Act 2, Scenes 1-10
Act 2, scene 1
At Ragueneau’s shop, Ragueneau is sitting at a table writing poetry while his assistants are cooking. One assistant has made a pastry lyre (a traditional symbol of poetry), which delights Ragueneau. Ragueneau’s wife Lise comes in, furious that he has been giving away his wares to poets in return for poems. She brings some paper bags that she has made out of the paper on which the poems are written. Ragueneau is upset that she should abuse poetry like this.
Act 2, scene 2
Some children come into the shop to buy three pies. Ragueneau cannot bear to lose the poems by using them as wrapping and bribes the children with three free pies to accept them unwrapped.
Act 2, scene 3
Cyrano arrives at Ragueneau’s. Ragueneau congratulates Cyrano on his “duel in verse” at the theater. Cyrano asks Ragueneau to leave him alone with Roxane when she arrives, but Ragueneau says that he cannot, as his poet friends are arriving shortly for their breakfast. A Musketeer comes in, and Ragueneau tells Cyrano that he is a friend of his wife’s.
Cyrano begins to write a letter declaring his love for Roxane. He plans to hand her the note rather than face speaking to her directly.
Act 2, scene 4
At Ragueneau’s shop, Cyrano is writing his letter to Roxane. The letter is eloquent and full of passion. The poets arrive for their breakfast. They are talking admiringly of an unknown swordsman who successfully defeated a huge gang of men at the Porte de Nesle. Eight of the men are dead. Cyrano denies all knowledge of the incident.
As the poets devour Ragueneau’s wares, Ragueneau recites a poem he has written, a rhyming recipe for almond tartlets.
Cyrano notices that Lise is in deep conversation with the Musketeer. Cyrano reminds her that Ragueneau is his friend and that he will not tolerate her having an affair with the Musketeer. Cyrano signals to Ragueneau that it is time to leave him on his own, and Ragueneau ushers the poets into another room.
Act 2, scene 5
Roxane and her Duenna arrive, wearing masks. Cyrano bribes the Duenna with cream buns to wait outside while he talks to Roxane on her own.
Act 2, scene 6
Cyrano begins to address Roxane as a lover grateful to be acknowledged, but Roxane interrupts him to explain that the first purpose of her visit is to thank him for puncturing the pride of Valvert by fighting him in the theater. She reminisces with Cyrano about the happy times they spent together as children. She tends to his hand, which he has wounded in the fight at the Porte de Nesle.
Roxane confesses that she is in love with someone who does not know that she loves him. She thinks that he loves her in return, but he is shy and dare not speak. Cyrano feels encouraged, as this could mean him. But as soon as Roxane says that the man is handsome, Cyrano feels discouraged, feeling that she cannot be thinking of him. When she names Christian, Cyrano warns her that he may not be intelligent enough for her. But she believes that anyone who is so beautiful on the outside must be eloquent also. She has invited Cyrano to meet her in order to ask him to protect Christian, as he is the only cadet in Cyrano’s company who does not come from the region of Gascony, and she fears he will be picked on. Cyrano promises to look after Christian. Roxane expresses her friendly love for Cyrano and leaves. Cyrano looks despondent.
Act 2, scene 7
Ragueneau, the poets, and the captain of the Guards, Carbon de Castel-Jaloux, enter with a crowd of people. Carbon tells Cyrano that everyone knows it was Cyrano who fought the hundred men, and they have come to congratulate him. Cyrano draws back, unwilling to be the center of attention. De Guiche arrives with a message of admiration from the Maréchal de Gassion, an important man. Cyrano sings to him the song of the Guardsof Gascony. De Guiche asks Cyrano to accept his patronage, but Cyrano refuses, as he prefers to remain independent. De Guiche offers to introduce Cyrano to his uncle, Cardinal Richelieu, the most powerful man in France. Le Bret urges Cyrano to accept in order to further his literary career. But Cyrano is concerned that Richelieu will try to change his work, and again refuses.
A cadet enters with some hats with broken feathers, left by at the Porte de Nesle by the men who ran away from Cyrano. Cyrano presents them to de Guiche, announcing that the hats belong to him, or his friends. De Guiche, furious, storms out. The crowd disperses.
Act 2, scene 8
Le Bret scolds Cyrano for his pride in refusing de Guiche’s patronage. Cyrano replies that he wants to remain free and to be the sole owner of his work. He does not intend to live as a parasite. Le Bret counters that Cyrano makes enemies wherever he goes. Cyrano replies that he has no interest in making friends with unworthy men. Le Bret guesses that Cyrano has learned that Roxane does not love him.
Act 2, scene 9
Christian enters with some of the cadets. None of them sit with him. They taunt him for being a northerner, and warn him not to mention Cyrano’s nose, as Cyrano may kill him. Christian asks Carbon what a northerner should do when southerners boast too much. Carbon answers that he should show them that a northerner can be as brave as a southerner.
