply than sword ever could, implying that the Viscount is a fool who can barely string a sentence together.

Act 1, Scene 5 Quotes

These fops, would-be belligerent,
Will, if you heed them only, turn your head!. . .
Ask people of good sense if you would know
The effect of your fine insolence--

CYRANO (finishing his macaroon):

The Cardinal. . .

CYRANO (radiant):
The Cardinal--was there?

Related Characters: Cyrano de Bergerac (speaker), Le Bret (speaker)
Page Number: 61
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Le Bret warns Cyrano that his quarrelsome attitude is making him more enemies than friends. Le Bret reminds Cyrano of his behavior the previous night, when he fought a duel in front of a large crowd of people. According to Le Bret, Cardinal Richelieu (in real life, the most powerful man in France at the time), was present for the duel--in other words, Cyrano might be alienating some powerful, influential people by defending his honor.

Le Bret's warning to Cyrano foreshadows the final act of the play, in which Cyrano's reckless behavior finally catches up to him. But for now, Cyrano rejects Le Bret's warnings. For Cyrano, the highest good is his own honor and fame--therefore, whenever anyone attacks his appearance, Cyrano must defend himself, either verbally or militarily, and he even takes delight in performing for powerful people (whether they might be offended or not).

Act 2, Scene 1 Quotes

Before you were the sworn comrade of all that crew, my friend, you did not
call your wife ant and Bacchante!

To turn fair verse to such a use!

'Faith, 'tis all it's good for.

Pray then, madam, to what use would you degrade prose?

Related Characters: Ragueneau (speaker), Lise (speaker)
Page Number: 76-77
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Ragueneau quarrels with his wife, Lise, about his practices as a store owner. Ragueneau has a soft spot for poetry and prose--as a result, he'll sometimes allow his literarily-minded customers to eat for free, provided that they can compose something for him in exchange.

Ragueneau's behavior is indicative of the Romantic ideal of the 19th century, when Rostand was writing his plays. Ragueneau is, above all, not a practical person--even if allowing people to eat for free is really bad business, Ragueneau values the world of ideas, feelings, and beautiful words more highly than the world of money. Much like Cyrano, Ragueneau is willing to live recklessly and romantically because of the strength of his ideals.

Act 2, Scene 4 Quotes

CYRANO (who has been watching, goes toward Ragueneau):
Lulled by your voice, did you see how they were stuffing themselves?

RAGUENEAU (in a low voice, smiling):
Oh, ay! I see well enough, but I never will seem to look, fearing to
distress them; thus I gain a double pleasure when I recite to them my poems;
for I leave those poor fellows who have not breakfasted free to eat, even
while I gratify my own dearest foible, see you?

CYRANO (clapping him on the shoulder):
Friend, I like you right well!. . .

Related Characters: Cyrano de Bergerac (speaker), Ragueneau (speaker)
Page Number: 86-87
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Cyrano and Ragueneau bond over their common interest in poetry and art. Ragueneau is a popular tavern owner, but he’s not much of a businessman: he allows his patrons to eat for free if they’ll listen to his poetry. Cyrano’s reaction to Ragueneau’s situation is intriguing. He suggests that Ragueneau’s patrons are just taking advantage of him; i.e., they’re not really interested in listening to some tavern owner’s poetry, but just want the free food.

Cyrano’s observations about Ragueneau are important because Ragueneau’s situation parallels his own. Like Cyrano, Ragueneau’s commitment to poetry and romantic ideals lead him to throw away substantive sums of money. Ironically, Cyrano is capable of noticing the flaws in Rageneau’s behavior, but not his own. And at the end of the conversation, Cyrano confirms that he and Ragueneau really are guilty of the same tragic flaw: in spite of his objections, Cyrano admires anyone who savors poetry and performance, especially at the expense of worldly goods.

Act 3, Scene 4 Quotes

And how know you I cannot speak?--
I am not such a fool when all is said!
I've by your lessons profited. You'll see
I shall know how to speak alone! The devil!
I know at least to clasp her in my arms!
(Seeing Roxane come out from Clomire's house):
--It is she! Cyrano, no!--Leave me not!

