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.
Appearances and Identity ThemeTracker
Appearances and Identity Quotes in Cyrano De Bergerac
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.
LIGNIERE (tasting his rivesalte in sips):
Magdalene Robin--Roxane, so called! A subtle wit--a precieuse.
Woe is me!
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,
Sir, your nose is. . . hmm. . . it is. . . very big!
THE VISCOUNT (laughing):
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.
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. . .
The Cardinal--was there?
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?
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!. . .
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!
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. . .
Yet never till to-night my speech has sprung
Straight from my heart as now it springs.
CYRANO (in a dreamy voice):
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!
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.
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?
CYRANO (in despair. to Roxane):
He's gone! 'Tis naught!--Oh, you know how he sees
Importance in a trifle!
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. . .
Does that word
Embarrass you before my face, Roxane?
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.
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!
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):