SUPPLEMENTAL MATERIALS FOR ROXANNE
Go to the Learning Guide for this film.
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 Martins unique comedic style, the film provokes thought about the pain felt by those who do not measure up to societys conception of beauty and about how they may seek to compensate for their perceived ugliness or disfigurement.
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 Martins 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:
- Christian/Chris in contrast to Cyrano/Charlie looks beautiful but when he opens his mouth what comes out is far from pretty.
- Roxanne is attracted to Christian/Chris for his looks but comes to really love him because of the beautiful words and images spoken or written by Cyrano/Charlie, a physically unattractive person.
- Cyrano/Charlie is confident in most situations but in regard to the most important thing in his life, his love for Roxanne, fear of rejection prevents him from acting to attain happiness.
- Cyrano/Charlie insists that everyone else ignore his deformity but thereby keeps the consciousness of it in everyone's mind; nor can he forget it for a moment.
- Cyrano/Charlie exerts considerable effort to make up for ugliness by wit and physical prowess yet he doesnt even try for something that means more to him than anything else, i.e., Roxanne.
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, Cyranos 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 Cyranos individuality and is important to hear because it establishes Cyranos 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 which pertain only to "Roxanne". The last four pertain to both the play and the movie.
Additional Discussion Questions:
Continued from the Learning Guide...
1. See Discussion Questions for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction. TWM's essay on The Use of Film Adaptations of Novels, Short Stories and Plays contains suggested discussion questions comparing the use of literary elements in written works and their filmed adaptations. Most of these suggestions will also apply to a comparison of Cyrano de Bergerac with those of "Roxanne".
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: Charlies 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 films 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 each other. 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 caf, 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 Charlies 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.
Continued from the Learning Guide...
1. See Assignments, Projects and Activities Suitable for Any Film. TWM's essay on The Use of Film Adaptations of Novels, Short Stories and Plays contains suggested assignments, projects and activities comparing the use of literary elements in written works and their filmed adaptations. Most of these suggestions will also apply to a comparison of Cyrano de Bergerac with those of "Roxanne".
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 childrens 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 "Cant 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 Martins "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 Cyranos 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.
See additional Assignments for use with any Film that is a Work of Fiction.
Social-Emotional Learning Discussion Questions
See Quetions 3 - 5, 9 & 10 above.
See Discussion Question #9.
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.
Bridges to Reading:
The play Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand.
Links to the Internet:
See Roger Ebert's review of this movie.
Selected Awards, Cast and Director:
Selected Awards: Writer's Guild of America: 1987 Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium
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.
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