Related Characters: Baron Christian de Neuvillette (speaker), Cyrano de Bergerac , Magdalene Robin / Roxane
Page Number: 140
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, Christian shows how awkward and frightened he really is. For a while now, Christian has been sending letters to Roxane. Although the letters have been composed by Cyrano, Christian thinks he’s getting the hang of wooing Roxane, and can manage on his own. Christian brags that he’ll be able to get by without Cyrano’s help—but as soon as he sees Roxane in person, he loses his nerve and begs Cyrano for help.

There’s a strange symbiotic relationship between Christian and Cyrano in the play. Christian is utterly incapable of wooing Roxane on his own—he thinks he can do so, but can’t. Cyrano is equally incapable of wooing his love, as his nose gets in the way (or so he assumes—it's important to note that he never actually tries). Rostand suggests the impossibilities of romance here. It’s impossible to find the “perfect man” who can win Roxane; indeed, the only such “perfect man” in the play is a fiction, a combination of Christian’s appearance and Cyrano’s brain.

Act 3, Scene 6 Quotes

Ay, it is sweet! Half hidden,--half revealed--
You see the dark folds of my shrouding cloak,
And I, the glimmering whiteness of your dress:
I but a shadow--you a radiance fair!
Know you what such a moment holds for me?
If ever I were eloquent. . .

You were!

Yet never till to-night my speech has sprung
Straight from my heart as now it springs.

Related Characters: Cyrano de Bergerac (speaker), Magdalene Robin / Roxane
Page Number: 148
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Cyrano woos Roxane the only way he knows how—eloquently, but sightlessly. Speaking to Roxane as she stands at her balcony (a sly nod to the famous scene from Romeo and Juliet), Cyrano pretends to be Christian, and gives Roxane a beautiful speech, claiming that love is better when it is “half hidden.” Although Roxane thinks that “Christian” is being romantic and poetic, Cyrano’s words are quite literal—the only way he can successfully make Roxane fall in love is by standing far away from her, so that she’s not aware of his ugly appearance.

The irony of Cyrano’s speech is that he claims it’s “straight” from his heart, when in reality the speech is a deception. Cyrano sincerely loves Roxane, and yet the only way he can express his love is by using deception, hiding his feelings behind Christian’s handsome façade. In an imperfect, unfair world, some level of deception is the only way to conduct a love affair.

Act 3, Scene 11 Quotes

CYRANO (in a dreamy voice):
What's o'clock?

He's lost his mind, for sure!

What hour? What country this? What month? What day?

But. . .

I am stupefied!


Like a bomb
I fell from the moon!

Related Characters: Cyrano de Bergerac (speaker), Count de Guiche (speaker)
Page Number: 162
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Cyrano tricks the Count de Guiche. Outside Roxane’s house, Cyrano needs to delay de Guiche for long enough to allow Roxane the time to marry Christian inside. To provide an appropriate diversion, Cyrano conceals his face and pretends to be a madman who believes he’s fallen from the moon. Cyrano’s words aren't just random, however. They're laced with symbolism, since the moon is a famous symbol of romance—one could say that Cyrano is “falling from the moon” as he performs for de Guiche, since in doing so he’s allowing Roxane to marry someone else, dashing his chances of ever ending up with her.

Cyrano’s performance for de Guiche also demonstrates that Cyrano is capable of putting his talents to good use. We already knew that Cyrano was a theatrical, bombastic person, always willing to act for a willing audience. Here, though, we see Cyrano using his talents for the benefit of his friends, rather than for his own vanity.

Act 4, Scene 1 Quotes

To think you risk a life so precious. . . for the sake of a letter. . . Thankless one.
(Seeing him turning to enter the tent):
Where are you going?

I am going to write another.

Related Characters: Cyrano de Bergerac (speaker), Le Bret (speaker), Magdalene Robin / Roxane
Page Number: 176
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, we meet Cyrano on the battlefield. When he's not fighting, Cyrano spends all his time writing beautiful letters to Roxane, which he signs in Christian's name. As soon as Cyrano delivers one letter (risking his life to do so), he goes back to his tent to write another one.

