LEARNING GUIDE TO:
SUBJECTS — Drama; Literature/Literary devices: irony; characterization;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Romantic relationships; Self-esteem;
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Respect.
Age: 12+; MPAA Rating—PG; Comedy; 1987, 107 minutes; Color; Available from Amazon.com.
Description: Steve Martin's "Roxanne" is a delightful comedic reworking of Cyrano de Bergerac, the 1897 classic play. In both incarnations the story's value lies in its presentation of the conflict between style and substance: the fact that the outward appearance of an individual often masks what lies inside. Charlie D. Bales, initials C.D.B, is a man with a huge nose. He appears to be blustery and brash, yet inside he is sensitive, intelligent, and caring. In addition, Charlie can use words beautifully. Chris, on the other hand, is handsome to the extreme, yet shallow and dull. Roxanne is initially attracted to Chris' beauty but she quickly falls in love when Charlie writes and speaks for the other man. Ultimately, the deception fails, however, in a departure from the original, everyone lives happily ever after.
An interesting aspect of "Roxanne", which varies considerably from the play, is the development of the female lead. The original Roxanne is beautiful, but lacks depth; she is an object rather than a subject. In Martin’s remake, Roxanne is an intelligent woman, working on her doctorate in astronomy. She is independent and self directed, rivalling her counterpart in wit and facility with language. Charlie appreciates and acknowledges her substance and character.
The other important change from the original is the ending. In the play, when Christian dies in battle, Roxanne sequesters herself in a convent. She is still ignorant of Cyrano's role in her romance with Christian. Cyrano, always the dutiful cousin, visits her every week. Cyrano's enemies take advantage of this custom and, just before the last scene, ambush him as he goes to the convent. Mortally wounded, Cyrano tries to act as if nothing is amiss, but in the last moments of his life the truth of his injury and of his role in Christian's courtship of Roxanne, are revealed. Roxanne lives on knowing that she lost the love of her life, first in the person of Christian and a second time in the person of Cyrano. Thus, there is no opportunity to understand and forgive; the emphasis is on sacrifice and nobility. Martin’s film updates the story for modern sensibilities, offering resolution and the opportunity for each character to find fulfillment. Even in this unlikely story, Charlie and Roxanne attain a measure of credibility and coherence; they illuminate the difficult movement from awkwardness to intimacy.
Benefits of the Movie: "Roxanne" gives young people a lighthearted opportunity to work through important issues they face in a culture which places undue emphasis on outward appearance. Using Martin’s unique comedic style, the film provokes thought about the pain felt by those who do not measure up to society’s conception of beauty and about how they may seek to compensate for their perceived ugliness or disfigurement.
As a teaching device the film alone will drive assignments that exercise several of the skills important in English Language Arts. Moreover, by showing "Roxanne" in conjunction with reading the play or viewing one of its ranslations to film, teachers can enrich the study of the classic drama and provide an example of the art of adaptation.
Possible Problems: Minor. The film contains profanity, minor comedic violence, and references to drug use.
Parenting Points: Watch and enjoy the film with your kids.
QUICK DISCUSSION QUESTION:
There are two excellent film versions of the play. The first was made in 1950 and stars Jose Ferrer. In the second, made in 1990, Gérard Depardiu plays Cyrano. Click here for a Learning Guide to the play and the 1990 film version.
The character of Cyrano de Bergerac was fashioned after a real person, Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac (1619 - 1655), a French duelist and satirist. De Bergerac is credited with writing some of the earliest works of science fiction. He was born in 1619 in Perigord, a province in southwest France. As a child he was the subject of ridicule by children due to his prominent nose. De Bergerac joined the French army and fought against the Spanish at Arras. He left the military in 1642 to study science and literature in Paris.
The play, referred to as a heroic comedy, was a huge success when produced in 1897 and, although important in academia ever since, was brought to the attention of modern audiences by film versions done in 1950 and 1990. Considered a virtuoso play, one in which focus of character is paramount to story, Cyrano was easily adapted to the skills of actors Jose Ferrer in the earlier version and Gérard Depardieu in the later production. Both films are excellent. Steve Martin’s performance in "Roxanne" replicates the virtuoso aspect of the original play; through his mastery of physical comedy and timing, he dominates the film. Martin also wrote the screenplay and served as the film's executive producer.
