Cyrano De Bergerac

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Social Hierarchy and the Romantic Ideal 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.
Social Hierarchy and the Romantic Ideal Theme Icon

Although Cyrano de Bergerac takes place in the 17th century, it was written at the end of the 19th century, and Rostand looks back on 200-year-old French society with a mixture of admiration and disdain. One of the most foreign aspects of life in 17th century France—almost as strange to Rostand as it is to us—is the prevalence of a strict social hierarchy, one rooted in religion and the landed aristocracy.

Especially in the first half of Cyrano de Bergerac, Rostand carefully paints a picture of the social pyramid in France. At the top of the pyramid are kings and cardinals. While neither appears directly in the play, the powerful characters who do appear in the play like to cite their close relationships with those at the top of the pyramid. For example, the Count de Guiche orchestrates most of his plots using his close ties to Cardinal Richelieu, his uncle (not to mention the most powerful man in France in the early 1700s). On the lower levels of the pyramid, then, characters like the Count assert their power over their inferiors through militarism. The Count commands a vast number of soldiers, and some of these soldiers, such as Cyrano himself, have their own subordinates, who are mere cadets. The law of French society is simple: obey one’s superiors at all costs.

In no small part, Cyrano is the hero of his own play because he refuses to “play along” with the laws of 17th century society—he’s a 19th century man living 200 years before his time. Cyrano reverses the social pyramid, befriending those who are “beneath” him, and showing blatant contempt for those, like de Guiche, who are above him. In many ways, Cyrano embodies the values of the Romantic era, the cultural movement that dominated European art and literature for most of the 19th century. Like a Romantic hero, Cyrano rejects the antiquated authority of the church and the monarchy. Instead of accepting his place in the hierarchy—dependent on those above him, tyrannical to those below—Cyrano instead opts for a rugged independence, arguably the quintessential Romantic trait. Almost fanatically sure of the power of art to nourish the soul, Cyrano claims that he can survive on poetry instead of food—a line that wouldn’t be out of place in a Romantic poem by Percy Shelley.

The downside of opting out of the social hierarchy, of course, is that it’s hard to eat only poetry. At the beginning of the play, Cyrano has some access to money, but as time goes on, and he becomes more and more Romantic and ruggedly independent, he alienates almost everyone around him. As a result, Cyrano is forced to go hungry for days and live in cruel poverty. In the end, Cyrano’s Romanticism kills him—because he doesn’t play along with social norms, his enemies murder him (and it’s implied that this enemy might be the Count himself). Yet this is a fitting ending—arguably the only fitting ending—for a Romantic hero living in immoral times. As a rugged, independent hero, Cyrano cannot survive for very long. His life outside the hierarchy is meteoric—brief but spectacular.

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Social Hierarchy and the Romantic Ideal Quotes in Cyrano De Bergerac

Below you will find the important quotes in Cyrano De Bergerac related to the theme of Social Hierarchy and the Romantic Ideal.
Act 1, Scene 4 Quotes

Paternal bounty, in a day, thou'rt sped!

How live the next month?. . .

I have nothing left.

Related Characters: Cyrano de Bergerac (speaker), Le Bret (speaker)
Page Number: 59
Explanation and Analysis:

At this early stage in the play, Cyrano is a young, popular man, who lavishes money on his friends and well-wishers. And yet as the scene draws to a close, it becomes clear that Cyrano isn't just generous with his money--he's actually reckless, to the point where he's often without the funds to pay for food or shelter. Cyrano's friend, Le Bret, asks Cyrano how he plans to live without any money, and Cyrano doesn't really have a good answer.

Cyrano's devil-may-care attitude toward spending money confirms that he's a born performer. Like any good actor, Cyrano knows how to lose himself in the moment: whether he's fighting a duel in front of a crowd of supporters or throwing away a bag of gold to prove a point (as he's just done), Cyrano doesn't think about the consequences of his actions. For now, Cyrano finds that he can live a cavalier, reckless lifestyle. By the time the play is over, though, Cyrano's combativeness and reckless spending will have caught up with him. The passage foreshadows the dark days ahead for Cyrano--soon enough, he truly will have nothing left.


