Cyrano de Bergerac | Study Guide

Edmond Rostand

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Cyrano de Bergerac | Act 1, Scene 4 | Summary

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Summary

Cyrano insults Montfleury's appearance and acting and commands him to leave the theater. The audience, however, wants Montfluery to perform and tells Cyrano to be quiet. Cyrano challenges each audience member in the pit to a duel, but no one accepts the challenge. Cyrano counts to three and when he reaches the last number, Montfleury hurriedly leaves. The audience boos Montfleury. Cyrano explains to a young man that he hates Montfleury because he is a bad actor and for a private reason. Cyrano also criticizes the play, La Clorise, thereby offending the précieuses. Cyrano tells them to inspire poets but not to judge poetry. He then gives the theater owner a bag of coins in payment for the canceled play. Cyrano tells a busybody that he does not have a patron to support and protect him. Instead he uses his sword as his protection. Cyrano calls his nose his "pride and joy" and says it indicates he has a noble spirit.

Tired of Cyrano's boasting, Valvert tries to insult him by calling his nose "very big." Cyrano accuses Valvert of having a lack of imagination and proceeds to offer numerous creative and humorous insults about his own nose. This recitation confounds Valvert, who calls Cyrano a "wretched country squire" and insults his appearance. Cyrano claims he's not concerned about the clothes he wears but rather about having high ideals and independence. Valvert challenges Cyrano to a duel. To make the fight more interesting, Cyrano says he'll make up a ballad as he's dueling, and when he reaches the last line, he'll thrust his sword into Valvert. Valvert finds this preposterous. As he crosses swords with Valvert, Cyrano makes good on his boast. When he says the ballad's last line, "And when my poem is complete,/I strike," he pierces Valvert with his sword. The amazed onlookers applaud Cyrano. After this the people leave the theater, except for Cyrano, Le Bret, and the orange girl. Cyrano has no money; he gave it all away in payment for the canceled play. The orange girl offers to give him food, including a bunch of grapes and wine. However, he is too proud to accept the kind offer. Instead to avoid hurting the girl's feelings, Cyrano takes one grape, a glass of water, and half a macaroon.

Analysis

In Scene 4, Rostand intertwines the theme of beauty and the theme of pride with the symbol of the sword. For Cyrano, he believes his large ugly nose indicates he is a man of many inner virtues, such as being "good-natured, brave,/Courteous, and forgiving." As a result, Cyrano is proud of his nose and dares anyone to insult it. To defend his ugly nose and thus his unsightly appearance, he uses his sword to defeat opponents. Cyrano's sword, therefore, can be seen as a symbol that represents his defense of his pride and his value as a human being.

Rostand explores the interplay between beauty and ugliness through Cyrano's confrontation with Valvert. Valvert is an externally attractive man who wears the fancy clothes of nobility. However, he shows himself to be a dull-witted person who has no creative spark or inner beauty. Instead, he's a pompous bully who tries to pick a fight with Cyrano. Cyrano immediately recognizes Valvert's shortcomings. To combat Valvert, Cyrano makes up a series of humorous insults about his own nose. In doing this, Cyrano demonstrates his impressive intellect and wit, showing how superior his inner being is to that of Valvert. So Cyrano uses his inner beauty to defeat Valvert's inner ugliness. Even so, Valvert persists in insulting Cyrano. In response, Cyrano combines his skill as a poet with his skill as a swordsman in a virtuosic display. Cyrano makes up a ballad as he fights Valvert and seriously wounds him. Ultimately, Cyrano thoroughly defeats Valvert with his creativity and physical prowess. The only victory Valvert can claim is being better looking than Cyrano, a poor consolation as he is dragged off with a severe wound.

Rostand, therefore, shows Cyrano to be an iconoclast: he is a character who exposes the hypocrisy of traditional views in French society. On the surface, most people in 17th-century France would view Valvert as a superior person to Cyrano. After all, Valvert is wealthy and better looking. However, Cyrano puts this assumption to shame by displaying his superior qualities. Cyrano also shows his iconoclastic traits through his attitude toward Montfleury and the play, La Clorise. Most people seem to consider Montfleury a great actor, but despite this, Cyrano sees him as a bad actor, which is probably closer to the truth. Cyrano also thinks La Clorise is a poor play, even though the précieuses admire it. Again, Cyrano shows a willingness to tear down what society views as noble or great. The weight of public opinion against Cyrano does not discourage him. Indeed, when faced with a public outcry against him, Cyrano becomes more determined to uphold his ideals. For example, when the audience in the pit mocks Cyrano for ordering Montfleury to leave, Cyrano challenges each audience member to a duel.

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