Irony in Cyrano de Bergerac and "Roxanne"
In the story of Cyrano, as told in the play and in "Roxanne", irony is the dominant literary device. There are three types of irony. Each relates to a difference between what is perceived or expected and what occurs. The different types of irony are described below:
(1) Situational irony occurs when there is a difference between what happens and what we expect to happen or what we think should happen. An example of situational irony in fiction is contained in the story of the frog who, when kissed by the princess, becomes a handsome prince. We do not expect that kissing an ugly slimy thing that lives in a swamp and eats flies will bring forth a beautiful young man. In fiction, irony usually points to a theme or moral in the story. Situational irony is often used in comedy and satire because, when skillfully used, it quickly exposes the truth.
(2) In a work of fiction, dramatic irony occurs when an author creates a contrast between the reality perceived by one or more of the characters and what is known by the audience or the reader. This happens when the audience/reader has greater knowledge about present or future circumstances than the characters in the story. The classic example of dramatic irony is contained in Oedipus Rex. Oedipus has killed a man who was a stranger to him. Later, he unknowingly meets and marries the dead man's widow. The audience knows that the dead man was Oedipus' father and that his new wife is his mother. Only later does Oedipus learn these facts, with tragic results. As with situational irony, dramatic irony usually points to a theme or moral lesson.
(3) An ironic statement is one in which there is a significant difference between what is said and what is meant. Often the intended meaning is the opposite of the literal meaning of the words used. Ironic statements can be either "facetious" or "sarcastic". A facetious comment is one in which the point is to make a joke or a humorous reference. Sarcasm is used to taunt, insult, or cause pain. Facetious statements and sarcasm are often very similar. The identity of the speaker, the tone used, and the context can determine whether a statement is facetious or sarcastic. A person who likes a lot of sugar with their coffee might say, facetiously, "I like a little coffee with my sugar" as he pours an astounding amount of sugar into a cup of coffee. However, a person who wanted to confront the coffee drinker would say, "You like a little coffee with your sugar, don't you?"
In Cyrano de Bergerac and in "Roxanne" the dominant irony is that while Cyrano/Charlie is ugly on the outside, below the surface he has many admirable qualities including intelligence, humor, kindness, friendship and understanding.
Other examples of irony in the Cyrano story are:
In "Roxanne", there is a delightful tribute to the ironic content of the story: Charlie asks Roxanne a question and she responds in the negative. He accepts her answer and later she tells him she was being ironic. Charlie says that he did not recognize it because there is no irony in his town.
Using "Roxanne" in the English Language Arts Classroom:
Prior to showing the film, select students to read aloud the parts of the play listed below. Take care to select students with the skills necessary to hold the attention of the class. Drama requires skilled readers.
Act I, Scene IV: In this scene, Cyrano is introduced. He comes into a playhouse and disrupts the performance with his insistence that the actor has no talent and thus has no right to be on stage. Cyrano bullies the performers and the audience. One man insults him by commenting on his nose and Cyrano replies with a series of jests that demonstrate the witlessness of the man's insult and put the man to shame.
Act II, Scene VI: In this scene, Roxanne, Cyrano’s beautiful cousin, tells Cyrano that she loves a young recruit who will serve in his regiment. She asks Cyrano to protect the man. Cyrano is crushed, having expected that Roxanne would express interest in him.
Act II, Scene VIII: This scene is famous and commonly referred to as the "No Thank You" speech. It expresses Cyrano’s individuality and is important to hear because it establishes Cyrano’s character.
Act III, Scenes IV, V and VI: Here Cyrano is under the balcony, speaking the words that Chris cannot find to express his affection for Roxanne.
Act V, Scenes IV and V: Fourteen years after Christian has died in battle and after Cyrano has been mortally wounded, Roxanne and Cyrano meet in her convent and the truth is learned. Cyrano then dies.
Once students have heard the scenes, they will be aware of the characters and conflicts that shape the story.
Show "Roxanne" in its entirety. Ask students to pay attention to the flow of the film and to try to find how Steve Martin has woven into his comedy the scenes from the play that were read in class.
After the film has ended, students will know the differences between the way the story ends in the play as opposed to the film. Engage students in the following Discussion Questions, the first six of pertain only to "Roxanne". The last four pertain to both the play and the movie.
For a brief introduction to the nature of dramatic presentations for the stage, see TWM's The Nature of Drama -- A Brief Introduction. For a form of the article suitable to be modified or printed as a student handout, click here.
