I would not know the line "Hell is Other People," if it weren't for having read Sartre's play, "No Exit" for a Philosophy class that I took in college. I am reminded of it because I'm currently reading the play, "Cyrano de Bergerac," by Edmond Rostand.
As I began reading it, I almost put it down because I really wasn't enjoying it. I kept getting caught up in the stage direction and character titles instead of comprehension of the text. I began reminiscing about what plays I had read in the past and the only ones I recall are three by Sartre and one by George Bernhard Shaw, of which I can't even remember which one because it was over twenty years ago when I was a sophomore in high school. However, I did recall that as I stuck with the reading of the manuscript, it came to life and I soon forgot the format and enjoyed the story. I'm glad I recalled that or else I wouldn't have made it to this poignant dialogue:
Cyrano, Le Bret, the cadets, who are eating and drinking at the tables right and left.
CYRANO (bowing mockingly to those who go out without daring to salute him):Gentlemen. . .Gentlemen. . .
LE BRET (coming back, despairingly):Here's a fine coil!
CYRANO:Oh! scold away!
LE BRET:At least, you will agree
That to annihilate each chance of Fate
Exaggerates. . .
LE BRET (triumphantly):Ah!
CYRANO:But for principle--example too,--I think 'tis well thus to exaggerate.
LE BRET:Oh! lay aside that pride of musketeer,
Fortune and glory wait you!. . .
CYRANO:Ay, and then?. . .Seek a protector, choose a patron out,
And like the crawling ivy round a tree
That licks the bark to gain the trunk's support,
Climb high by creeping ruse instead of force?
No, grammercy! What! I, like all the rest
Dedicate verse to bankers?--play buffoon
In cringing hope to see, at last, a smile
Not disapproving, on a patron's lips?
Grammercy, no! What! learn to swallow toads?
--With frame aweary climbing stairs?--a skin
Grown grimed and horny,--here, about the knees?
And, acrobat-like, teach my back to bend?--
No, grammercy! Or,--double-faced and sly--
Run with the hare, while hunting with the hounds;
And, oily-tongued, to win the oil of praise,
Flatter the great man to his very nose?
No, grammercy! Steal soft from lap to lap,
--A little great man in a circle small,
Or navigate, with madrigals for sails,
Blown gently windward by old ladies' sighs?
No, grammercy! Bribe kindly editors
To spread abroad my verses? Grammercy!
Or try to be elected as the pope
Of tavern-councils held by imbeciles?
No, grammercy! Toil to gain reputation
By one small sonnet, 'stead of making many?
No, grammercy! Or flatter sorry bunglers?
Be terrorized by every prating paper?
Say ceaselessly, 'Oh, had I but the chance
Of a fair notice in the "Mercury"!'
Grammercy, no! Grow pale, fear, calculate?
Prefer to make a visit to a rhyme?
Seek introductions, draw petitions up?
No, grammercy! and no! and no again! But--sing?
Dream, laugh, go lightly, solitary, free,
With eyes that look straight forward--fearless voice!
To cock your beaver just the way you choose,
--For 'yes' or 'no' show fight, or turn a rhyme!
--To work without one thought of gain or fame,
To realize that journey to the moon!
Never to pen a line that has not sprung
Straight from the heart within. Embracing then
Modesty, say to oneself, 'Good my friend,
Be thou content with flowers,--fruit,--nay, leaves,
But pluck them from no garden but thine own!'
And then, if glory come by chance your way,
To pay no tribute unto Caesar, none,
But keep the merit all your own! In short,
Disdaining tendrils of the parasite,
To be content, if neither oak nor elm--
Not to mount high, perchance, but mount alone!
LE BRET:Alone, an if you will! But not with hand
'Gainst every man! How in the devil's name
Have you conceived this lunatic idea,
To make foes for yourself at every turn?
CYRANO:By dint of seeing you at every turn
Make friends,--and fawn upon your frequent friends
With mouth wide smiling, slit from ear to ear!
I pass, still unsaluted, joyfully,
And cry,--What, ho! another enemy?
CYRANO:Well, what if it be my vice,
My pleasure to displease--to love men hate me!
Ah, friend of mine, believe me, I march better
'Neath the cross-fire of glances inimical!
How droll the stains one sees on fine-laced doublets,
From gall of envy, or the poltroon's drivel!
--The enervating friendship which enfolds you
Is like an open-laced Italian collar,
Floating around your neck in woman's fashion;
One is at ease thus,--but less proud the carriage!
The forehead, free from mainstay or coercion,
Bends here, there, everywhere. But I, embracing
Hatred, she lends,--forbidding, stiffly fluted,
The ruff's starched folds that hold the head so rigid;
Each enemy--another fold--a gopher,
Who adds constraint, and adds a ray of glory;
For Hatred, like the ruff worn by the Spanish,
Grips like a vice, but frames you like a halo!
Notes of Interest: Cyrano, surprisingly, was a real person whose life was preempted by a falling plank. The movie "Roxanne" with Steve Martin is loosely based on the play.