Act 1, Scenes 4-7
Act 1, scene 4
Cyrano threatens Montfleury with his sword. Various people in the audience defend Montfleury. Cyrano challenges them all to a duel, but no one dares come forward. He gives Montfleury until the count of three to leave the stage, and Montfleury vanishes. A young man asks Cyrano why he hates Montfleury. Cyrano answers that Montfleury is a dreadful actor, and that the play is worthless. The theater manager, Bellerose, protests that he will have to give the entire audience their money back. Cyrano throws a bag of money onto the stage. Bellerose, stunned by the large amount of money in the bag, tells Cyrano that on these terms, he can stop the performance any day he likes.
Bellerose asks the audience to leave, but they are spellbound by the scene that is unfolding between Cyrano and a character called “Busybody.” The Busybody warns Cyrano that Montfleury enjoys the patronage of the powerful Duc de Candale. Cyrano dismisses his warning on the grounds that he too has a powerful proctectress, his sword. Cyrano asks the Busybody why he is staring at his nose. The Busybody denies that he has even noticed it, claiming that it is tiny. Cyrano feels insulted, and launches into an eloquent speech in praise of his “great proboscis.”
De Guiche and Valvert remark that Cyrano is tiresome. Valvert approaches Cyrano and remarks that his nose is “very big.” Cyrano is scornful of his lack of inventiveness, and offers a long list of extravagant insults that Valvert could have delivered against his nose. Cyrano continues to mock Valvert. He says he will fight him with his sword, all the while reciting a poem that he will compose as he fights. On the final line, Cyrano will thrust at Valvert. The audience crowds around Cyrano. As Cyrano begins to compose his poem aloud, he and Valvert start to fence. When Cyrano reaches the final line, he thrusts. Valvert falls and his friends carry him away. An ecstatic crowd cheers Cyrano. Eventually, the crowd disperses.
Le Bret asks Cyrano why he is not going to dine, and Cyrano says that he has no money; he threw all he had to Bellerose in compensation for the abandoned performance. An orange-girl cannot bear to see Cyrano go hungry, and tries to give him some food. But the proud Cyrano will only accept a grape, half a macaroon, and a glass of water.
Act 1, scene 5
Le Bret warns Cyrano that he is making enemies. He asks Cyrano to tell him the real reason he hates Montfleury. Cyrano says that he once caught Montfleury looking flirtatiously at the woman Cyrano loves. Cyrano is certain that no one could love a man with a nose like his. From Cyrano’s description of the woman, Le Bret deduces that she is Roxane. Le Bret advises Cyrano to tell Roxane of his love, pointing out that even the orange-girl could not take her eyes off him. But Cyrano is convinced that he is so ugly that Roxane would only laugh at him. They are interrupted by the arrival of Roxanne’s Duenna.
Act 1, scene 6
Roxane’s Duenna brings a message from Roxane asking Cyrano to meet her privately. They arrange a meeting at Ragueneau’s at seven o’clock the next morning.
Act 1, scene 7
Cyrano is ecstatically happy that Roxane wants to meet him. Lignière arrives. He has heard about the hundred men waiting to ambush him and asks Cyrano whether, since he cannot go home, he can stay with him. Cyrano tells Lignière that he can sleep at his own home tonight; he will fight the hundred men and see Lignière safely home. Le Bret asks Cyrano why he is risking his life for a drunk like Lignière. Cyrano replies that he once saw Le Bret drink a font full of holy water, a drink he hates, after a girl he loved took some of the same holy water. Cyrano leaves for the Porte de Nesle to fight Lignière’s enemies, followed by an adoring procession of actors, women, and musicians. Asked by one of the actresses why anyone would send a hundred men against one poet, Cyrano replies that they know Lignière is a friend of his.
Cyrano disrupts a performance of a play because the actor is untalented and the play undistinguished, paying his entire monthly allowance to the theater manager in compensation for the lost revenue and facing starvation as a result. This grand gesture encapsulates Cyrano’s heroic stature and is Rostand’s way of asserting that art and literature were held in great respect during the seventeenth century. Cyrano has, in effect, sacrificed his survival to the cause of art.
Cyrano’s virtuoso performance in composing a poem as he fights Valvert confirms his extraordinary combination of talents, those of the soldier and the poet. His self-mocking speech about his nose simultaneously mocks Valvert’s lack of invention and wit, as Cyrano effortlessly compiles an extravagant roster of insults that Valvert could have come up with, but did not. Valvert appears two-dimensional and colorless in comparison to Cyrano. The fight between the two men is only partly physical: Cyrano’s also shows his ascendancy over Valvert through his superior ability to compose poetry. Cyrano’s poem becomes a second weapon and a measure of his heroism and prowess. The incident is another way in which Rostand emphasizes the importance of literature in the age in which the play is set.
There is dramatic irony (a device in which the audience or reader knows more than the characters) in the fight between Cyrano and Valvert, as neither man is aware that the other is a rival for the love of Roxane; they believe that the fight is about Cyrano’s behavior in the theater. Cyrano’s effortless defeat of Valvert in both physical and intellectual terms leave no doubt as to who is most deserving of Roxane’s love.
Cyrano’s admission that it is Roxane that he loves complicates the plot, as it is already established that Christian is in love with her. Only one of them can win Roxane. The question is posed as to whether it will be the outwardly beautiful Christian or the inwardly beautiful Cyrano. The answer is not straightforward, as both men are compromised: Christian by his lack of wit and intelligence, and Cyrano by his unattractive appearance.
Certain elements in these scenes suggest that Cyrano’s problem is primarily one of self-image, rather than how others see him. Le Bret points out that the orange-girl found Cyrano fascinating, and that Roxane turned pale when she saw him in danger at the theater. Le Bret believes that Cyrano has a chance of winning Roxane, and encourages him to speak out about his feelings for her. The Duenna’s request from Roxane for a private meeting with Cyrano gives a glimmer of hope that Le Bret’s confidence in Cyrano’s ability to attract Roxane is justified, though it is left until Act 2 to resolve this point.