Blog-a-Book: Cyrano Knows Cyrano’s Nose
|by Travis McSherley|
Talk about a play within a play. Not only is the first act of Cyrano set around a stage production, but the title character is quite a show himself. Cyrano introduces himself to the story by interrupting the beginning of the play as the lead actor begins his first line. "Believe me," Cyrano insists, "Baro's play is worthless. It's my duty to interrupt it."
Montfleury enters the stage lacking any of the archetypal flair of a hero -- he's rotund, awkward, and pompous. By contrast, Cyrano makes a grand entrance, almost literally pushing Montfleury off the scene and commanding the attention of both the audience in the story and the audience watching Cyrano. (Christian, incidentally, quickly and discreetly has departed from the spotlight, in perhaps the only truly heroic action thus far, to rescue his friend Ligniere, who had angered "someone important.")
Cyrano, meanwhile, manages to challenge the entire set -- actors, pit, and audience -- to a duel. When he is finally confronted by Valvert, Cyrano launches into a nearly two-page monlogue on how to properly insult his nose. And that is almost as impressive as his swordfight with Valvert, in which Cyrano improvises a poem (with a rhyme pattern even in my English translation) that concludes with a successful lunge of the sword. Even D'Artagnan the Musketeer -- in a hilarious cameo -- is shocked and awed.
For all his bravado, though, Cyrano seems genuinely concerned with doing the right thing. "I trifled with so many things -- but now I know what I want....Just to be admirable, nothing more." And he seems genuinely insecure about the face he hasso elegantly derided. He is convinced that the woman of his heart's affection, whom he reveals to be Roxane, will not be able to look past his unsightly countenance. But he finally puts his poetry to good use, describing her instead of his schnoz.
It seems about right that Act I takes place in a theater. Most everyone, even the theater audience, is playing a role of his choosing, often seeing himself in a more important part than it might really be. Cyrano is perhaps the most skillful of them all, though once he's off the stage (both figurative and literal), he doesn't quite know how to be the hero. But in the end, it's not the show that goes on -- it's real life and real relationships that matter.