I read Cyrano de Bergerac for the first time today. Not in the original French, but that’s not the point. Blew me away. Whatever else he may have written, Edmond Rostand has rightfully earned his place in literature. Cyrano is larger than life, the page and probably even the stage. A hero of epic proportions and outlandish deeds, a man who faces down 100 men with only his sword. A poet, philosopher and warrior but one cursed with an outlandish nose. A dreamer with a wit even sharper than his sword.
The other characters are just sort of there. Mostly they are obstacles for Cyrano, creatures that don’t exist on the same level as he, and who can’t fully understand him. Early in the play, he’s asked why he gave away all of his wages to stop a play, leaving him broke for the rest of the month. The friend, Le Bret, tells him “What a fool!” Cyrano responds “But-What a gesture!” Cyrano’s actions are not those of a fool, but the deliberate actions of a poet, and it is far more poetical to woo the love of his life on behalf of someone else than to never woo her at all.
Cyrano’s love for Roxane is heartbreakingly painful, but so poetical that it transcends mere pain and becomes this thing of exquisite altruism. That Roxane remains oblivious to Cyrano’s love until his death only compounds the sweet pain of it. Its like the Blues in that regard. Misery upon misery is heaped up until the dam finally bursts and by that point its too late for Cyrano and Roxane, but the audience leaves with both a sense of “well at least my life’s not so bad,” but also a longing. A longing to love that deeply, to have a Roxane to fight a hundred men for or a Cyrano to be wooed by under a balcony.
For some, Cyrano’s deeds strike close to home, and so do the consequences. To live poetically is difficult, yet oh so heroic. To woo beneath a window and a bursting, round moon and fail. To walk alone at midnight along empty streets searching for that perfect word to say. To sit on a rooftop begging the stars to finally give them that one chance. To know that failure is honorable as long as it is glorious. Most can’t handle that kind of life. Admittedly it is a little bizarre, not to mention lonely and often painful, but its like the biting wind of winter; the pain reminds that you’re alive, and it sweetens the victories. A Romantic like that, being so placed in a universe where every object, gesture and word has meaning, can’t believe that there is any other way to live that does not ring hollow.
At least, that’s how I see it.