Sunday, 19 June 2016

Review: Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand and Charles Renauld

Edmond Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac from 1897 is one of the definitive plays set in the 17th century. Inspired by the life of the actual historical poet and duellist, the play introduces us to the tragic figure of Cyrano who is in love with a woman but never dares to tell her about it. The play has been adapted to film, radio, TV etc. so many times that it is doubtful that anyone might have missed it, but this was the first time that I went to the play itself to enjoy the original text (or as original as I can without learning French).

For those unfamiliar with the story, it is a comedic drama in the original sense, daring to show humour and wit despite the fact that it is heading towards rather a (melo)dramatic finale. Cyrano, who is a heroic duellist and a swordsman, ends up helping a young man from his company to seduce the very woman he himself is in love with. He woos the woman in darkness, pretending to be the young handsome fellow, writes letters to her in his stead and the only satisfaction he receives in return is to watch the young couple fall deeper and deeper into love with each other.

Charles Renauld was a translator who took it as his task to write the definitive English translation of the play and his introduction and notes in the text give great insight into the decisions and compromises that he had to do when translating the text. These notes also show the dedication he had in his work and demonstrate why his translation is considered superior to others that came before him.

The story is naturally laid out in the form of a play, rather than novelisation, but I soon forgot this as I enjoyed reading the text and the translations notes especially. Still, I could not but wonder how a novelisation of the story would have read and what kinds of extra details one could have included in it. Still, this is a wonderful play and very much worth a read, especially since you can get it for free at Project Gutenberg.