What is Edmond Rostand’s most famous play?

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Do you love theater, poetry or simply a love story spiced up with adventure and humor? Then you need to know Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac. First performed in 1897, this essential play introduces audiences to an exceptional character: Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac. A 17th century writer, soldier and duellist, Savinien is distinguished by his intelligence, courage and famous big nose.

Madly in love with his cousin Roxane, Cyrano refuses to reveal his feelings to her, preferring to facilitate his conquest by Christian, an attractive but misguided man. In this tragi-comic tale, Rostand celebrates honor, loyalty, generosity and freedom.

How was this memorable character and story forged? What were the key elements for Rostand in creating this timeless work? And what legacy has it left for our culture?

Cyrano de Bergerac: a monument of French literature

Historical background and creation of the play

Cyrano de Bergerac is a major theatrical work written by Edmond Rostand in 1897. Freely inspired by the life and writings of Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac, the famous 17th century writer, playwright and duellist, the play brilliantly integrates real historical events such as the siege of Arras and the Académie française with elements of pure fiction and anachronisms, notably the character of Christian de Neuvillette and the evocation of a voyage to the States and Empires of the Moon.

In this way, Rostand succeeds in fusing the real and the imaginary, creating a setting that is both novelistic and fanciful, at odds with the prevailing realism of his time.

The emblematic story of love and bravery

At the heart of Cyrano de Bergerac lies a tragic, impossible love story between Cyrano, a poet and warrior with a prominent nose, and Roxane, his stunningly beautiful, quick-witted cousin.

Convinced that his appearance excludes him from the possibility of being loved, Cyrano chooses to keep his love a secret and supports Roxane in her conquest of Christian, an attractive but eloquent young man. Cyrano lends his pen and voice to Christian, passing him off as a virtuoso poet.

Enchanted by the charm of Christian’s words, without realizing that it is Cyrano’s soul that she adores, Roxane falls in love.

The play blends the tragic, embodied by Cyrano’s self-sacrifice and Christian’s disappearance, with the comic, through verbal jousting, iconic balcony scenes and moments in the convent.

Immediate and lasting success

From its first performance at the Théâtre de la Porte Saint-Martin on December 28, 1897, Cyrano de Bergerac was a triumph.

Acclaimed by critics and audiences alike, Constant Coquelin stood out in the title role. The play quickly gained international renown, with numerous adaptations for film, television, opera and even comic strips. It has become a symbol of French culture, defining the genre of heroic comedy that combines adventure, lyricism and humor.

Cyrano de Bergerac is also a celebration of values such as freedom, loyalty and panache, brilliantly embodied by its main character, making him one of the most admired figures in French literature.

Key elements of Rostand’s masterpiece

Iconic characters

Rostand’s play features vibrant, colorful characters who have captivated audiences. Among them, Cyrano de Bergerac stands out: a unique hero with a big nose, a symbol of genius, courage, humor, tenderness and nobility. As the author’s spokesman, he expresses a profound vision of art, love and life.

Roxane, the embodiment of the ideal woman through her beauty, intelligence and fidelity, becomes the center of a complex love triangle with Cyrano, Christian and Count de Guiche.

Christian is Cyrano’s rival in love, but also his friend, helping him to win Roxane’s heart through the magic of words, despite his physical beauty masking his lack of eloquence. He embodies the duel between appearance and essence.

Count de Guiche, the story’s antagonist, desires Roxane out of ambition and pride, symbolizing corrupt power and cowardice.

Around them gravitate characters such as Captain Carbon de Castel-Jaloux, Ragueneau, Le Bret, Lignière, Montfleury, the duègne and the nun, adding richness and diversity to this dynamic tableau.

Universal themes and mastery of language

Rostand explores universal themes such as love in all its forms, art as a vehicle for emotions, war and its consequences, and death as the ultimate sacrifice for one’s convictions. He weaves these themes through a rich and varied language, using verse and figures of speech that enrich the narrative, ranging from the comic to the tragic.

He uses dramatic techniques such as dialogue, monologue and quiproquo, captivating the audience with a dynamic and surprising play.

Cyrano’s symbolism and cultural influence

Cyrano de Bergerac transcends his role as a character to become a timeless symbol of universal human values such as freedom, loyalty, generosity and love, reflecting human struggles and aspirations throughout the ages.

A figure of worldwide inspiration, Cyrano has left an indelible imprint on many artistic fields. From Victor Hugo and Jean-Paul Sartre to Gérard Depardieu and Jean-Paul Rappeneau, his story, style and panache have influenced generations of artists, writers, filmmakers, musicians and politicians, underscoring the immense scope of his cultural legacy.

Cyrano de Bergerac’s legacy around the world

Film and stage adaptations

Rostand’s work has been magnificently transposed to film and theater, earning him worldwide recognition.

Jean-Paul Rappeneau’s 1990 film adaptation, with Gérard Depardieu in the title role, is one of the most remarkable, winning ten Césars and the Oscar for Best Foreign Film. We should also mention Michael Gordon’s 1950 adaptation, starring José Ferrer, which won the Oscar for Best Actor, and Steve Martin’s 1987 adaptation, Roxanne, which transposes the story to contemporary times.

The theatrical scene has not been left behind, with stagings as diverse as they are breathtaking. Constant Coquelin’s performance in 1897, the first to play Cyrano, remains legendary, with over 400 performances. Derek Jacobi, at London’s Royal National Theatre in 1983, and Kevin Kline, at Broadway’s Richard Rodgers Theatre in 2007, have also made their mark, each receiving prestigious nominations and awards for their interpretation of the title role.

Cyrano de Bergerac has become a symbol of panache and verbal elegance, enriching the French language with expressions such as avoir du panache or faire le Cyrano.

Beyond language, his influence extends to fictional characters, from Asterix to Shrek to V in V for Vendetta, each borrowing traits of character or appearance from Cyrano.

The work has also inspired numerous literary, musical and educational adaptations, testifying to its rich creative and educational potential.

The work’s importance to modern theater

Rostand’s play remains a pillar of contemporary theater, whose universal themes of love, art and freedom still resonate today. Cyrano, with his ideals, dreams and heartbreaks, continues to appeal to a wide audience. The play’s ability to blend tragedy and comedy, lyricism and burlesque, makes it a show rich in nuance. It represents a unique poetic language, a challenge for theater professionals seeking to present their vision of the play while remaining faithful to its essence. Ultimately, Cyrano invites deep reflection on the fundamental questions of the human condition and art.

Cyrano de Bergerac is not just an extraordinary piece of French and world literary history: it’s an emotional journey through time. At the heart of this literary adventure is Cyrano, a legendary character whose genius, courage, love and above all panache captivate us deeply.

The play transports us through a palette of emotions, skilfully playing on our laughter and tears, while inviting us to reflect and escape. His enchanting show shines with thematic richness, diversity, aesthetic beauty and powerful musicality.

Beyond entertainment, Cyrano de Bergerac challenges us with universal values and ideals that resonate with each and every one of us, inspiring and encouraging us to pursue freedom, fidelity, generosity, art, love and to celebrate life.



What is Edmond Rostand's most famous play?


Cyrano de Bergerac, Edmond Rostand's famous play inspired by Savinien de Cyrano, was first performed in Paris on December 28, 1897.