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A Romance, Comedy... or Tragedy?


Play and Movie Title: Cyrano de Bergerac

Author: Edmond Rostand

The play has been translated and adapted into many languages and forms--- novels, plays, operas, movies, parodies, cartoons,... and it has inspired other works. The play is still performed in theaters around the world. My favorite movie version is Cyrano de Bergerac, a film by Jean-Paul Rappeneu starring Gerard Depardieu (in French). And I also enjoy the modern twist on this story in the movie, Roxanne, which was written and performed by Steve Martin.


Notes on Content: This tragic comedy was written as a play in verse (rhyming couplets of 12 syllables per line). There is violence (sword fights, wars, and verbal battles) and some adult themes. The poetic word pictures and courtship phrasing can make a romantic heart flutter. Most of the movie versions are rated PG.

The Plot:

"Widely considered the most popular modern French play, Cyrano de Bergerac has dazzled audiences with its wit and eloquence since it premiered in 1897. Cyrano, a quarrelsome, hot-tempered swordsman, as famous for his dueling skills and pugnacity as for his inordinately long nose, is hopelessly enamored of the beautiful Roxane. She, in turn, is in love with Christian, a handsome but inarticulate and slow-witted suitor. Asked for help by Christian in wooing Roxane, Cyrano pours out his heart in romantic dialogues — delivered under cover of night and dense foliage — and through ardent love letters written in the name of Christian." (Description from Amazon)

Writing Words that Live in Another's Heart---Comedy or Tragedy?


I read Cyrano de Bergerac in high school English and in a college French course. I watched several versions of the movie. It had humor, romance,...and sorrow. I always enjoy it, but the storyteller loses me a bit at the end. It's ...tragic.


Then I traveled to Paris, France (a great literary adventure site) where there are still remnants of the places portrayed in this 1640 plot that was written in 1897 (and continues to be popular today, perhaps proving that a good story can last forever). The more I explore, the more I want to see. I'm planning a trip to Bergerac, France and other Cyrano locations. And I continue to be an armchair traveler, too, as I read this classic again and again.


There's still debate among critics as to whether it's a tragedy or a comedy. Or is it just a romantic, literary kiss?


“And what is a kiss, specifically? A pledge properly sealed, a promise seasoned to taste, a vow stamped with the immediacy of a lip, a rosy circle drawn around the verb 'to love.' A kiss is a message too intimate for the ear, infinity captured in the bee's brief visit to a flower, secular communication with an aftertaste of heaven, the pulse rising from the heart to utter its name on a lover's lip: 'Forever.'” ― Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac


The author based his play on a real person, using his actual name, Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac. This reference and his citations of other works (by authors like Dumas and Cervantes) lend some interesting layers to his story about a bold writer and soldier who does his best work behind a veil of secrecy. Even though I love the poetic lines, colorful characters, and romantic themes in Cyrano de Bergerac, I always want to rewrite it to include a happy ending. So I admit to enjoying Steve Martin's modern version (Roxanne), with a more positive resolution.


“My heart always timidly hides itself behind my mind. I set out to bring down stars from the sky, then, for fear of ridicule, I stop and pick little flowers of eloquence.” ― Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac


My Cyrano's Assistance logo was usually punctuated by slogans like: "Let me put my nose in your business." or "With Cyrano's Assistance, you'll come out smelling like a rose."

My first small business involved ghostwriting, so I naturally named it Cyrano's Assistance. I was in the middle of a pregnancy discrimination and civil rights lawsuit against the ITT Sheraton Corporation and they were practicing what my attorneys called a "scorched earth defense" which meant that the multi-million-dollar-bully-of-a-corporation did everything they could to constantly light an effectual ring of fire around me, to devastate me and anyone standing with me. Any work I secured would be subjected to costly depositions and document requests, which made it difficult​​ to earn income when I needed it most. I became a 'ghost,' working under a strict confidentiality agreement (so the lawsuit defendants couldn't make me disclose my clients). After six and a half years, I won the lawsuit (the judgment is public record, so disclosure of their name is allowed, but like many companies, the Sheraton reorganized a few years later and isn't the same entity now).


So, that's why I started ghostwriting as Cyrano's Assistance. Literature-savvy friends loved my company name. I found, however, that most people didn't have the same love for or even knowledge of Cyrano de Bergerac, so I usually had to explain that I completed assignments for others who signed their names to my work. I set up an elaborate system of calendaring and mailing business and even personal correspondence for busy executives.


