“You Might Have Said at Least a Hundred Things…”

by Dave Schuler on June 7, 2014

The continuous overflowing of outrage James Joyner complains about always reminds me of this famous episode from Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac:

THE VISCOUNT:
No one? But wait!
I’ll treat him to. . .one of my quips!. . .See here!. . .
(He goes up to Cyrano, who is watching him, and with a conceited air):
Sir, your nose is. . .hmm. . .it is. . .very big!

CYRANO (gravely):
Very!

THE VISCOUNT (laughing):
Ha!

CYRANO (imperturbably):
Is that all?. . .

THE VISCOUNT:
What do you mean?

CYRANO:
Ah no! young blade! That was a trifle short!
You might have said at least a hundred things
By varying the tone. . .like this, suppose,. . .
Aggressive: ‘Sir, if I had such a nose
I’d amputate it!’ Friendly: ‘When you sup
It must annoy you, dipping in your cup;
You need a drinking-bowl of special shape!’
Descriptive: ”Tis a rock!. . .a peak!. . .a cape!
–A cape, forsooth! ‘Tis a peninsular!’
Curious: ‘How serves that oblong capsular?
For scissor-sheath? Or pot to hold your ink?’
Gracious: ‘You love the little birds, I think?
I see you’ve managed with a fond research
To find their tiny claws a roomy perch!’
Truculent: ‘When you smoke your pipe. . .suppose
That the tobacco-smoke spouts from your nose–
Do not the neighbors, as the fumes rise higher,
Cry terror-struck: “The chimney is afire”?’
Considerate: ‘Take care,. . .your head bowed low
By such a weight. . .lest head o’er heels you go!’
Tender: ‘Pray get a small umbrella made,
Lest its bright color in the sun should fade!’
Pedantic: ‘That beast Aristophanes
Names Hippocamelelephantoles
Must have possessed just such a solid lump
Of flesh and bone, beneath his forehead’s bump!’
Cavalier: ‘The last fashion, friend, that hook?
To hang your hat on? ‘Tis a useful crook!’
Emphatic: ‘No wind, O majestic nose,
Can give THEE cold!–save when the mistral blows!’
Dramatic: ‘When it bleeds, what a Red Sea!’
Admiring: ‘Sign for a perfumery!’
Lyric: ‘Is this a conch?. . .a Triton you?’
Simple: ‘When is the monument on view?’
Rustic: ‘That thing a nose? Marry-come-up!
‘Tis a dwarf pumpkin, or a prize turnip!’
Military: ‘Point against cavalry!’
Practical: ‘Put it in a lottery!
Assuredly ‘twould be the biggest prize!’
Or. . .parodying Pyramus’ sighs. . .
‘Behold the nose that mars the harmony
Of its master’s phiz! blushing its treachery!’
–Such, my dear sir, is what you might have said,
Had you of wit or letters the least jot:
But, O most lamentable man!–of wit
You never had an atom, and of letters
You have three letters only!–they spell Ass!
And–had you had the necessary wit,
To serve me all the pleasantries I quote
Before this noble audience. . .e’en so,
You would not have been let to utter one–
Nay, not the half or quarter of such jest!
I take them from myself all in good part,
But not from any other man that breathes!

If you’ve never seen it or read it, it’s one of the loveliest plays in any language, particularly so in the French. If you’re an Amazon Prime member, Jose Ferrer’s marvelous performance as Cyrano is captured here.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Zachriel June 7, 2014 at 5:47 pm

Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac is loosely based on an actual 17th century person who did have a nose that was “very big”. The original Cyrano was a writer and a fighter, as in the play, and imagined a trip to the moon with rockets long before it was cool.

A Russian actor, Gérard Depardieu, also played the part in a 1990 movie.

Dave Schuler June 7, 2014 at 5:58 pm

I’ve read some of de Bergerac’s works. Haven’t seen Depardieu’s version but I suspect he’d be pretty good.

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