The passage makes us wonder--why does Cyrano compose so many letters to Roxane, if he knows that none of his letters will ever make her fall in love with him (and will actually just make her love Christian more)? Cyrano is a true romantic--he doesn't dwell on the practicality or the long-term consequences of his actions. His love for Roxane is like an unquenchable thirst, and though his letters to Roxane don't make Roxane love him, they do bring him the joy of expressing his feelings.

Act 4, Scene 4 Quotes

CYRANO (without lifting his eyes from his book):
And your white scarf?

DE GUICHE (surprised and gratified):
You know that detail?. . . Troth! It happened thus:
While caracoling to recall the troops
For the third charge, a band of fugitives
Bore me with them, close by the hostile ranks:
I was in peril—capture, sudden death!--
When I thought of the good expedient
To loosen and let fall the scarf which told
My military rank; thus I contrived
--Without attention waked--to leave the foes,
And suddenly returning, reinforced
With my own men, to scatter them! And now,
--What say you, Sir?

Related Characters: Cyrano de Bergerac (speaker), Count de Guiche
Related Symbols: The White Scarf
Page Number: 184-185
Explanation and Analysis:

Cyrano's commander, Count de Guiche, is a cowardly man. In the midst of a battle, de Guiche wears a white scarf that makes it clear to everyone that he's a high-ranking officer. But when the battle gets ugly, de Guiche removes his scarf, afraid that it'll draw attention and make him a target for the enemy. Cyrano is clearly disgusted with de Guiche's combination of arrogance and cowardice--he doesn't even look up from his book as he interrogates his commander.

The white scarf is an important symbol in the play, because it connects to the idea of the white "plume" that is the literal meaning of the word "panache." Cyrano is defined by his panache, and it's later revealed in this same scene that he has risked his life precisely to retrieve de Guiche's scarf and embarrass his commander. Thus Rostand symbolically shows that de Guiche entirely lacks panache—he literally casts it aside when the going gets tough—while Cyrano is willing to risk death to maintain it.

Act 4, Scene 10 Quotes

CYRANO (in despair. to Roxane):
He's gone! 'Tis naught!--Oh, you know how he sees
Importance in a trifle!

ROXANE (warmly):
Did he doubt
Of what I said?--Ah, yes, I saw he doubted!

CYRANO (taking her hand):
But are you sure you told him all the truth?

Yes, I would love him were he. . .

(She hesitates.)

Does that word
Embarrass you before my face, Roxane?

Related Characters: Cyrano de Bergerac (speaker), Magdalene Robin / Roxane (speaker), Baron Christian de Neuvillette
Page Number: 215
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Cyrano comes extremely close to telling Roxane the truth about her love for Christian. Roxane has come to believe that she now loves Christian entirely for his soul, not his face. Cyrano, of course, is moved by this news--if Roxane is capable of loving Christian's soul, then she might be capable of loving Cyrano, in spite of his ugly face. Thus, Cyrano tries to make completely sure that Roxane loves "Christian's" (actually, Cyrano's) soul.

Even Roxane seem to sense the truth in this passage--the way she hesitates before using the word "ugly," clearly in response to the fact that Cyrano is ugly, suggests that she's really speaking about Cyrano himself, not Christian. It's as if Roxane can sense Cyrano's sincere love for her, despite the fact that previously Cyrano has had to "package" his love in Christian's body.

Act 5, Scene 5 Quotes

Things dead, long dead, see! how they rise again!
--Why, why keep silence all these fourteen years,
When, on this letter, which he never wrote,
The tears were your tears?

CYRANO (holding out the letter to her):
The bloodstains were his.

