Updated: Apr 7
Today we have a treat for you. A fascinating glimpse from the earliest days of the creation of “Cyrano de Bergerac.”
Edmond Rostand created the role of Cyrano for a French actor named Constant Coquelin who created the role and played it over 400 times in Frence and then toured North America with it. Rostand dedicated the first published version of the play to Coquelin in these few poignant lines.
It is to the soul of CYRANO that I had wished to dedicate this poem. But because that soul has passed on to you, COQUELIN, it is to you that I dedicate it.
In this rare film clip, we actually get to see Coquelin in the role of Cyrano as he composes a ballade while dueling with the Vicomte de Valvert. When this film was made, the dialog was recorded on a wax cylinder in an early attempt to create a talking movie. The action is very static because the film cameras of that day were not capable of the same kind of movement that they are today.
Because the film is all in French, we have included our translation of the ballade for you to follow along.
My hat into the air takes wing I strip my cloak and so prepare. All carelessly aside tossing, From leather sheath, my sword I bare. My revealed elegance is spare, Ferocious, agile, fighting fit, So fawning flatterer, beware! For when the refrain ends, I hit!
(first exchange of blows):
Now where should I begin cutting To carve and serve this peacock fair? What shall we have? A leg? A wing? Your pretty ribbons I will tear, And pluck the feathers from your hair! Like buzzing fly my point does flit, Where will it land? Why anywhere! For when the refrain ends, I hit!
I choose my rhymes with every swing Fit word to blow with utmost care You’re hoping for an opening But will not take me unaware I parry and evade the snare I bind the blade and twist a bit. Look to your sword. It’s in midair! For when the refrain ends, I hit!
(he announces solemnly):
To highest heaven make your prayer For mercy, God may answer it. But I coupéand feint and there! (He lunges and impales the Viscount.) The refrain’s ended and I hit! (The Viscount falls; Cyrano salutes him with his sword.)
In the next few Cyrano Sundays we’ll examine the original French of this famous poem and how we arrived at our translation.