A lack of sincerity can lead to outcomes that are unfavorable or unexpected. In Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand, Cyrano claims to be a free man who is true to himself and has nothing to hide. In reality, however, he hides his love from Roxane and enters into a ruse with Christian. In The Visit by Friedrich Dürrenmatt, Claire Zachanassian says she values justice above all and promises to help the town if it is carried out. However, her idea of “justice” is too subjective, overlooking the facts that she has gone on to prosperity and was responsible for the town’s poverty in the first place. The actions of these two characters are in conflict with what they say, and as a result, their real goals are ill-defined.
Cyrano, the protagonist of Cyrano de Bergerac, is proud of his ability to stand alone and be content with his lot. He has earned the respect of many by his constant exercise of skill and grace: “He is the rarest, choicest soul on earth” [Rostand 7]. He takes pride in his honesty and unwillingness to submit to any authority, and he lets his actions stand for themselves. Through his stylishly grand dialogue and heartfelt expression of ideals, Rostand portrays Cyrano as a noble soul: “And when I venture forth, I clothe myself / In independence and sincerity… I put on / Deeds for my decorations… / And when I go into the street, the crowd / Will hear the truth ring out like clashing spurs.” [Rostand 20] Cyrano is in love with Roxane, and although he is ashamed of his appearance, he wants her to love him in return. As soon as he believes she is interested in him, he endeavors to win her over. When he discovers that it is Christian she loves, he desires to make her happy in spite of his feelings for her. Cyrano’s loyalty to his friends stands as his most honorable characteristic. He will protect his friends from any threat, even in the face of overwhelming danger. He values fairness greatly; for example, he pays his entire inheritance to compensate Bellerose after he shames Montfleury off the stage. His spirit is one of generous heroism.
Although Cyrano does not actively scheme to obtain Roxane’s love, his aiding Christian in winning her over does not align with his self-proclaimed nature. Cyrano is not true to himself, and in a sense he becomes the man he denounces in his soliloquy in Act II, Scene 8. Although in an indirect sense, he is still “Climbing by trickery,” and “a fool who waits,” “Calculat[ing] and schem[ing]” [Rostand 48-49] to make Roxane happy. Rostand uses the irony of Cyrano’s hypocrisy to expose his weakness in the face of love. The element of generosity in Cyrano’s hypocrisy makes it more honorable than corrupt, but it still stands in contrast to his self-image.
Hidden behind Cyrano’s efforts to make Roxane happy through Christian is likely the desire to eventually reveal his feelings to her. He slips up from time to time in his role as Christian, momentarily forgetting that his true identity must remain hidden. “I dare to be myself at last. I dare – [He stops in complete confusion.] / Where was I? – What have I said? – I could not guess – / This force, so fascinating – and so new…” [Rostand 68]. He allows Christian to marry his true love, and when Christian is killed in battle, he does not reveal the true nature of the relationship. Instead, he continues to hide his love from her for fifteen years, visiting her at the convent every week in order to be with her. It is only when he is near death that his love for her shows through.
Unlike Cyrano, Claire Zachanassian of The Visit has a specific goal in mind. She declares to the citizens of Guellen that her principle aim is justice. She acknowledges that the issue she has in mind is of a personal nature, and she purports to represent the best interests of the entire town in her offer. “And now I want accounts between us settled. You chose your life, but you forced me into mine… I want justice. Justice for a million” [Dürrenmatt 39]. She claims that Guellen deserves the fame and prosperity it once had, and that Ill deserves the penalty of death for his crimes against her. She wishes Ill dead, and she takes every measure to ensure that this will be the ultimate result.
Claire’s assertion that Ill has done her wrong is true, but her taking justice into her own hands overlooks the natural effects of fate. Ill has remained a simple shopkeeper over the years, while Claire has exploited the system to gain money and power. In contrast, Cyrano has reached his position through the honest employment of his skills. Claire invokes the town’s plight, ironically through the use of the power that Ill’s past actions allowed her to assume. “I had my agents buy the whole ramshackle lot and shut every business down. Your hopes were lunacy, your perseverance pointless, and your self-sacrifice foolish; your lives have been a useless waste.” [Dürrenmatt 66]
Notably, her comments here might mirror the way she feels about her own life. Rostand uses a similar method of exposing a character’s feelings through dramatic irony when Cyrano speaks to Roxane as Christian: “Besides, the moment comes – and pity those / For whom it never comes – when love resents / Clever ripostes and nimble repartee, / Instead of what is deeply felt and nobly told” [Rostand 69]. At any rate, Claire wholly defies the concept of “two wrongs don’t make a right” by achieving her goals through unethical means. What she wants is far from real justice; Claire desires revenge. It is this crucial aspect of Claire’s intentions that makes her hypocritical. Unlike Cyrano’s honest, benevolent intentions, hers are self-centered and futile. She has lost faith in love, and her heart has decayed as a result. Dürrenmatt uses the metaphor of Claire’s many false body parts to symbolize her condition as one who is damaged and twisted: “…and me cut to bits by the surgeons’ knives” [Dürrenmatt 39]. While Cyrano’s hypocrisy is motivated by the presence of love, Claire’s hypocrisy is motivated by the absence of love.
Both Claire and Cyrano proclaim their intentions as if they have nothing to hide. Dürrenmatt and Rostand use these statements to reveal the characters’ confusion. They are both guilty of having ulterior motives for their actions, and their failure to express their desires truthfully changes their respective fates. Through both character’s responses to their conflicts, the reader observes that their hypocrisy stems from a common problem: neither character actually understands what he or she wants. Cyrano may know that he wants Roxane, but when he accepts that she loves Christian, he fails to acknowledge to himself the danger in his continued love for her. Claire may know that she wants revenge for Ill’s wrongdoing, but even after she achieves this, she has gained nothing and is left with nothing. The authors make these characters hypocritical to emphasize their internal conflicts. Both Rostand and Dürrenmatt also use the passage of time as a device to develop or prolong the effects of the characters’ hypocrisy; this is especially effective because of the characters’ relatively static natures.
The ultimate effect of the characters’ hypocrisy is the technical achievement of their respective goals, but in ironic and unfortunate ways. Cyrano’s failure to articulate his feelings to Roxane causes his love to go unrequited for over fifteen years. He is a slave to that love, ironically becoming “a fool who waits,” [Rostand 48] the type of man he denounces in his soliloquy in Act II. Even when Roxane finally discovers the truth, Cyrano is moments from death. Claire’s false classification of revenge as justice causes the final achievement of her goal to lack the element of satisfaction that justice would normally bring. Unlike Claire, Cyrano’s stylish honor proves stronger than his self-pity, and he dies knowing that Roxane would have loved him. Through Cyrano de Bergerac and Claire Zachanassian, Rostand and Dürrenmatt present hypocritical characters whose vague desires are only partially realized.
Dürrenmatt, Friedrich. The Visit. New York: Grove Press, 1990.
Rostand, Edmond. Cyrano de Bergerac. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 2000.