- Cyrano de Bergerac (play)
Cyrano de Bergerac
Cyrano de Bergerac, the man whom the play is named for and based upon.
Written by Edmond Rostand Characters Cyrano de Bergerac
Date premiered 1897 Original language French Genre Romance Setting France, 1640
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.
- 1 Plot summary
- 2 Stage history
- 3 Movies and other adaptations
- 4 Controversy
- 5 Scientific studies
- 6 Well-known quotations
- 7 References
- 8 External links
Hercule Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac, a cadet (nobleman serving as a soldier) in the French Army, is a brash, strong-willed man of many talents. In addition to being a remarkable duelist, he is a gifted, joyful poet and is also shown to be a musician. However, he has an extremely large nose, which is the reason for his own self-doubt. This doubt prevents him from expressing his love for his distant cousin, the beautiful and intellectual heiress Roxane, as he believes that his ugliness denies him the "dream of being loved by even an ugly woman."
Act I – A Performance at the Hôtel Burgundy
The play opens in Paris, 1640, in the theatre of the Hôtel Burgundy. Members of the audience slowly arrive, representing a cross-section of Parisian society from pickpockets to nobility. Christian de Neuvillette, a handsome new cadet, arrives with Lignière, a drunkard who he hopes will identify the young woman with whom he has fallen in love. Lignière recognizes her as Roxane, and tells Christian about her and the Count De Guiche’s scheme to marry her off to the compliant Viscount Valvert. Meanwhile, Ragueneau and Le Bret are expecting Cyrano de Bergerac, who has banished the actor Montfleury from the stage for a month. After Lignière leaves, Christian intercepts a pickpocket and, in return for his freedom, the pickpocket tells Christian of a plot against Lignière. Christian departs to try to warn him.
The play “Clorise” begins with Montfleury’s entrance, and Cyrano disrupts the play, chases him off stage, and compensates the manager for the loss of admission fees. The crowd is going to disperse when Cyrano lashes out at a pesky busybody, then is confronted by Valvert and duels with him while composing a ballade, wounding him as he ends the refrain (as promised: he ends each refrain with "When I end the refrain, 'Thrust Home'.") When the crowd has cleared the theater, Cyrano and Le Bret remain behind, and Cyrano confesses his love for Roxane. Roxane’s duenna then arrives, and asks where Roxane may meet Cyrano privately. Lignière is then brought to Cyrano, having learned that one hundred hired thugs are waiting to ambush him on his way home. Cyrano, now emboldened, vows to take on the entire mob single-handed, and he leads a procession of officers, actors and musicians to the Porte de Nesle.
Act II – The Poets’ Cookshop
The next morning, at Ragueneau’s bake shop, Ragueneau supervises various apprentice cooks in their preparations. Cyrano arrives, anxious about his meeting with Roxane. He is followed by a musketeer, a paramour of Ragueneau’s domineering wife Lise, then the regular gathering of impoverished poets who take advantage of Ragueneau’s hospitality. Cyrano composes a letter to Roxane expressing his deep and unconditional love for her, warns Lise about her indiscretion with the musketeer, and when Roxane arrives he signals Ragueneau to leave them alone.
Roxane and Cyrano talk privately as she bandages his hand (injured from the fracas at the Port de Nesle); she thanks him for defeating Valvert at the theater, and talks about a man whom she has fallen in love with. Cyrano thinks that she is talking about him at first, and is ecstatic, but Roxanne describes her crush as "handsome," and tells him that she is in love with Christian. Roxane fears for Christian’s safety in the predominantly Gascon company of Cadets, so she asks Cyrano to befriend and protect him. This he agrees to do.
After she leaves, Cyrano’s captain arrives with the cadets to congratulate him on his victory from the night before. They are followed by a huge crowd, including De Guiche and his entourage, but Cyrano soon drives them away. Le Bret takes him aside and chastises him for his behavior, but Cyrano responds haughtily. The Cadets press him to tell the story of the fight, teasing the newcomer Christian. When Cyrano recounts the tale, Christian displays his own form of courage by interjecting several times with references to Cyrano’s nose. Cyrano is angry, but remembering his promise to Roxanne, he holds in his temper.
Eventually Cyrano explodes, the shop is evacuated, and Cyrano reveals his identity as Roxanne's cousin. Christian confesses his love for Roxanne but his inability to woo because of his lack of intellect and wit. When Cyrano tells Christian that Roxane expects a letter from him, Christian is despondent, having no eloquence in such matters. Cyrano then offers his services, including his own unsigned letter to Roxane. The Cadets and others return to find the two men embracing, and are flabbergasted. The musketeer from before, thinking it was safe to do so, teases Cyrano about his nose and receives a slap in the face while the Cadets rejoice.