The Guards beg Cyrano to tell them the story of what happened at the Porte de Nesle. Christian, in an attempt to demonstrate his courage to the cadets, constantly interrupts Cyrano’s narrative to make jokes about his nose. The Guardsare terrified of how Cyrano might respond. Cyrano moves threateningly towards Christian, but on hearing who he is, he stops in his tracks and controls his anger. Christian continues to taunt Cyrano about his nose. Finally, Cyrano can contain himself no longer and orders the other Guards out of the room. They rush out, expecting to return to see Christian’s corpse chopped into pieces.
Act 2, scene 10
Cyrano commends Christian’s bravery and, to Christian’s astonishment, embraces him. Cyrano tells Christian that he is Roxane’s cousin and that she loves him. Christian apologizes to Cyrano for insulting him. Christian fears that Roxane will lose interest in him as soon as he speaks to her, as he is so stupid. Cyrano proposes that he join his eloquence to Christian’s good looks to create the perfect lover for Roxane. He will write some eloquent speeches for Christian to deliver to Roxane as his own. Cyrano claims that he only wants to do this to practise his literary skills. From his pocket, he produces the letter he wrote earlier to Roxane and hands it to Christian to give to her. Christian embraces Cyrano in gratitude.
The other Guards, Lise, and the Musketeer enter and are astonished to see Cyrano embracing Christian. The Musketeer believes that Cyrano must have undergone a transformation that means it is safe to talk about his nose. He impudently stares at Cyrano’s nose, asking what the smell could be. Cyrano cries, “It’s pigshit!” and floors the Musketeer with a blow.
Analysis of Act 2, scenes 1–10
Act 2 draws a stark contrast between Cyrano’s fearlessness in matters of courage and honor in battle, and his terror when faced with his love for Roxane. Christian, another brave man whose courage fails him in love, is Cyrano’s mirror when it comes to feeling inadequate as a lover. But Christian is Cyrano’s opposite when it comes to the reasons for his feelings of inadequacy. Christian is self-assured about his looks but is certain that he is so stupid that Roxane will lose interest in him the moment he opens his mouth to speak. Cyrano, on the other hand, feels physically unattractive but is confident in his wit and intelligence.
Cyrano’s suggestion that they combine his own wit and eloquence to Christian’s good looks to make the perfect lover for Roxane is significant on many levels. First, it comments ironically on a conviction held by many a lover in every age: that they are not good enough to be loved by the object of their desires as they really are. Cyrano believes that if only he had Christian’s looks, he would succeed with Roxane, and Christian believes that if only he had Cyrano’s intelligence, he would succeed with Roxane.
Second, the two men’s decision to combine forces (a decision that seems doomed from the start, as it relies on a deception that cannot be sustained) also carries the implicit suggestion that no one is perfect, so people should celebrate whatever good qualities they possess and not dwell on their shortcomings. In the character of Cyrano, the play focuses on a source of inadequacy that is particularly relevant to the modern age: the obsession with physical perfection.
Third, Cyrano’s suggestion represents a fall from grace for a man who in every other respect has shown honor, integrity, and a devotion to truth. However honorable and selfless Cyrano’s final aim might be (to unite Christian with Roxane), the means by which he will achieve his aim is deception of Roxane. Roxane shows herself to be a person of intelligence, compassion, and integrity, and the reader may well feel indignant that she should be wooed by a chimera, an illusion that does not really exist.
Fourth, Cyrano’s suggestion sets in motion the major conflict that drives the action of the play. The notion of combining forces with Christian will enable him to have the vicarious joy of declaring his love for Roxane, but the fact that Cyrano deceives her into believing that his words are Christian’s means that he can never win her for himself.
The power of words, as embodied in literature, continues to be an important theme in Act 2. Rostand shows how words can both divide people (Lise despises her husband for putting literature above financial security) and bring them closer together in love (Cyrano intends to woo Roxane for Christian by writing eloquent letters and speeches). Their intention that Christian will recite Cyrano’s lines just as an actor recites lines in a play symbolically turns the wooing of Roxane into a piece of theater in which Cyrano is the playwright, Christian the unintelligent but attractive leading man, and Roxane the audience. This mirrors the opening scenes of the play, in which Cyrano directed events, Montfleury was the untalented actor, and Roxane was, once again, a spectator.
There is bitter dramatic irony in the scene between Roxane and Cyrano. Cyrano, emboldened by Le Bret’s encouragement, is ready to declare his love, but Roxane has invited him to the meeting in order to ask him to protect Christian. Ordinarily, Cyrano and Christian would be rivals or even enemies due to their love for the same woman. But Roxane’s request to Cyrano that he protect Christian means that he must become Christian’s friend and supporter. Cyrano’s embrace of this unforeseen role is his greatest act of heroism so far. He is sacrificing his own self-interest for the sake of (as he sees it) others’ happiness.