The last word of Cyrano de Bergerac is “panache,” which Webster’s Dictionary defines as “dash or flamboyance in style and action.” It’s worth investigating the history of this word—which Rostand’s play popularized—a little further.
Originally, “panache” was a French word referring to a plume on a military helmet. The famous French monarch Henry IV was fond of wearing a white plume on his helmet whenever he fought in battle, and he even told his soldiers that they should “follow his panache” on the battlefield. Cyrano alludes to this famous story in Act 4, when the Count de Guiche—evidently, someone without much panache—claims that he wears a white scarf to demonstrate his high rank, and yet he takes off the scarf in battle for fear of making himself into a target. Cyrano de Bergerac then reveals that he’s taken the Count’s scarf and worn it himself. In Cyrano, the white scarf (or plume)—originally a symbol of awed obedience to one’s social superiors—transforms into a symbol of social subversion, flamboyant disobedience to authority, and a reckless bravery that also advertises its own recklessness: in short, Rostand’s updated, 19th century version of panache.
Where does Cyrano’s panache—the one quality of which he’s most proud—come from? Cyrano doesn’t conceal the fact that Cyrano is insecure about his physical appearance: i.e., his big nose. Surrounded by bullies who tease him for his face, Cyrano compensates (and arguably overcompensates) by perfecting the arts of dueling, arguing, and verbally besting his enemies. When the Viscount Valvert lobs a minor insult at Cyrano, Cyrano responds by challenging Valvert to a duel on the spot, during which Cyrano composes a ballad insulting Valvert. Evidently, Cyrano has had a lifetime of practice—the crowd whispers that Cyrano attacks anyone who insults him.
But Cyrano’s panache is less petty and personal than mere insecurity—panache also represents a proud and often brave way for him to live his life. Cyrano refuses to apologize for his ugly appearance, and indeed flaunts his large nose as part of his persona, jumping on any reference to his nose as a chance to display his verbal and dueling skills. Instead of giving in to society’s insults, Cyrano celebrates his physical and intellectual talents in the grandest way imaginable. One could say that panache is a way of attaining freedom: freedom from social expectations of obedience, as well as from one’s own insecurities.
In the end, however, Cyrano’s panache has dire consequences. He makes so many enemies in his city that by Act 5, he can barely get through a day without having to defend himself. An unknown enemy attacks him by dropping a heavy piece of wood on his head, injuring and ultimately killing him. Still, the fact that Cyrano’s panache comes back to haunt him doesn’t necessarily mean that it is a negative trait. On the contrary, Cyrano’s death lends panache a kind of nobility. Cyrano’s dying word is “panache”—evidently, he has no regrets for the way he’s lived his life. Like so much else that is noble and beautiful in Cyrano (love, for example), panache doesn’t last very long in real life. And yet even though Cyrano, dies, the idea of panache lives on forever: in Cyrano’s reputation, his friends’ memories of his heroic deeds, and in the play itself. This is the heroic tradeoff that Cyrano, and any other exemplar of panache, must make: the tragedy of a short life, but also the glory of an everlasting reputation.
Panache 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.
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?
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!. . .
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!
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!
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.
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?
ALL THE SISTERS:
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!
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):