In a 1996 release of Audrey Wells’ film, "The Truth about Cats and Dogs", the Cyrano story is again visited with a twist that may be of interest to students who want to look further into the ideas presented in "Roxanne". Wells reverses the gender roles of the main characters and addresses the issues associated with the fears of being found unworthy as they affect women. The Cyrano or Charlie character in this film is a woman with weight problems whose best friend is a striking and slender beauty. Students might be encouraged to see this film and to report to the class the various ideas developed from notions introduced in "Roxanne" or in the earlier film versions of "Cyrano de Bergerac".
Are you concerned that time will be wasted if you are absent from class? Worry no more . . . Check out TeachWithMovies' Set-Up-the-Sub.
Click here for TWM's lesson plans to introduce cinematic and theatrical technique.
Reminder to Teachers: Obtain all required permissions from your school administration before showing any film.
Teachers who want parental permission to show this movie can use TWM's Movie Permission Slip.
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1. See Questions Suitable for Any Film.
2. What is it about the character of Charlie that allows the viewers to appreciate him in spite of his bullying and violence? Suggested Response: Charlie’s heart comes through in scenes such as when he is on the roof with the boy who had been hurt by the teasing of other children. At the end of the film, when Roxanne seeks to resolve their problem, he is seen on the roof acting in the same manner as the little boy. This shows his sensitivity. Moreover, Charlie is admired by others, has a sense of humor, and seems gentle in spite of his bravado. In an echo of his list of witty insults about the size of his nose, in one scene, he takes a parakeet out of its cage and allows it to perch on his nose, showing a soft and self-deprecating nature. Also, the film’s violence is comic in its presentation and thus not taken seriously. The tennis racket Charlie uses to beat the two athletes who had insulted him is a humorous echo of the saber used by Cyrano.
3. Why does Charlie go along with the deception that enables Chris to have an intimate relationship with Roxanne and what does this say about Charlie's character? Suggested Response: Charlie has no confidence that Roxanne will ever love him but he feels deep affection for Roxanne and wants her to be happy. The deception shows that he is willing to sacrifice his own interests in order to make her happy.
4. Chris and the cocktail waitress develop a relationship and leave together for Reno. Why does this relationship work? Suggested Response: The two are suited intellectually and Chris does not feel nervous in the waitress' presence. She thinks he is funny, smart and well traveled. He does not have to pretend to be something he is not.
5. Roxanne is willing to forgive Charlie for the deception and he is willing to forgive her for easily being deceived by Chris’ beauty. What does this say about these two characters? Suggested Response: Answers will vary. Students may decide that neither character has any depth, that they are forgiving individuals, or that love conquers all.
6. Chris and Charlie can be criticized for being deceitful when they sought to fool Roxanne. Roxanne and Chris can be criticized for jumping into bed before they really knew eachother. Charlie can be criticized for helping to set up the tryst between Roxanne and Chris. Which character in the film acts in a way that is always grounded in strong moral principles? Suggested Response: Dixie, the proprietor of the local café, is honest, loyal and willing to risk disapproval in order to have the truth be known. She is a true friend to both Charlie and Roxanne.
7. In the reading from the play, Cyrano disrupts the performance showing his bullying nature. How does the film reveal the pushy side in Charlie’s personality? Suggested Response: Charlie fights with two tennis players and intimidates his crew at the firehouse.
8. In the reading from the play, Cyrano lists a series of insults that are superior to the one used by his opponent. The scene ends in violence as the two men duel. How effectively did Martin translate this scene into Roxanne? Suggested Response: Martin updates many of the quips, making them funny to a modern audience and finally knocks out his opponent who falls to the floor. In the play, the opponent is injured and carried off stage. In each case, the protagonist is seen as justified in his behavior and cheered by the onlookers.
9. Both Cyrano in the play and Charlie in the film are encouraged by a friend to tell Roxanne the truth but at the moment of opportunity, both men have a crisis of confidence and fail to follow through. What does this say about their courage? Suggested Response: Although both men are fearless and independent leaders, they are afraid of rejection and are not brave enough to risk being laughed at by Roxanne.
10. In the original play, Cyrano dies at the end with his love having remained unrequited. "Roxanne", however, ends joyfully with each character, including Chris, having learned important lessons which were not applicable to the earlier incarnation of the story. What are these lessons? Suggested Response: Charlie learns that the risks of rejection associated with earning love are worth taking and he sees the pain caused by deception. Roxanne learns the danger of being charmed by superficiality and becomes aware of her own tendency to value surface over substance. Chris learns that he is not nervous in a relationship based upon equal interests and matched characteristics, as he develops a potentially viable relationship with the cocktail waitress.
