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Monsieur Edmond Rostand’s ‘Cyrano’ was a theatrical triumph

Posted in Actors, Historical articles, History, Literature, Theatre on Wednesday, 27 June 2012

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This edited article about Edmond Rostand originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 741 published on 27 March 1976.

Cyrano de Bergerac, picture, image, illustration

Cyrano de Bergerac, eponymous hero of Edmond Rostand’s great romantic drama, by Sep E Scott

The banqueting hall, glittering with chandeliers and sparkling with the jewels of Paris’s most elegant women, buzzed with the chatter of six hundred guests.

Suddenly, all was quiet. From near the centre of the hall a young man rose and, in a moving voice and lyrical verse, began to exclaim his admiration for a woman who was idolized all over Europe.

As her eloquent admirer sat down the woman sighed.

‘Ah, mon poete,’ she said.

The woman was Sarah Bernhardt, acknowledged even today as the greatest French actress of all times. The poet was Edmond Rostand, who, with others, had organized this banquet to pay her tribute.

Despite their difference in age – she was more than twenty years older than him – a close friendship developed. Sarah Bernhardt, when appearing in London, would send her secretary to deliver mail by hand to Rostand’s home in the Pyrenees. She romantically spurned the thought that express post might well deliver it sooner!

Rostand, in turn, poured out his adoration in poetry and prose. For her he wrote dramas in which he deliberately inserted long tirades for her to speak to perfection.

Together they shared a passion for the romantic magnificence of the French Second Empire.

And together they admired the great Romantic tradition of French literature – the poems of Lamartine and De Vigny, and the dramas of Victor Hugo.

It was this compelling influence that set Rostand to write ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’, the supreme example of the romantic theatre.

It was a tremendous triumph and was immediately translated into many languages.

Historians have complained that the play departs from the truth and contains several errors.

But literary critics acclaim it for the sparkling poetry, skilful characterization and fine composition that assure it of lasting fame.

Rostand’s versatility and particularly his attempts to re-create French romantic drama won him reward.

In 1902 he was elected to the French Academy, the institution created by Cardinal Richelieu to honour the great men of French literature.

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