Related Characters: Cyrano de Bergerac (speaker), Magdalene Robin / Roxane (speaker), Baron Christian de Neuvillette
Page Number: 243
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Roxane finally realizes the truth about her love for Christian. Cyrano, who's about to die, reads Roxane the letter that he wrote for her on the day Christian died. As Cyrano reads the letter, Roxane recognizes his voice as the voice of the man who seduced her years before. For the past nearly 15 years, Roxane realizes, she has been in love with a fictional creation: a man with Christian's body and Cyrano's mind.

Cyrano's behavior in this passage reinforces the strict moral code that guides his behavior at all times. Roxane asks Cyrano why Cyrano never came forward with the truth after Christian's death--in other words, why Cyrano never told Roxane that she was mourning a fictional creation. Cyrano explains that he didn't want to stomp on Christian's grave--he refused to ruin the illusion of Roxane's love for Christian.

Cyrano's self-control is remarkable. In spite of the fact that Roxane claimed she could love a man for his soul, not his face, and in spite of the fact that Roxane was no longer married to Christian, Cyrano never once tried to woo Roxane. In part, Cyrano refrained from seducing Roxane because he was too frightened (the only reason he's telling her the truth now is because he's about to die), but in part, Cyrano refrained from seducing Roxane out of respect for word and for his old friend--Cyrano swore an oath to Roxane to honor Christian, and he's obeyed that oath for nearly 15 years.

Act 5, Scene 6 Quotes

That night when 'neath your window Christian spoke
--Under your balcony, you remember? Well!
There was the allegory of my whole life:
I, in the shadow, at the ladder's foot,
While others lightly mount to Love and Fame!
Just! very just!

Related Characters: Cyrano de Bergerac (speaker), Baron Christian de Neuvillette , Magdalene Robin / Roxane
Page Number: 246
Explanation and Analysis:

In the final pages of the play, Cyrano--who's dying--sums up his life. Cyrano has helped Christian woo Roxane by speaking and writing for Christian. Cyrano has, quite literally, been the "brains" of Christian's romance with Roxane. And yet Cyrano has always been denied the rewards of such a romance--he's never been able to express his love for Roxane directly, since at the end of the day, Christian is the handsome one.

Cyrano's complaints of "living in shadow" are both poignant and ironic. While it's true that Cyrano has been relegated to the sidelines during Christian's romance with Roxane, he certainly hasn't spent his "whole life" on the sidelines--on the contrary, he's been in full-view, performing for an audience of thousands. Cyrano is a born showman, who loves to entertain his many fans. Hence the contradiction of Cyrano's life: even though Cyrano is completely comfortable with himself, he's been forced to hide his true identity in the one arena where true identity really matters--love.

Despite you there is yet one thing
I hold against you all, and when, to-night,
I enter Christ's fair courts, and, lowly bowed,
Sweep with doffed casque the heavens' threshold blue,
One thing is left, that, void of stain or smutch,
I bear away despite you.

ROXANE (bending and kissing his forehead):
'Tis?. . .

CYRANO (opening his eyes, recognizing her, and smiling):
My panache.

Related Characters: Cyrano de Bergerac (speaker), Magdalene Robin / Roxane (speaker)
Page Number: 250
Explanation and Analysis:

At the very end of the play, Cyrano dies--the victim of a mysterious attack. Over the years, Cyrano's arrogance and pride have made him many enemies--he's fought and won so many duels that everyone who doesn't love him despises him. Eventually, Cyrano's combative nature catches up to him, and he's killed as an act of revenge.

And yet Cyrano doesn't regret the life he's lived, despite the fact that he's "failed" in love (for all practical purposes) and his lifestyle has brought him to an untimely death. On the contrary, he glorifies his own panache--i.e., the pride, daring, and cavalier manner for which he's famous. Cyrano is, in other words, a true Romantic hero: although his inborn nature has brought him a lot of danger and sadness, he's always refused to live any other way. Cyrano is so confident in his ideals--the ideals of bravery, wit, and honor--that he's spent a lifetime defending them. Like any good Romantic hero, Cyrano dies young, but his reputation lives on after him: we, the audience members, continue to honor Cyrano's panache more than a hundred years after the play was written--as even the word "panache" was popularized by Rostand and his famous character.