Cyrano de Bergerac

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This article is about the French dramatist. For works based on his life, see Cyrano de Bergerac (disambiguation).
Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac.JPG
Cyrano de Bergerac
Born (1619-03-06)6 March 1619
Paris,[1] France
Died 28 July 1655(1655-07-28) (aged 36)
Sannois, France
Occupation Playwright

Hercule-Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac (6 March 1619 – 28 July 1655) was a French dramatist and duelist. In fictional works about his life he is featured with an overly large nose, which people would travel from miles around to see. Portraits suggest that he did have a big nose, though not nearly as large as described in works about him. Cyrano's work furnished models and ideas for subsequent writers.

Life and works[edit]

He was the son of Abel de Cyrano, lord of Mauvières and Bergerac, and Espérance Bellanger. He received his first education from a country priest, and had for a fellow pupil his friend and future biographer Henri Lebret. He then proceeded to Paris, and the heart of the Latin Quarter, to the college de Dormans-Beauvais,[1] where he had as master Jean Grangier, whom he afterwards ridiculed in his comedy Le Pédant joué (The Pedant Tricked) of 1654. At the age of nineteen, he entered a corps of the guards, serving in the campaigns of 1639 and 1640.[2]

One author, Ishbel Addyman, varies from other biographers and claims that he was not a Gascon aristocrat, but a descendant of Sardinian fishmonger, that the Bergerac appellation stemmed from a small estate near Paris where he was born, and not in Gascony, that he may have suffered tertiary syphilis. She also claims that he may likely have been homosexual and around 1640 he became the lover of Charles Coypeau d'Assoucy,[3] 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.[3] 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). He also associated with Théophile de Viau, the French poet and libertine.

He is said to have left the military and returned to Paris to pursue literature, producing tragedies cast in the orthodox classical mode.[2]

The model for the Roxane character of the Rostand play was Bergerac's cousin, who lived with his sister, Catherine de Bergerac, at the Convent of the Daughter of the Cross. 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 confrères in the battle was the Baron Christian of Neuvillette, who married Cyrano's cousin. However, the plotline of Rostand's play, Cyrano de Bergerac, involving Roxane and Christian is entirely fictional.

Cyrano was a pupil of French polymath Pierre Gassendi, a canon of the Catholic Church who tried to reconcile Epicurean atomism with Christianity.

Statue in Bergerac, Dordogne (Place de la Myrpe)

Cyrano de Bergerac's works L'Autre Monde: ou les États et Empires de la Lune (Comical History of the States and Empires of the Moon) (published posthumously, 1657) and Les États et Empires du Soleil (The States and Empires of the Sun) (1662) are classics of early modern science fiction. In the former, Cyrano travels to the moon using rockets powered by firecrackers and meets the inhabitants. The moon-men have four legs, musical voices, and firearms that shoot game and cook it.

His mixture of science and romance in the last two works furnished a model for many subsequent writers, among them Jonathan Swift, Edgar Allan Poe and probably Voltaire. Corneille and Molière freely borrowed ideas from Le Pédant joué.[2]

Death[edit]

The play suggests that he was injured by a falling wooden beam in 1654 while entering the house of his patron, the Duc D'Arpajon. However the academic and editor of Cyrano's works Madeleine Alcover uncovered a contemporary text which clearly points to an attack on the Duke's carriage in which a member of his household was injured. This is a much more likely scenario for Cyrano's fatal accident. It is as yet inconclusive as to whether or not his death was a result of the injury, or an unspecified disease.[4] He died over a year later on July 28, 1655, aged 36, at the house of his cousin, Pierre De Cyrano, in Sannois. He was buried in a church in Sannois. However there is strong evidence to support the theory that his death was a result of a botched assassination attempt as well as further damage to his health caused by a period of confinement in a private asylum, orchestrated by his enemies, who succeeded in enlisting the help of his own brother Abel de Cyrano.

Fiction[edit]

Rostand[edit]

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 play has been adapted for cinema several times, notably in 1990 with Gérard 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. Steve Martin wrote and starred in a contemporary retelling, Roxanne, earning himself the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Adapted Screenplay in 1988.

Geraldine McCaughrean rewrote the play as a novel entitled Cyrano, which was longlisted for the Carnegie Award in 2007.

David Bintley, Director of Birmingham Royal Ballet, created a ballet of the story in 2007.

Rostand's work adapted for opera[edit]

The 1913 opera Cyrano by Walter Damrosch, with a libretto by William James Henderson.

In 1936, Franco Alfano composed his opera, Cyrano de Bergerac.

Eino Tamberg composed another opera titled Cyrano de Bergerac in 1974, to a libretto by Jaan Kross.[5]

David DiChiera rewrote the play as another opera entitled Cyrano, which was produced first by Michigan Opera Theatre and then by the Opera Company of Philadelphia (February 2008).

Title page to 1919 edition of The Adventures of Cyrano De Bergerac by Louis Gallet

Other works[edit]

The Adventures of Cyrano De Bergerac, by Louis Gallet, was published in English by Jarrolds Publishers (London) in 1900. This is a swashbuckling tale of adventure and romance bearing no resemblance to Rostand's play, other than the outstanding physical characteristics of the de Bergerac character.

He is one of the main characters of the Riverworld series of books by Philip José Farmer.

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Addyman, Ishbel (2008). Cyrano: The Life and Legend of Cyrano De Bergerac, Simon & Schuster

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Chronologie, Voyage dans la lune, Garnier-Flammarion 1970, p. 7
  2. ^ a b c  Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Cyrano de Bergerac, Savinien". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 
  3. ^ a b Addyman, Ishbel, Cyrano: The Life and Legend of Cyrano de Bergerac, (Simon & Schuster, 2008), ISBN 0743286197
  4. ^ Afterword to Cyrano de Bergerac's The Other World - by Don Webb
  5. ^ "Tamberg, Eino". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians 25 (2nd ed.). London. 2001. 

External links[edit]