Why was this work chosen?
Cyrano de Bergerac is a play written in 1897 by Edmond Rostand. There was a real Cyrano de Bergerac, and the play is a fictionalization following the broad outlines of his life. The entire play is written in verse, in rhyming couplets of twelve syllables per line, very close to the classical alexandrine form.
Cyrano de Bergerac places strong emphasis on values and ideals. Cyrano is the play’s eloquent and ardent defender of integrity, bravery, glory, and the pursuit of love and women. The play’s main conflict—Cyrano’s inability to tell Roxane how much he loves her out of deference to her request that he protect Christian—results from Cyrano’s unwavering promise to keep his word.
This play was chosen for the BIBLIODOS project mainly for being a great example of European cultural heritage. Along with it –regarding the project’s platform – we have the opportunity to explore and associate many more art pieces from various artist to further even more the use of the European heritage to allow and help people to learn European languages.
Edmond Eugène Alexis Rostand was a French poet and dramatist. He is associated with neo-romanticism and is known best for his 1897 play Cyrano de Bergerac. Rostand’s romantic plays contrasted with the naturalistic theatre popular during the late nineteenth century.
Rostand was born in Marseille, France, into a wealthy and cultured Provençal family. His father was an economist, a poet who translated and edited the works of Catullus, and a member of the Marseille Academy and the Institut de France. Rostand studied literature, history, and philosophy at the Collège Stanislas in Paris, France.
When Rostand was twenty years old, his first play, a one-act comedy, Le Gant rouge, was performed at the Cluny Theatre, 24 August 1888, but it was almost unnoticed.
In 1890, Rostand published a volume of poems called Les Musardises. The same year he offered a one-act Pierrot play in verse to the director of the Théâtre François. This gave him the opportunity to write for the state theatre a three-act play, also in verse, as are all Rostand’s plays. He considered himself a poet, whether writing plays or poetry.
The resulting play, Les Romanesque’s, was produced at the Théâtre François on 21 May 1894. It was a great success and was the start of his career as a dramatist.
Rostand’s next play was written for Sarah Bernhardt. La Princesse Lointaine was based on the story of the 12th-century troubadour Jaufre Rudel and his love for Hodierna of Jerusalem (who is the archetypal princesse lointaine character). This idealistic play opened on 5 April 1895, at the Théâtre de la Renaissance. The part of Melisandre (based on Hodierna’s daughter Melisende of Tripoli) was created by Sarah Bernhardt but the play was not particularly successful.
Bernhardt, undeterred, asked Rostand to write another play for her. She created the role of Photine in La Samaritaine (Theatre de la Renaissance, 14 April 1897), a Biblical drama in three scenes adapted from the gospel story of the woman of Samaria. This play was more successful and became part of Sarah Bernhardt’s repertoire. Rostand felt satisfied that he had proven to the public that he was something more than a writer of comedies.
The production of his heroic comedy Cyrano de Bergerac (28 December 1897, Théâtre de la Porte Saint-Martin), with Benoît-Constant Coquelin in the title role, was a triumph. The first production lasted for more than 300 consecutive nights. No such enthusiasm for a drama in verse had been known since the time of Hugo’s Hernani.
Rostand was married to the poet and playwright Rosemonde-Étienette Gérard who, in 1890, published Les Pipeaux: a volume of verse commended by the Academy. The couple had two sons, Jean and Maurice.
Rostand died in 1918, a victim of the flu pandemic, and is buried in the Cimetière de Marseille.
The literary genre
The play is based very loosely on the life of an actual French poet and soldier (1619-1655), a free-thinker and author of a few plays and of the satires The States and Empires of the Moon and The States and Empires of the Sun. “Cyrano de Bergerac for purposes of classification may be called a romantic tragedy [although Rostand spoke of it as a heroic comedy]. The play, however, combines so many elements of the dramatic art that more explanation seems necessary. Act One is full of local color. It is a picture of early seventeenth century France. Life seems almost to be overflowing. There is a restless, noisy audience made up of mischievous pages, gay young spirits, charming ladies, soldiers, tradesmen, and even pickpockets. The action is a delightful mixture of nonsense, of swagger, of romance, of fantastic courage and wit. Act Two, in Rageneau’s pastry shop, adds a comic note and introduces the Gascons, every one a baron and a liar, and reveals the extent of Cyrano’s affection and his self-sacrificing devotion. Act Three idealizes the impossible love of the hero in the glorious balcony scene, and we have the brilliant ‘moon’ speeches which might be chanted, so lyrical is the poetry and so rhythmical the swing of the lines. Our souls are touched by the sincerity, the passion of Cyrano’s affection, the words, the gestures, the emotion of the perfect lover. Act Four presents the encampment of the Gascon Cadets just before battle, and charms us with its poetry depicting the bravery of empty stomachs, and then surprises us with the dramatic appearance of Roxane in her fantastic carriage. Finally, we have, in Act Five, the peace of a convent garden, and the quiet courage of the old swashbuckler, quick-witted, self-sacrificing, independent as ever, still hating shams and fearless even in the face of death” (Noble’s Comparative Classics [New York City: Noble and Noble, Publishers, lnc.], 43-44).
