Who was Cyrano de Bergerac?
It’s been a little over a week since Valentine’s day, but love is doubtlessly still in the air. During this month, many people (myself included) will find solace in our favorite love stories: The Notebook, Titanic, Brokeback Mountain, and so on. However, as we spend our time indulging in these classic romances, it’s necessary to reflect on their origins. Many people know that West Side Story was inspired by Romeo and Juliet, and 10 Things I Hate About You has roots in The Taming of the Shrew. But what about films like The Half of it and Sierra Burgess is a Loser? Or that one episode of Star Trek? What about Shrek? All of these stories are the result of one play: Cyrano de Bergerac.
In 1896, French playwright Edmond Rostand wrote the play Cyrano de Bergerac as a fictionalized account of the life of French novelist Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac. The story follows Cyrano, a talented swordsman who is desperately in love with his cousin Roxane. Despite his apparent intelligence and charisma, Cyrano believes himself to be undesirable because of his unusually large nose. Instead of pursuing Roxane directly, Cyrano opts to send Roxane love letters through his friend Christian. Christian, who also loves Roxane, is good-looking but lacks the ability the express his feelings as effectively as Cyrano. At first, their scheme succeeds. Cyrano is able to express his feelings to Roxane (indirectly), and Christian wins the affection of the woman he loves. As tensions begin to rise between the two men, however, it becomes clear that their arrangement is unsustainable. The play ultimately ends with the deaths of both male leads, but Cyrano does eventually confess his love to Roxane, which she reciprocates.
Of course, most modern iterations of Cyrano don’t end nearly as solemnly. That said, the main story beats can be observed in several subsequent romance stories. A protagonist that, for some reason or another, is too timid to pursue the person they love and instead chooses to express their affections through a separate party, is eventually discovered and realizes that what they perceive to be their “flaws” don’t outweigh their genuine feelings or abilities. Sound familiar? It’s a simple story, sure, but an effective one. I find it curious that, though this story has been revitalized time and time again, the original remains widely unknown. Romance stories often act as a form of escapism, but I think there’s some comfort in experiencing stories with protagonists like Cyrano. We may not have a giant nose that makes us feel undeserving of love, but we most certainly have other attributes, physical or otherwise, that make us feel inadequate. Despite Cyrano being largely dramatized, its protagonist remains a sympathetic and relatable character. It sounds cliche, but Cyrano and his many replications show audiences that their “imperfections” will never outshine the quality of their character. That is why this story continues to be told. We love an underdog.
Romance is a genre that’s often overlooked or deemed frivolous and inferior, which is simply untrue. In fact, I think it’s often these kinds of stories that arouse the kind of introspection broad audiences desire. As we near the end of this season of love, I hope that you will continue to reflect on why exactly these stories mean so much to us, and why we choose to tell them, regardless of how many times it has been depicted before. There’s almost always a story behind the story, idly waiting to be uncovered.