Saturday, May 10, 2008


How often have we wished to be more clever, to send stinging insults to someone who has disrespected us instead of standing dumbstruck like a dullard? Sometimes the perfect rejoinder arrives too late, while one is running errands or trying to sleep, which only makes the sting worse. Still, we savor the perfect insult! From scrappy corner boys playing the dozens, to men in leotards exchanging volleys of theatrical repartee -- and every strata in between -- wit is met with delight. Unless, of course, one is its object. Or subject. Whatever.

One of the greatest wits to ever wound with an insult was the French duelist, Hector Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac, made immortal in the play by Rostand. A popular poet with a gentle soul, he also was a fine swordsman when push came to shove. I saw the play performed last summer at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. It was brilliant and moving. There are many versions of the story on film, including the Steve Martin film, "Roxanne."

In this film clip, Cyrano is played by Jose Ferrer in the 1950 film. Here he instructs an effete aristocrat on the fine art of insults, and does a glorious job.

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