Its European, or even international dimension
The primary goal of Cyrano de Bergerac is “to show, to preach, to exalt the dignity oflove”. That is the basis of the panache, rather than pride, misanthropy, or social, moral, intellectual independence. The dignity of Cyrano lies in his selflessness, while for Christian it is in his ultimate abandonment of a love that he has not earned. It is a comedy where tragedy is much present and where death intrudes: Cyrano is killed by an enemy, Christian commits a form of suicide by throwing himself into the fore of the battle to die, and Roxanne symbolically dies as she casts aside love and society for voluntary confinement in a convent.
Rostand was successful in recreating the life and atmosphere of an age, that of Louis XIII and Cardinal Richelieu and the early years of Louis XIV and Cardinal Mazarin. It was a time of national achievement, the Golden Age of French power and culture when French was the universal language of diplomacy and of polite society, and French taste and art were internationally adopted and imitated. He captured the social life of the Age of Splendor with “movement, exuberant spirit, romance, affectation, intrigue, self-sacrifice all crowded together as they were in those hectic years”. Ultimately, Rostand appealed to the collective soul of modern France seeking to find itself again.
The play was quickly translated into English, German, Russian and other European languages. Cyrano de Bergerac had been a boyhood hero of Rostand, who loved his idealism and courage. He had also thoroughly researched French 17th-century history.
Another of Rostand’s works, Les Romanesques (1894), was adapted to the 1960 musical comedy The Fantasticks.
Major issues/problems of the time addressed
The fin-de-siècle period in France was a time of continued disillusionment from the disastrous results of the Franco-Prussian war, of political and social division caused by the stormy Affaire Dreyfus, and of uncertainty from the inefficiency and instability of the Third Republic. It was a time of turbulence in literature when naturalism was passing from the scene and symbolism was running its course. But with Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac came a new impetus from neo-romantic idealism which took a struggling France into the more optimistic Belle Epoque of the early twentieth century.
After the play’s opening in 1897, Emile Faguet, the renowned literary critic, boldly declared that “A great poet decidedly appeared yesterday on whom Europe is going to fix its eyes with envy, and France with a proud and hopeful delight” (Jules Haraszti, Edmond Rostand [Paris: Fontemoing et Cie, 1913], 123).
So pronounced was Rostand’s impact that it was said that “France suddenly became alive with the appearance of Cyrano” (Marc Andry, Edmond Rostand, le panache et la gloire [Paris: Plon, 1986], 78). Dubbed “the king of La Belle Epoque,” Rostand went on to dominate the French stage from 1897 until his death in 1918 (Andry, 11).
CYRANO DE BERGERAC
The gallery of characters
- Cyrano de Bergerac: A chivalrous poet, swordsman, playwright, musician, and member of the Cadets of Gascoyne, a company of guards from southern France, Cyrano is cursed with a ridiculously long nose that makes him insecure and keeps him from revealing his love for his cousin Roxanne.
- Christian de Neuvillette: Perhaps the opposite of Cyrano, Christian is a handsome but simple young nobleman who lacks wit and intelligence. New to Paris and to the cadets, he falls in love with Roxanne and joins Cyrano’s company of cadets early in the play.
- Comte de Guiche: A powerful, married nobleman in love with Roxane and not fond of Cyrano, de Guiche is deceitful and always angry. He attempts several times to have Cyrano killed, once by a hundred men.
- Ragueneau: Cyrano’s friend, Ragueneau is a pastry chef with a deep love for poetry. He gives away pastries in return for poems, and, therefore, innumerable poets visit him frequently.
- Le Bret: Cyrano’s friend and closest confidant, Le Bret is a fellow soldier and guardsman. He worries that Cyrano’s principles will ruin his career, but Cyrano ignores Le Bret’s concerns.
- Carbon de Castel-Jaloux: Cyrano’s friend and the captain of his company, de Castel-Jaloux is a strong-willed and successful leader.
- Vicomte de Valvert: An insolent young nobleman, de Valvert is lauded by de Guiche as a possible husband for Roxanne, a scheme that would give de Guiche access to Roxanne. After he insults Cyrano’s nose, de Valvert is defeated in an ensuing duel.
- Montfleury: A fat, untalented actor, Cyrano bans him from the stage.
- Roxanne: Cyrano’s cousin, Roxane is a beautiful and intellectual heiress. She has a soft spot for romance and a love for poetry and wit.