Of course, this was before we had personal computers, automated calendars, or apps that effortlessly handle this for us now. I researched and wrote marketing plans, policy manuals, form letters, and promotional pieces for executives who had impressive job titles but lacked the skill or time to write well (and some acknowledged to me that they couldn't have climbed corporate ladders without the words of this ghost). One client said it was like paying me to do his homework so he could get a better grade. I preferred to frame it as a business leader who knew how to wisely use outside resources. I was later asked to write articles and books that could be purchased by an "author" (celebrities and pundits who couldn't write well but would gain positive publicity for having their name on an article). Sometimes they tweaked it a bit, but it was often published as I wrote it---under their name, though.


Even after the lawsuit was over and I could work under my name, I continued ghostwriting---partly out of loyalty to those who had helped me when I needed to invisibly earn an income, and well, because I enjoyed it.


"To sing, to laugh, to dream, to walk in my own way and be alone, free, with an eye to see things as they are, a voice that means manhood—to cock my hat where I choose—At a word, a Yes, a No, to fight—or write. To travel any road under the sun, under the stars, nor doubt if fame or fortune lie beyond the bourne—Never to make a line I have not heard in my own heart; yet, with all modesty to say: 'My soul, be satisfied with flowers, with fruit, with weeds even; but gather them in the one garden you may call your own.'” ― Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac


For a clip from the black and white movie version of this classic, go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oMDRrWiaAjM&feature=youtu.be


At a writer's conference, though, I was shamed by some who felt that ghostwriting was "prostituting your talent" and participating in "a lie." They even brought up the homework analogy! I pointed out that presidents and comedians paid teams of writers who penned their words. Creative work can be a product, and each client of mine wouldn't sign their name to it if they didn't agree with my work and personally want to "own" it. And many honored writers have published under a 'nom de plume' --- couldn't ghostwriting be similar to using a pen name? I felt I made my case, but still, I found the ongoing exchange disturbing. (Perhaps I would have felt more justified if I had responded in the comedic manner that Cyrano did when Valvert insulted his appendage... with a variety of witty responses and excellent swordsmanship).


For a clip from the more modern version in French, with English subtitles, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OAXX-tr0gzg


But alas, I wasn't as quick-witted as Cyrano and the consensus of my writer friends remained--- that writing for someone else was disgraceful, cowardly, ... a bit of a tragedy. A trusted mentor agreed with my arguments but cautioned that ghostwriting wouldn't help my resume/portfolio and my clients would always want me to be invisible (which isn't a good way to build a career). And she asked if I might be writing as a 'ghost' to protect myself from critical reviews.


"My life's work has been to prompt others...and be forgotten." ― Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac


My mentor made some good points. Over the years, I lost opportunities because I couldn't own my work (and my portfolio looked sparse even though I was always writing). I had to bite my tongue when a travel companion praised the 'author of record' for the brilliance of my ghostwritten articles (this praise came from someone who had harshly criticized an article published under my name). And as long-time clients of this 'ghost' took other jobs or retired, the contracts were ended without referrals or references (they never want anyone to know that their praiseworthy work was completed by someone else---and I will keep the secret in order to retain my 'white plume' of integrity). What started out as a good idea seemed to wilt and fade over time, perhaps, just like it did for Cyrano.


Well, I could let the critical voices and the negative aspects of my choice embitter and stagnate me, but Cyrano de Bergerac shows that buried emotions and regrets can lead someone to... ultimate tragedy! It's better to regroup and move forward in a positive manner.


Not all aspects of Cyrano's character and situation were negative. After all, many consider this classic to be a comedy. Like Cyrano, I realize that I gained a bit of private appreciation from the 'authors of record,' and some satisfaction that my words were actually appreciated by readers, even if I always will be invisible to them. And I have more days ahead and more pages to fill...which can be an ongoing 'happy ending.'


“While I was below in the dark shadows...others climbed up to kiss the sweet rose. It's only fair.... Ah, I know you, all my old enemies! Falsehood, Cowardice, Compromise... All my laurels you have riven away and my roses; yet in spite of you, there is one crown I bear away with me... One thing without stain, unspotted from this world, in spite of doom mine own! And that is... my white plume [my panache].” ― Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac


What do you think of a ghostwriter or an 'author' who purchases and signs another's work? Comedy...tragedy...or just business?

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