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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 2, Scene 8 Quotes

Well, what if it be my vice,
My pleasure to displease--to love men hate me!
Ah, friend of mine, believe me, I march better
'Neath the cross-fire of glances inimical!
How droll the stains one sees on fine-laced doublets,
From gall of envy, or the poltroon's drivel!

Related Characters: Cyrano de Bergerac (speaker), Le Bret
Page Number: 112
Explanation and Analysis:

Cyrano and his friend Le Bret have a conversation about Cyrano’s “vice”—his willingness to get into big fights, even if the source of the fight is a tiny, meaningless provocation. As we’ve already seen, Cyrano can’t stand anyone making fun of his nose, or even talking about it. Cyrano seems perfectly aware that his habit of dueling with bullies is a little excessive, but he also refuses to change his behavior. Indeed, he claims that he feels better—more like himself, perhaps—when he’s provoked his enemies.

Cyrano’s claims here suggest that combativeness—or perhaps, “panache”—is his tragic flaw; the source of his greatness but also his weakness. Cyrano’s desire to win every argument, to perform for a crowd, and to make a big show of correcting his opponents, are precisely what make him such a fascinating character. But these behaviors also lead to Cyrano’s ultimate undoing (as we’ll see later on). In short, Cyrano is a tragic, romantic hero, undone by the very qualities that make him who he is.

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 3 Quotes

Ay, for homesickness. A nobler pain than hunger,--'tis of the soul, not of
the body! I am well pleased to see their pain change its viscera. Heart-ache
is better than stomach-ache.

Related Characters: Cyrano de Bergerac (speaker), Captain Carbon de Castel-Jaloux
Page Number: 181
Explanation and Analysis:

Although the rest of the army is starving from lack of food, Cyrano seems perfectly content to eat nothing. He plays his troops a lovely song, which makes them remember their hometowns. As the troops cry and sigh, Cyrano points out that homesickness is a greater pain than hunger, and yet a better pain.

We already knew that Cyrano was a lofty idealist--he believes that poetry is more valuable than bread or money. But here on the battlefield, we see the full extent of Cyrano's Romanticism. Cyrano truly believes that ideas and emotions are more important to human life than food or shelter. Cyrano is perfectly willing to endanger his own life in order to protect what he regards as truly important--love, poetry, etc. By the same token, Cyrano believes that one's home--i.e., a feeling of longing and love--is more valuable than food could ever be. Cyrano's beliefs are rather unrealistic, of course (you can't last long without food)--a sign that his way of life can't last forever--but for now they only add to his panache and popularity.

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 5, Scene 1 Quotes

He is so droll!--It's cheerful when he comes!--
He teases us!--But we all like him well!--
--We make him pasties of angelica!

But, he is not a faithful Catholic!

Related Characters: Sister Martha (speaker), Sister Claire (speaker), Cyrano de Bergerac
Page Number: 226
Explanation and Analysis:

In the final act of the play, Cyrano pays a visit to the nunnery where Roxane has been living ever since her husband's untimely death. The nuns note that Cyrano is a charming (and frequent) visitor to their home. Although he's not a particularly religious person, he's likable and funny, and respects the nuns deeply, even when he teases them.

The nuns' description of Cyrano confirms that Cyrano is just as lively and charming as ever, even though years have passed since we last saw him. Cyrano may not be the most conventionally "moral" person (he's arrogant and quick to fight) but he has an undeniable charm and sense of honor that makes us like and admire him. It's also worth noting that Cyrano's distaste for Catholicism (as per the nuns' description) places him at odds with the order of French society at the time. Catholicism, it's often said, is the branch of Christianity most concerned with order and obedience to a central authority (the Pope)--so it's entirely appropriate that Cyrano the "bad boy" would have his doubts about the faith.

Act 5, Scene 6 Quotes

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.