Act 5, Scenes 1-6
Act 5, scene 1
It is fifteen years later, in 1655. The action opens in the garden of the convent into which Roxane has retired. The nuns are talking about Cyrano, who they say has visited Roxane regularly for the fourteen years since she came to live there. He is the only person who makes her smile. Mother Margaret, the head of the convent, mentions that he is so poor that on some days he does not eat.
Act 5, scene 2
Roxane enters with de Guiche, who is visiting her. He is now the Duc de Grammont and one of the most powerful men in France. De Guiche asks her whether she intends to waste her beauty living in the convent forever, guarding Christian’s memory. She says that she does, and that she still keeps his last letter next to her heart. He asks her whether she forgives him for sending Christian to his death; she says that she must, since she lives in the convent. She adds that she still feels Christian’s love all around her. He asks if Cyrano still visits her. She replies that he visits every week and tells her all the news.
Le Bret enters and reports that Cyrano is suffering from poverty, hunger, and loneliness. De Guiche comments that Cyrano should not be pitied too much because he has lived the life he chose, free and not obligated to anyone. De Guiche adds that he himself has everything, while Cyrano has nothing, yet he would still like to shake his hand. He envies Cyrano, as it seems he can have no regrets about his life. De Guiche takes Le Bret aside and warns him that Cyrano has made enemies. De Guiche overheard one influential person saying, “Cyrano might have an accident.”
Ragueneau arrives to visit Roxane. He has fallen on hard times. He gave up his shop to become a writer, but has found himself doing a series of other jobs.
Act 5, scene 3
Roxane leaves to talk to de Guiche. Ragueneau tells Le Bret that Cyrano has been seriously injured and is unconscious. As he walked under a window, a man dropped a log of wood on his head. Le Bret is sure that it is no accident. A doctor has said that if Cyrano gets up, he will die.
Act 5, scene 4
Roxane sits doing her needlework and wonders why Cyrano is late for his usual visit.
Act, 5, scene 5
Cyrano enters, looking pale and walking with difficulty. He warns her that he may have to leave before evening. He teases Sister Martha and surprises her by saying that she can pray for him this evening. As he begins to tell Roxane the latest gossip, he is obviously struggling to continue. He almost faints, but tells Roxane it is an old war wound. Roxane tells him that her wound is in her heart, under Christian’s letter. She says that the letter is stained with blood and tears. Cyrano asks to read it.
Cyrano begins to read the letter aloud. The letter says that the writer will die today, and says goodbye to “My dearest love” Roxane. Roxane suddenly realizes that she has heard that voice before, beneath her balcony. She notices that it has grown so dark by now that Cyrano cannot possibly see to read, but still he is speaking the words in the letter. She realizes that it is he who has loved her all these years, he who spoke to her from beneath the balcony and who wrote the letters. Cyrano denies that he loved her, saying that Christian did. She does not believe him. She asks why he kept silent for fourteen years about a letter that Christian did not write. Cyrano replies, “The tears were mine, but Christian shed the blood.” Roxane asks why he has broken his silence today.
Act 5, scene 6
Le Bret and Ragueneau rush in, crying that Cyrano’s coming here will kill him. Cyrano tells Roxane his last piece of news: “Today . . . Monsieur de Bergerac was murdered.” He takes off his hat and reveals his bandaged head. Roxane is distraught. Cyrano says he always expected to die on the point of a hero’s sword, but instead he has been struck down from behind with a lump of wood, by a servant. Even his death, he adds, is “laughable.”
Ragueneau tells Cyrano that Molière (the real-life seventeenth-century French dramatist) has been stealing jokes and scenes that Cyrano has written to put in his plays. Cyrano says that it does not matter as long as the scene worked. Ragueneau says that the audience laughed and laughed. Cyrano comments that his role in life has been to feed lines to others. He tells Roxane that when Christian courted her under the balcony, he was feeding him his lines, but it was Christian who climbed up to claim the kiss from her. Roxane says that Cyrano cannot die, and that she loves him. She says that she has only ever loved one man, and now she is losing him again.
Cyrano becomes delirious. He sees that his death is approaching. He stands up, his sword in his hand, to meet death. He says he thinks that death is looking at his nose. He begins to fence his old enemies: Lies, Compromise, Spite, Cowardice, and Stupidity. He says that they can take his poet’s crown and lover’s garland, yet he will go into God’s presence with one thing that he will take unstained out of this world. Roxane, kissing him, asks him what it is. He answers, “My white plume.”
Analysis of Act 5, scenes 1–6
The last act of the play jumps forward in time fifteen years, to resolve the plotlines that still involve the main characters after Christian’s death. The time of year (it is autumn) and the time of day (approaching twilight) are symbolic of Cyrano’s approaching death.
The mood of this act, while it retains elements of comedy, comments pessimistically on the fate of a less-than-honorable man (de Guiche) and an honorable man (Cyrano). De Guiche has achieved great worldly success by compromising his principles, not to any serious extent, but enough to prompt unease in his conscience. Cyrano, in contrast (excepting his deception of Roxane) has not compromised his ideals. But he is poor, hungry, and has made powerful enemies by writing satirical works. This point reinforces one of the themes of the play: the degraded nature (as Rostand saw it) of a society that has lost touch with the honorable values of old.
The manner of Cyrano’s death reflects and comments on his life. It is simultaneously comic and tragic. He does not die on the point of a hero’s sword, but is dispatched in a far less honorable fashion by a servant in the pay of a powerful enemy who slyly drops a log of wood on his head. As he is dying, he reflects that his role has always been to remain “Off in the wings, feeding the lines to others . . .” As a consequence, he has been denied recognition for his literary efforts and the chance to be loved by Roxane. Finally, she finds out his secret, but in a final tragic irony, it is too late: Cyrano is about to die.
In his final moments, Cyrano fences not a human enemy, but abstract qualities that he has opposed in his life: Lies, Compromise, Spite, Cowardice, and Stupidity. It could be said, in some interpretations of the play, that in his dealings with Roxane, Cyrano has indeed lied, compromised, acted stupidly, and surrendered to cowardice, because due to his ugly appearance, he feared that Roxane could not love him. But even in this behavior, Cyrano’s honor has shone through. He consistently defended Christian’s memory and Christian’s right to Roxane’s love, sacrificing his own interests in the process. Because of this, there is no irony in Cyrano’s final claim to appear before God with one unstained thing: his white plume, a symbol of courage, leadership, and honor.