Act III – Roxane’s Kiss
A few days later, outside Roxane’s house. Ragueneau, having been driven bankrupt, is now Roxane’s steward, and is talking with the duenna. His wife, Lise, has left him for the musketeer, and he was committing suicide when Cyrano stopped him and got him the job with Roxanne. Cyrano arrives, with two theorbo-playing pages (as the result of winning a bet). Roxane then emerges, praising Christian’s supposed eloquence. De Guiche then meets with her alone, trying to arrange a rendezvous before he goes off to war; she refuses, but contrives to have the Cadets remain in Paris.
De Guiche leaves, Cyrano returns, Roxane and the duenna then leave, and Cyrano remains to meet Christian and coach him. When Christian does arrive, he refuses Cyrano’s assistance, believing that he can woo Roxane on his own. Roxane soon returns, and Cyrano retreats, leaving a nervously tongue-tied Christian to flounder. Roxane leaves him outside, thoroughly disgusted with his loss of eloquence, and Cyrano re-emerges. Christian begs for his help, and they contrive to have Christian repeat Cyrano’s words to Roxane while she is on her balcony; this changes with Cyrano taking Christian’s place to make it easier. In the course of this, a monk arrives looking for Roxane, and Cyrano sends him in another direction. Cyrano then resumes his wooing of Roxane for Christian, winning Christian a kiss from her.
The monk returns, with a note from De Guiche still trying to meet with her; she makes up a new message, that the monk should marry Roxane and Christian. While the marriage is being performed in Roxane’s house, Cyrano delays De Guiche by pretending to be a stranger with a fantastic tale of seven ways of traveling to the moon. (In fact the real-life Cyrano had written The Other World: Society and Government of the Moon, one of the earliest works of science fiction.) When Roxane and Christian emerge as husband and wife, De Guiche then releases the orders to send the Cadet company to battle. Roxane has Cyrano promise to watch over Christian, and make sure that he writes to her.
Act IV – The Gascon Cadets
The siege of Arras. The Gascon Cadets are among many French forces now cut off by the Spanish, and they are starving. Cyrano, meanwhile, has been writing in Christian’s name twice a day, smuggling letters across the enemy lines. De Guiche, whom the Cadets despise, arrives and chastises them; Cyrano responds with his usual bravura, and De Guiche then signals a spy to tell the Spanish to attack on the Cadets, informing them that they must hold the line while relief comes in. Then a coach arrives, and Roxane emerges from it. She tells how she was able to flirt her way through the Spanish lines. Cyrano tells Christian about the letters, and provides him a farewell letter to give to Roxane if he dies. After De Guiche departs, Roxane provides plenty of food and drink with the assistance of the coach’s driver, Ragueneau. She also tells Christian that, because of the letters, she has grown to love him for his soul alone, and would still love him even if he were ugly.
Christian tells this to Cyrano, and then persuades Cyrano to tell Roxane the truth about the letters, saying he has to be loved for "the fool that he is" to be truly loved at all. Cyrano disbelieves what Christian claims Roxane has said, until she tells him so as well. But, before Cyrano can tell her the truth, Christian is brought back to the camp, having been fatally shot. Cyrano realizes that, in order to preserve Roxane's image of an eloquent Christian, he cannot tell her the truth. The battle ensues, a distraught Roxane collapses and is carried off by De Guiche and Ragueneau, and Cyrano rallies the Cadets to hold back the Spanish until relief arrives.
Act V – Cyrano’s Gazette
Fifteen years later, at a convent outside Paris. Roxane now resides here, eternally mourning her beloved Christian. She is visited by De Guiche, Le Bret and Ragueneau, and she expects Cyrano to come by as he always has with news of the outside world. On this day, however, he has been mortally wounded by someone who dropped a huge log on his head from a tall building. While he arrives to deliver his “gazette” to Roxane, it will be his last. Knowing this, he asks Roxane if he can read "Christian's" farewell letter. She gives it to him, and he reads it aloud as it grows dark. Listening to his voice, she realizes that it is Cyrano who was the author of all the letters, but Cyrano denies this to his death. Ragueneau and Le Bret return, telling Roxane of Cyrano’s injury. While Cyrano grows delirious, his friends weep and Roxane tells him that she loves him. He combats various foes, half imaginary and half symbolic, conceding that he has lost all but one important thing – his panache – as he dies in Roxane's arms.