Select questions that are appropriate for your students.
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Selected Awards, Cast and Director:
Selected Awards: Writer's Guild of America: 1987 Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium (Steve Martin);
Featured Actors: Steve Martin as C.D. 'Charlie' Bales; Daryl Hannah as Roxanne Kowalski; Rick Rossovich as Chris McConnell; and Shelley Duvall as Dixie.
Director: Fred Schepisi.
Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.
(Treat others with respect; follow the Golden Rule; Be tolerant of differences; Use good manners, not bad language; Be considerate of the feelings of others; Don't threaten, hit or hurt anyone; Deal peacefully with anger, insults and disagreements)
1. Perform a thought experiment: Imagine that you were the Charlie character in "Roxanne" or the real Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac. You knew that you were intelligent and had many talents but that every day your life was limited by the reactions of other people to your nose. Imagine awakening after having had a vivid dream of going to a party with your good friends, except that you are a different person. In the dream, your nose was the normal size. You had a great time at the party. And then you wake up. It's a fine spring morning and as you first awaken you are still in the happy moment of the dream. Suddenly you realize that it was just a dream and you must face the day, like every other day, with your extravagantly large nose and with the way that people react to it. How would you cope with this situation? Suggested Response: There is no one correct answer. However, the exercise will build empathy for people whose appearance does not conform to what the society thinks of as beautiful.
This is also an excellent informal writing assignment.
Teachwithmovies.com is a Character Counts "Six Pillars Partner" and uses The Six Pillars of Character to organize ethical principles.
Character Counts and the Six Pillars of Character are marks of the CHARACTER COUNTS! Coalition, a project of the Josephson Institute of Ethics.
MOVIES ON RELATED TOPICS: Cyrano de Bergerac.
OTHER LESSON PLANS: None.
Assignments, Projects and Activities:
1. See Assignments, Projects and Activities Suitable for Any Film
2. Have students read Beauty and the Beast and The Ugly Duckling. Tell them to seek the original versions of the tales rather than a children’s abridged version or a Disney rewrite. Ask them to write an essay in which they compare the themes of these stories to the ideas found in "Roxanne". Tell them to focus on themes, rather than characters or plot line.
3. Ask students to watch the 1990s teen classic "Can’t Buy Me Love" and to write a comparison of the characters, ideas and resolutions in this film and in "Roxanne".
4. Have students do a thorough study of the many ironies found in "Roxanne" in which they describe the irony, define its type and explain its use in the film in terms of clarifying character, event or idea.
5. If time has not been taken to view either of the movie versions of Cyrano de Bergerac in class, ask students to select one to see on their own and to write an essay in which they compare the film to Martin’s "Roxanne".
6. Ask students to write a persuasive essay in which they seek to convince their readers that Charlie is to be commended for his self-sacrifice and his efforts to bring Chris and Roxanne together rather than criticized for what can be seen as reprehensible deceit.
7. Have students write a comparison of the insults delivered by Cyrano in Act I, Scene IV of the play with the jests hurled in the bar scene in "Roxanne". Tell them to comment on how the changes in the two sets of jibes is necessary to appeal to two very different audiences.
8. Ask students to write a personal narrative about a time when they may have felt less adequate to complete a task than those around them, possibly in an audition or in taking a test or even in being sociable at a party. See that they end the narrative with a lesson learned or a lesson that might have been learned.
9. Ask students to evaluate the endings of Cyrano de Bergerac and "Roxanne" in terms of their credibility, level of satisfaction and devotion to theme. Students should think about whether having a resolution, as does "Roxanne", may be better or not as good as simply winding down the story to a death. For example, does Cyrano learn the lesson that self-love is an important step toward a romantic relationship or does he die adhering to the spirit of self sacrifice?
10. Students who have seen either film version of Cyrano de Bergerac or who have read the play and who have also watched "Roxanne", can be asked to analyze the tone of each presentation of Cyrano’s story. Students should evaluate the dark and serious tone, although mitigated by the personal humor and panache of Cyrano, as opposed to the light, yet pithy elements of "Roxanne".
11. Have students research the real Cyrano de Bergerac and to present a brief account of his actual life and to include excerpts of some of his writing to the class.
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