In the seventeenth century, straightforward and public declarations of love were generally not acceptable, particularly in the courtship stage. In theory, almost the entire ‘wooing’ process was supposed to take place in the presence of chaperones. Young ladies were often accompanied by a nurse, whose job was to make sure the young lady stayed out of trouble and away from young men! Yet, wooing did exist. Long before the days of e-mail and text messaging, love letters and love poetry were the most popular ways of discreetly expressing love. With lofty language being the primary way to woo a lady, it is no wonder that Christian is upset he lacks a way with words. Cyrano "lends" Christian his eloquence, so that he may have a chance at winning Roxane’s heart.
The phrase "courtly love" was popularized in the late 1800s, around the time that Cyrano was written. The phrase specifically refersto a book written by Andreas Cappelanus in the twelfth century called The Art of Courtly Love. The book reads like a dating manual, equipped with helpful tips to woo a lady and "pick-up lines" to help one do so. In the spirit of courtly love, a man must make himself worthy of his mistress by acting bravely and honorably, and by subjecting himself to a series of tests to prove his affection and commitment.
In the play, acts of courtly love are seen in both serious and comic forms. For example, when Christian cries out, "I’ll die if I can’t win her back this instant!...I’m going to die!" The play is poking fun at his over-the-top lovesickness. On the other hand, Christian leading the charge into enemy territory was a more serious way of proving his love to Roxane through acts of bravery.
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Edward Phillips. The mysteries of love & eloquence. London, 1658.
The First Production of Cyrano de Bergerac
Although set in 1640, Cyrano premiered in 1897 at the Theatre de la Porte Saint Martin in Paris, where it was first performed over 400 times. This indoor theatre had a seating capacity of over 2,000 people. Given that it was impossible to lower the house lights, the audience was always aware of each other, and the spectators were often notably vocal during most performances, often heckling or interacting with the actors. The standing room directly in front of the stage, without seats, was called the "parterre" and was strictly reserved for men. Because these were the cheapest tickets, the parterre was usually an eclectic mix of social groups. Elegant, or upper class people watched the show from the galleries. Princes, musketeers, and royal pages were given free entry.