The original Cyrano was Constant Coquelin, who played it over 410 times at the Théâtre de la Porte Saint-Martin and later toured North America in the role. Richard Mansfield was the first actor to play Cyrano in the United States in an English translation. The longest-running Broadway production ran 232 performances in 1923 and starred Walter Hampden, who returned to the role on the Great White Way in 1926, 1928, 1932, and 1936. Hampden used the 1923 Brian Hooker translation prepared especially for him, which became such a classic in itself that it was used by virtually every English-speaking Cyrano until the mid-1980s.
In 1946 Hampden passed the torch to José Ferrer, who won a Tony Award for playing Cyrano in a much-praised Broadway staging, the highlight of which was a special benefit performance in which Ferrer played the title role for the first four acts and Hampden (then in his mid-sixties) assumed it for the fifth. Ferrer reprised the role on live television in 1949 and 1955, and in a 1950 film version for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor. It became Ferrer's most famous role.
Other notable English-speaking Cyranos were Ralph Richardson, DeVeren Bookwalter, Derek Jacobi, Richard Chamberlain, and Christopher Plummer, who played the part in Rostand's original play and won a Tony Award for the 1973 musical adaptation. Kevin Kline played the role in a Broadway production in 2007, with Jennifer Garner playing Roxane and Daniel Sunjata as Christian. A taped version of the production was broadcast on PBS in 2009.
Later stage versions
Anthony Burgess wrote a new translation and adaptation of Cyrano de Bergerac in 1970, which had its world premiere at the Tyrone Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. Paul Hecht was Cyrano. Also in the cast were Len Cariou as Christian, and Roberta Maxwell as Roxane. A later production was the Royal Shakespeare Company's acclaimed 1983 stage production, starring Derek Jacobi as Cyrano and Alice Krige (later Sinéad Cusack) as Roxanne, which was videotaped and broadcast on television in 1985.
Emily Frankel wrote a condensed prose adaption for her husband John Cullum which was was first performed at Syracuse Stage, directed by Arthur Storch, in 1983, then at Atlanta's Alliance Theatre in 1984. A national tour in 1985-1986 concluded with a month's stay at Baltimore's Morris Mechanic Theatre. In 2004, Barksdale Theatre in Richmond kicked off its 50th Anniversary season with a production of Emily Frankel's Cyrano, starring David Bridgewater.
Another new translation by Michael Hollinger had its premier at the Folger Theatre, Washington, D.C., in April, 2011. Directed by Aaron Posner and produced by Janet Griffin, the adaptation is an accessible American translation that is true to the intent and sensibility of the original.
In 1973, a musical adaptation by Anthony Burgess, called Cyrano and starring Christopher Plummer (who won a Tony Award for his performance), appeared in Boston and then on Broadway. Twenty years later, a Dutch musical stage adaptation was translated into English and produced on Broadway as Cyrano: The Musical. Both the 1973 and 1993 versions were critical and commercial failures.
Jatinder Verma wrote and directed an adaptation in English, Hindi and Urdu set in 1930’s India starring Naseeruddin Shah. The play opened at the National Theatre, London in October 1995.
In 1997 Frank Langella created and directed and performed the title role in a stripped-down version of the play simply titled Cyrano.
Sound & Fury, a Los Angeles-based comedy trio, presented their parody of the play, called Cyranose! in L.A. at Café-Club Fais Do-Do in September 2007. It was also filmed and released on DVD.
The Stratford Shakespeare Festival performed the play during their 2009 season, starring Colm Feore in the title role. This production was unique in that it combined the translation by Anthony Burgess with portions of the original French text, taking advantage of Canadian bilingualism for dramatic effect.
David Leveaux directed a new Broadway revival of the play, using the Anthony Burgess translation, in 2008 starring Daniel Sunjata as Christian, Jennifer Garner as Roxanne, and Tony Award Winner Kevin Kline as Cyrano. This production was later filmed for television and subsequently released on DVD.
Barry Wyner loosely based his 2006 new musical Calvin Berger on Rostand's play.
Movies and other adaptations
A silent, hand tinted French-Italian film version of the play, starring Pierre Magnier, was made in 1925.
José Ferrer played the role in the 1950 film, the first film version of the play made in English. The film was made on a low budget, and although it was highly acclaimed, it was a box office disappointment and was nominated for only one Oscar – Best Actor – which was won by Ferrer. Nevertheless, it has become a film classic. Mala Powers co-starred as Roxane and William Prince played Christian. This is perhaps the most famous film version of the play.
There is also a relatively unknown French-language black-and-white film version made in 1945, starring Claude Dauphin. Posters and film stills give the impression that the set designs and costumes of the 1950 José Ferrer film may have been modeled on those in the 1945 movie.