Acts I, II, and III of Cyrano de Bergerac take place in Paris in 1640, when Louix XIII sat on the French throne and the extraordinarily talented Cardinal Richelieu managed the affairs of state. Act IV takes place in the same year on a battlefield in northeastern France during the French siege of the disputed city of Arras, held by the Spanish, during the Thirty Years War. Act V takes place in Paris in 1655, when Louis XIV was king of France. Present-day Arras is the capital of the Pas de Calais département (province) of France.
Iconography in the ebook
The play chosen allowed us to choose art from a great collection of artists. The period depicted has many great examples of them. Few of them are:
- Konstantin Alekseyevich Korovin (1861 – 11 September 1939)
- Édouard Manet (23 January 1832 – 30 April 1883)
- Pierre-Auguste Renoir (25 February 1841 – 3 December 1919)
- Albrecht Dürer (21 May 1471 – 6 April 1528)
- Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (15 July 1606– 4 October 1669)
THE READING WORKSHOP
PHASE 1: ENTERING THE EBOOK: UNIVERSE, ATMOSPHERE AND HYPOTHESES
Activity: Live like then
Activity to enter the ebook world
With this first introductory workshop, the trainees are given the opportunity to be introduced in a smooth and fun way in the Cyrano’s play. It is a fine way to introduce to the learners the era that the play is taking place and to know a little about the characters. The activity is designed for using hard copies of the supplies but it can be presented in a digital environment also with a few adaptations. Before the activity allow some time to narrate the plot and talk a little about the characters in order to familiarize the students with the play.
- Photos from the ebook.
- A map of Europe with the places referenced in the ebook.
Match the printed photos with the correct places depicted on the map.
- Begin the workshop with a short narration to recall the plot, the characters and the places.
- During the workshop, the trainees will be given randomly photos to match them with the places on the map.
- Use more than one sets of printed photos and divide the learners in smaller groups so there is a challenge in the activity.
PHASE 2: DIVING INTO THE EBOOK
Activity 1: Find the character
Preparation activity for global understanding
- Pictures of the characters, make multiple copies depending the number of the learners
- Name tags of the characters
The learners should try to match the name tags with the character on the printed photo.
- Divide the learners into smaller groups.
- Give them the pictures and the name tags. Give time to match the name tags with the persons in the printed photos.
- Then evaluate the results
Activity 2: Assign a characteristic
Global understanding activity
In the second activity the learners should try to match the heroes from the play with a characteristic. It could be a body feature or an adjective. The purpose of this activity is that the learners can learn and understand nouns and adjectives.
- Various prints of the characters pictures used in the ebook
- tags with nouns and adjectives to match
Before the session:
The trainer can divide the learners in smaller groups depending the number of the learners. Hand over the prints to the groups.
This second activity is carried out after a first individual reading of the ebook. For the 1st reading level, it is in fact a reading of images and possible key written elements.
- Give plenty of time to the learners to make the matches.
- Then each group can show their matches to rest of the groups.
Activity 3: Create the nose
Fine tuning activity
In this activity each of the learners are asked to create a big nose using the materials provided. When the finish the design and construction they should wear them. This is an ice breaker for the group and a way to introduce themselves to the rest of the learners. In the end they should act like Cyrano.
- scotch tape
- pair of scissors
- long sticks to use as swords
- Discuss with the group the purpose of this activity and the fun they are going to have
- Upon completion of the creation of the noses, ask the participants to put them on, in any funny way and introduce themselves. They can act a little like Cyrano using the long sticks as swords to emerge themselves more in the part.
Activity 4: Who am I?
Fine tuning activity
With this activity the trainees will be able to complete the ebook experience in the best possible way. In an interactive role play they will try to identify their character through closed questions. Through this process of questioning, they will be able to understand all aspects of the characters of the drama in their basic structure.
- Printed names of the characters
- A hat
The activity could be repeated and completed when all the trainees have played all the main characters.
Put the hat on a learner’s head and stick the name tag on the hat in a way that the rest of the learners can see it, but he doesn’t. The learner with the hat will ask questions about the character that he/she is now. The group can answer only with yes and no. Allow all learners to wear the hat and ask questions.
PHASE 3: THE CREATIVE STAGE
Activity: The balcony scene
Activity to enhance the reading experience
Τhis activity allows the participants to play the characters from the playwright. The purpose is to recreate the balcony scene where Cyrano whispers to Christian the words he speaks to Roxanne.
- Hats, scarfs, coats, paper
- Noses from previous activity
- A stool for the actor/actress who plays Roxanne so that is higher than the other two
- A camera if all participants agree for the recording due to GDPR
During the workshop:
- Divide the participants into subgroups. Distribute the parts if necessary. If the number cannot be satisfied then the instructor can become Roxanne. Let the participant have a fun recreating the scene.
- Give them a few minutes to prepare themselves, they can use accessories for cloths of the era.
- Record the sessions (if all have agreed so) and discuss later the outcome.
- Have fun!