The scene begins in the same hall of the Hotel, immediately following the events in Scene I. [NOTE: Cyrano de Bergerac is written in the traditional French style of the 18th and 19th centuries. All the scenes in an act of the play take place in the same setting. Furthermore, each scene immediately follows the preceding one, without any temporal breaks.) A poor, drunk man named Ligniere greets a group of young noblemen, including the First Marquis, the Baron de Cuigy, and the Baron de Brissaille. Ligniere introduces them to his friend, Baron Christian de Neuvillette, who seems distracted.
In a moment of comedy, an old, vulgar alcoholic bumps into a group of high-class noblemen. We’re still not sure what this play is really “about” (the title character hasn’t shown up yet), but the Baron Christian’s distractedness in this scene suggests the first sign of a conflict in need of a resolution.
Christian pulls Ligniere aside. Christian has come to the Hotel to seek Ligniere’s help. Christian wants Ligniere to identify a beautiful woman whom Christian saw some time ago. Christian is ecstatic about this mysterious woman—he thinks she’s the love of his life. Ligniere, an alcoholic, is impatient, and wants to get out of the Hotel as soon as possible.
Rostand pushes aristocrats up against the working classes, forcing interesting interactions. One sign of Christian’s likability is that he’s friendly with Ligniere. Christian’s egalitarian leanings make him seem more familiar to contemporary audiences—and even Rostand’s original audiences were “contemporary,” considering the play is set 200 years before its publication.
Suddenly, a short, fat man named Ragueneau enters the Hotel. Everyone cries out his name—Ragueneau is a beloved man and a famous tavern-keeper. Ragueneau approaches Ligniere and asks him if he’s seen Monsieur de Cyrano. Ligniere says that he hasn’t, but then he begins to praise Cyrano. He describes Cyrano as an excellent poet and fencer. Ragueneau mentions that Cyrano despises Montfluery (an actor), and has forbidden Montfluery to appear in the Hotel. As Ragueneau and Ligniere talk, the Marquises join in. They’ve heard rumors of Cyrano’s talent and charisma, and Cuigy confirms that Cyrano is an impressive, talented gentleman.
It’s appropriate that news of Cyrano’s reputation appears in the play before Cyrano himself does: Cyrano’s reputation precedes him wherever he goes, and he is even (as we will see) defined by his reputation. Interestingly, this is one of the only sections in the entire play in which it’s explicitly stated that Cyrano is a nobleman. Rostand doesn’t overemphasize this fact: Cyrano’s appeal to audiences is that he’s comfortable among both the nobility and the working class—he’s a modern man living in the 17th century.
Cuigy calls to a man in the crowd, whom he introduces to the other Marquises as Le Bret. Cuigy explains that Le Bret is a friend of Cyrano. Le Bret explains to the Marquises that Cyrano is a poet, a soldier, a philosopher, and a musician. And yet, Ragueneau joins in, Cyrano has one strange quality: his nose. Cyrano’s nose is enormous—so big that when people meet him for the first time, they assume the nose is a prop for a costume. Whenever anyone makes fun of Cyrano’s nose, Cyrano challenges the man to a duel, and Cyrano always wins.
In this important expository section, we get a slightly different sense of Cyrano’s personality. Cyrano is talented and charismatic, but he’s also argumentative and combative, no doubt because he’s spent most of his life being teased for his enormous nose. One gets the sense that Cyrano has always had to compensate for his appearance by developing other skills.
Suddenly, a young, beautiful woman enters the Hotel and sits down near the stage. The Marquises notice her enter the room and comment on her beauty. Christian sees the woman and exclaims that this is the woman he’d noticed before. Ligniere explains that the woman’s name is Magdalene Robin, or Roxane, a cousin of Cyrano.
By this point, we’ve gotten a good sense for which characters are going to be important to the play: Christian and Roxane are clearly protagonists. Notably, Christian hasn’t even spoken to Roxane yet—his love for her is founded on her physical beauty, not her mind or her spirit. This may seem rather shallow and sexist (and it is), but it wasn’t at all uncommon in European literature, either in the 17th or the 19th century.
Christian and Ligniere watch as a young, handsome nobleman goes to speak to Roxane. Ligniere—who’s quickly becoming very drunk—explains that the man is the Count de Guiche. Although the Count is clearly attracted to Roxane, he is already engaged to another woman. As a result, the Count has a plan to marry Roxane to a loyal friend of his, the Viscount Valvert. Christian, growing impatient with Ligniere, gets up to leave. Ligniere cries out and points to Roxane—she is looking straight at Christian. Christian seems exhilarated. The audience cries out for the play to begin.
The scene ends with some more important exposition. By now Rostand has introduced the major characters of the play, and has also given us a good sense of the conflict: de Guiche and Christian are competing for the same woman, Roxane. Appropriately enough, the scene ends with the play-within-the-play beginning. This is a clever device on Rostand’s part—now that we know who the characters in Cyrano are, the play can really “begin.”