Aru kengo no shogai (literally, "Life of an Expert Swordsman"), is a 1959 samurai film by Hiroshi Inagaki, adapted from Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac. It was released in the English-language market with the title Samurai Saga.
A pornographic adaptation titled Cyrano, directed by Paul Norman, was released in 1991.
The Indian movie Duet (1994) is based on this play.
The 1996 film The Truth About Cats & Dogs is a modern gender reversal of the story.
The movie Bigger Than the Sky (2005) is set around the actors performing a rendition of the play.
In 2007, a contemporary retelling of the tale was made into a movie in Venezuela, with the title Cyrano Fernández. In this case, Cyrano was disfigured and without the large nose. The movie is set in present times.
The movie The Ugly Truth has a similar plot, with a reverse variation involving Cyrano's counterpart advising his own love interest how to date another man, but eventually falling for her himself.
The 2010 movie "Megamind" features a plot that echoes the play, including a titular character with an outlandishly large body part. Megamind falls in love with Roxanne and woos her as Bernard, believing that he would never win her heart as himself. Much like the 1987 comedic adaptation, Megamind features a happy ending for the protagonists.
The Korean Movie 시라노; 연애조작단 (Cyrano; Dating Agency) is an adaptation of this play.
An hour-long adaptation of the play was produced by WHA Radio, forerunner of Wisconsin Public Radio in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1938 with Gerald Bartell as Cyrano.
Kenneth Branagh starred as Cyrano and Jodhi May as Roxanne in a 2008 BBC Radio 3 production using the Anthony Burgess translation and directed by David Timson. This production was re-broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on 4 April 2010.
Ferrer would go on to voice a highly truncated cartoon version of the play for an episode of The ABC Afterschool Special in 1974.
In 1964, The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo presented a cartoon adaptation of Cyrano.
A Brady Bunch Episode, 1972, Season 4, Episode 5: Cyrano de Brady Peter wants desperately to break the ice with his pretty classmate, Kerry, but nerves get in the way. Greg hides in a bush and tells him things to say. But Kerry has been studying Cyrano de Bergerac at school and concludes that Greg is the one in love with her.
In an installment of "Monsterpiece Theater" on the children's show Sesame Street, there is a character named "Cyranose", who substitutes a sword with, appropriately, his exaggeratedly long nose. He has a very hot temper and goes ballistic, swinging his nose in blind rage, every time someone says the word "nose", as he automatically believes they are ridiculing him.
In the Roseanne episode titled "Communicable Theater", Jackie, while going through a phase of appreciation to fine arts, is assigned to be Roxanne's understudy while playing a minor character in the show, and then has to play Roxanne having not studied the lines when her performer catches the flu.
The January 1995 episode of Boy Meets World entitled "Cyrano" takes the play as its plot and involves two characters winning a girl secretly for another boy.
On the PBS show Wishbone, it was the story featured in the episode "Cyranose".
In All Dogs Go to Heaven: The Series, Itchy enlists Charlie to help him win over a pretty Cocker Spaniel named Bess (who ends up briefly thinking that Charlie's the one in love with her) in the episode Cyrano de Barkinac.
In Season Seven of Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, when Sabrina had troubles saying she loved her boyfriend, Aaron, she conjured her own personal Cyrano, named Sarah. The episode was appropriately titled, "Getting to Nose You."
The Simpsons episode, "My Big Fat Geek Wedding" (2004), alludes to the play when Homer, acting as a modern day Cyrano, attempts to help Principal Skinner gain back Ms. Krabappel's affections.
An opera in French, Cyrano de Bergerac, whose libretto by Henri Cain is based on Rostand's words, was composed by the Italian Franco Alfano and was revived by the Metropolitan Opera with Plácido Domingo in the title role.
David Bintley created a ballet Cyrano for the Birmingham Royal Ballet. The world premiere was on 7 February 2007.
There is also a filmed ballet version (in color) from the 1950s.
Books and stories
In 1930, pulp-magazine author Anatole Feldman adapted the play as a Chicago gangland tale. The story, "Serrano of the Stockyards," appeared in the May 1930 issue of Gangster Stories. Cyrano became the fearsome, but homely hood Big Nose Serrano. The plot followed the outline of the play. Serrano was in love with a "frail" named Annie (i.e. Roxanne). He supplied poetry, included in the narrative, to a young friend named Chris (i.e. Christian) who became Annie's suitor. Big Nose belongs to the gang of Charlie LeBrett. Battles are waged with Thompson submachine guns instead of rapiers. The character of Big Nose became so popular that Feldman continued to write of his adventures. Twelve tales eventually appeared in Gangster Stories, Greater Gangster Stories, and The Gang Magazine, through 1935. Feldman had worked in Broadway in the early '20s, and had written a play; this experience may be what inspired him to create Serrano when he later turned to pulp writing.
