Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac (6 March 1619 – 28 July 1655) was a French dramatist and duellist who is now best remembered for the many works of fiction which have been woven around his life story. In these fictional works he is featured with an overly large nose; portraits suggest that he did have a big nose, though not nearly as large as described in Edmond Rostand's play and the subsequent works about him. A statue of him stands in the town of Bergerac, Dordogne.
Life and works
It is believed that around 1640 he became the lover of Charles Coypeau d'Assoucy, a writer and musician, until around 1653, when they became engaged in a bitter rivalry. This led to Bergerac sending d'Assoucy death threats that compelled him to leave Paris. The quarrel extended to a series of satirical texts by both men. Bergerac wrote Contre Soucidas (an anagram of his enemy's name) and Contre un ingrat ("Against an Ingrate"), while D’Assoucy counterattacked with Le Combat de Cyrano de Bergerac avec le singe, de Brioché au bout du Pont-Neuf ("The Battle of Cyrano de Bergerac with the Monkey of Brioché at the end of the Pont Neuf").
The model for the Roxane character of the Rostand play was Bergerac's cousin, who lived with his aunt, Catherine de Cyrano, at the Convent of the Daughter of the Cross, where Bergerac was tended for injuries sustained from a falling lunar beam. As in the play, Bergerac did fight at the siege of Arras (1640), a battle of the Thirty Years' War between French and Spanish forces in France (though this was not the more famous final Battle of Arras, fought fourteen years later). One of his confreres in the battle was the Baron of Neuvillette, who married Cyrano's cousin. However, the play's plotline involving Roxane and Christian is almost entirely fictional — the real Cyrano did not write the Baron's love letters for him.
Cyrano was a freethinker and a pupil of Pierre Gassendi, a canon of the Catholic Church who tried to reconcile Epicurean atomism with Christianity. Cyrano's insistence on reason was rare in his time, and he would have been at home in the Enlightenment that came a century after his death.
He was injured by a falling wooden beam in 1654 while entering the house of his patron, the Duc D'Arpajon. Whether it was a deliberate attempt on his life or merely an accident is unknown. It is also inconclusive as to whether or not his death was a result of the injury, or an unspecified disease. He died over a year later on July 28, 1655 aged 36. His place of death was the house of his cousin, Pierre De Cyrano, in Sannois. He was buried in a Church in Sannois.
Cyrano de Bergerac in Pop Culture
Cyrano de Bergerac is a French soldier and poet who appears in several works of fiction, most notably a play by Edmond Rostand. He is a fictionalized version of the actual historical figure Hector-Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac. Like his real-life counterpart, he has an overly large nose.
In 1897, the French poet Edmond Rostand published a play, Cyrano de Bergerac, on the subject of Cyrano's life. This play, by far Rostand's most successful work, concentrates on Cyrano's love for the beautiful Roxane, whom he is obliged to woo on behalf of a more conventionally handsome but less articulate friend, Christian de Neuvillette.
The entire play is written in verse, in rhyming couplets of 12 syllables per line, very close to the Alexandrine format, but the verses sometimes lack a caesura. It is also meticulously researched, down to the names of the members of the Académie française and the dames précieuses glimpsed before the performance in the first scene.
The play has been translated and performed many times, and is responsible for introducing the word "panache" into the English language. The two most famous English translations are those by Brian Hooker and Anthony Burgess.
The play has been adapted for cinema several times, most recently in 1990 with Gerard Depardieu in the title role. That 1990 version's dialogue is in French with subtitles written by Anthony Burgess in rhymed couplets, mirroring the form of the dialogue in the original play. The most famous film version in English is the 1950 film, with José Ferrer in the title role, a performance for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor. In 1959, Hiroshi Inagaki wrote and directed a Japanese version, Aru kengo no shogai (Samurai Saga AKA Life of a Expert Swordsman), setting the story in 17th century Shogunate Japan and starring Toshirō Mifune as the Cyrano character "Heihachiro Komaki" and Yoko Tsukasa as the Roxanne character "Lady Ochii". Ferrer reprised the role in the 1960 French film Cyrano et d'Artagnan, directed by Abel Gance, opposite Jean-Pierre Cassel as D'Artagnan. Much later, Cassel made a cameo appearance as Cyrano de Bergerac in The Return of the Musketeers: the character was depicted as fifty-something and attempting to travel to the Moon with the aid of a balloon.
Other film interpretations of Rostand include the romantic comedies Roxanne, and The Truth About Cats & Dogs, respectively starring Steve Martin and Janeane Garofalo in the Cyrano-like roles. Cyrano Fernández (2007) is a retelling from Venezuela, set in contemporary times, in which Cyrano is disfigured but lacks the large nose.
Geraldine McCaughrean rewrote the play as a novel entitled Cyrano, which was longlisted for the Carnegie Award in 2007. In 1936, Franco Alfano composed his opera, Cyrano de Bergerac, to a libretto based on the play. David Bintley, Director of Birmingham Royal Ballet, created a ballet of the story in 2007. Most recently, David DiChiera rewrote the play as another opera entitled Cyrano, which was produced first by Michigan Opera Theater and then by the Opera Company of Philadelphia (February 2008).
The character of Cyrano also inspired a song, "Cyrano," by Italian performer Francesco Guccini about the hypocrisy, servitude to conventions, and superficialities of modern show business and political society. Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac is one of the main characters in Philip José Farmer's Riverworld novels.
A couple of characters in modern works are based on Cyrano, although not named as such. Robert Heinlein's Glory Road features a cameo appearance by such a figure. The Swordmaster in Alain Ayrole's and Jean-Luc Masbou's French comic book De cape et de crocs portrays a colorful gentleman living on the Moon, at ease either with a sword or with a sonnet, and using both to silence those foolish enough to mock his prominent nose!
In 1995, the award-winning Scottish novelist A. L. (Alison) Kennedy featured a newly-revived Cyrano in her novel 'So I am glad'. The heroine finds him entering her life where she is under stress as a radio 'voice'. We are left unsure whether Cyrano has returned to live with her as her lover for a time or is a figment of her imagination. In any case, she is engaged by the vitality of his character, his revisiting the events of his life and his unorthodoxy and adventures in modern Glasgow.
In 1998, James L. Carcioppolo wrote and published The Lost Sonnets of Cyrano de Bergerac. The book fictionalizes a dying Cyrano writing a sequence of sonnets in an attempt to come to terms with his conflicted life. It portrays a Cyrano very close to the historical personage without diminishing his love for freedom and individuality.
1.^ Addyman, Ishbel, Cyrano: The Life and Legend of Cyrano de Bergerac, (Simon & Schuster Ltd, 2008), ISBN 0743286197
3.^ Afterword to Cyrano de Bergerac’s The Other World - by Don Webb
Addyman, Ishbel (2008). Cyrano: The Life and Legend of Cyrano De Bergerac, Simon & Schuster Ltd.