The Brazilian book A Marca de Uma Lagrima (The Stain of a Tear) tells the story of a girl, Isabel, who writes love letters to her cousin, Cristiano, in the name of her best friend Rosana.
"Sir Nose D’Voidoffunk" is a character with a Pinocchio-like nose, whose moniker is a play on the name "Cyrano de Bergerac." Sir Nose is an antagonist within P-Funk mythology, and first appears on the album Funkentelechy Vs. the Placebo Syndrome by Parliament.
The Blues Traveler song "Sweet Pain" mentions this play.
The song "Sloppy Love Jingle Pt. 1" by the band Gym Class Heroes references Cyrano.
The song "Cyrano de Berger's Back" by X is based on the play.
The song "The Poet" by Liberty X incorrectly references the supposed insincerity of Cyrano de Bergerac, showing that the lyricist had little knowledge of the piece. The song's lyrics seem to suggest that Cyrano stole other people's words and pretended they were his.
The song "Definition" by Talib Kweli and Mos Def references Cyrano in the line "...with the lyrics like I'm Cyrano."
The song "Uh Oh" by Talib Kweli featuring Jean Grae references De Bergerac in the line "Jean Martine De Bergerac".
The song "Little Miss Cant Be Wrong" by the Spin Doctors references Cyrano.
The claim that The Police song "Roxanne" actually refers to the character from the play is spurious. In the play, Roxane is a high-born intellectual, a 'blue-stocking.' In the song by the Police, she's very obviously a prostitute. Sting claims simply to have used the name after seeing an old theatre poster for a production of Cyrano hanging in the foyer of a Parisian hotel in which he was staying.
It is claimed that Rostand stole the idea for the play from Samuel Eberly Gross, a Chicago real estate developer. In 1896 Gross wrote a play, The Merchant Prince of Corneville, which was published in Illinois in a limited edition of 250 copies. In 1902 Gross sued Rostand for plagiarizing this work. The judge, disregarding Rostand’s defense that he had never seen or heard of Gross’ play, and ignoring the dissimilarities of character, style of writing, humor and plot, found for the plaintiff and granted a permanent injunction against Rostand’s play ever appearing in the USA. This may or may not still be in force.
Prof. Stanley Milgram, a while after his famous Obedience to authority experiment, made a study about what he called cyranoïds : people talking to somebody else by just repeating with their own voice what they were dictated in discrete inner earphones. This research was quoted by Omni magazine in the late seventies.
Cyrano, talking about his own nose:
- Descriptive: It's a rock! A peak! A cape!
- – A cape? Forsooth! It's a peninsula!
- Descriptif : C'est un roc ! C'est un pic ! C'est un cap !
- – Que dis-je, c'est un cap ! C'est une péninsule !
Cyrano, prompting Christian, explaining to Roxane what a kiss means to him:
- A kiss, when all is said, what is it?
- An oath that's ratified, a sealed promise,
- A heart's avowal claiming confirmation,
- A rose-dot on the 'i' of 'adoration';
- A secret that to mouth, not ear, is whispered ...
- Un baiser, mais à tout prendre, qu'est-ce ?
- Un serment fait d'un peu plus près, une promesse
- Plus précise, un aveu qui veut se confirmer,
- Un point rose qu'on met sur l'i du verbe aimer;
- C'est un secret qui prend la bouche pour oreille ...
- ^ http://books.google.ca/books?id=Fqo9xbJEnz4C&q=introduced
- ^ The Cambridge Guide to Theatre, Cambridge University Press (1995)
- ^ Internet Broadway Database: Walter Hampden Credits on Broadway
- ^ John Wells' plays
- ^ "Review/Theater; Cyrano Opens a Tour of the Parks," New York Times, 6 July 1989.
- ^ http://www.cyranodebergerac.fr/scenes_ecrans_contenu.php?contenu_id=49
- ^ "Cyrano – A World Premiere Opera". Michigan Opera Theatre. 2007. http://www.cyranotheopera.com/index.html. Retrieved 19 August 2008.
- ^ "Samuel Gross's Cyrano". New York Times. 1 June 1902. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=9C04E2DD113DEE32A25752C0A9609C946397D6CF. Retrieved 12 January 2009.
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