Hamilton: Contradictions that Create a Community

In 2016, Lin Manuel Miranda’s unique form of musical storytelling made Hamilton the sight to be seen on Broadway. Everyone soon fell in love with the novel “hip-hop musical” that shared the old, yet often neglected story of one America’s founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton. Specifically, how the mere immigrant orphan from the Caribbean rose to power to become Washington’s right-hand man, as well as one of the most respected figures in America’s political founding. By contrasting a dated story with a more contemporary music genre and progressive, off-race casting, Miranda’s retelling of Hamilton’s life reaches a greater audience. This outreach to a larger audience is due to the community Miranda creates on stage. The community of Hamilton is of white men (played by actors of color) in an era where women have little to no rights (where female actors are given primary roles in the story) where honor and integrity are held in the highest regard (though everyone acts upon shady, power-hungry incentives). This constant juxtaposition between Hamilton’s community and the outside community is what makes Hamilton such an endearing protagonist, unifying the audience behind him.

The two acts of Hamilton are very distinct from one another in regard to the sense of community. Even though the same actors are in both acts, Hamilton’s changing community, as well as the audience itself, are unified against different threats. In act one, Hamilton’s community exists of his rag-tag group of friends that are united in their fight against the British monarchy. This creates a standard for anyone hoping to join Hamilton’s circle. Specifically, they must be supportive of the American revolution. This comes to play in the reprise of “The Story of Tonight.” Aaron Burr, Hamilton’s close friend in the first act, is in love with a married woman: “It’s alright Burr. I wish you’d brought this girl with you tonight, Burr / You’re very kind, but I’m afraid it’s unlawful, sir / What do you mean? / She’s married / I see / She’s married to a British officer / Oh shit.” Hamilton reacts less to the fact that she is married, and instead to the fact that she is married to a British officer. The relationship is not taboo to Hamilton until he learns that she is part of a different “community” on the side of the British. Act two is less direct in this approach. Hamilton is more isolated in act two for none of his friends (except Burr) are around him anymore. Ironically, the actors that play his friends Marquis de Lafayette and Hercules Mulligan (Daveed Diggs and Okieriete Onaodowan respectively) play his main political adversaries in act two. Not only is this to subvert your expectations as an audience member, but also to create a rival community to Hamilton that still remains familiar. In parallel to act one, Hamilton is at war with Jefferson, a man with previously established wealth and power who easily accumulates votes–a socioeconomic foil to Hamilton. Hamilton’s community is reestablished as the Federalists, with the understanding that the Democratic-Republicans are the main adversary. The Democratic-Republican’s community often discriminates against Hamilton. In “Cabinet Battle #2,” Jefferson publicly remarks, “He knows nothing of loyalty / Smells like new money, dresses like fake royalty / Desperate to rise above his station / Everything he does betrays the ideals of our nation.” Similarly, the juxtaposition between Burr’s patient nature and Hamilton’s aggressive political activism in songs like “Wait for It” and “Non-Stop” further define those who can fit into Hamilton’s community. That is to say, the words and actions of rival communities create assumptions for Hamilton’s community, which become associated with ideals like “new money,” progressiveness, and impulsivity.

Hamilton’s discrimination is not limited to socioeconomic factors. The line “Arrogant immigrant, orphan / Bastard, whoreson” and variations of it are often repeated throughout the show (this example was taken from “Your Obedient Servant”), mainly through Burr’s narration. Ironically, though all of the historical characters portrayed in the show are white, most of the Hamilton cast are actors of color. This juxtaposition between what we hear the characters saying and what the characters look like not only points to the idiocy of discriminating against race, but also puts the community of Hamilton into a more contemporary setting. The community within Washington’s cabinet often disregards Hamilton due to his Caribbean lineage, even though he is smarter than most all of them. The audience shares in Hamilton’s frustration, subconsciously pushing Miranda’s progressive ideals of race onto the audience. In this sense, the audience shares a community with Hamilton, one centered among racial equality. Further, back in act one, Hamilton surrounds himself with societal outcasts, namely Lafayette, Laurens, and Mulligan, because he feels he is an outcast himself. It is no coincidence that as Hamilton’s connection with Eliza Schuyler, a woman from a well-established family, grows stronger, and his relationship with his outcasted cronies diminishes, he gains power in the outside community, leaving his old one behind.

Another interesting dichotomy that creates community is the representation of women in Hamilton. Women in the 18th century did not carry much of a voice. However, in Hamilton, the women of the show take much more control over the story. This idea is best seen in the song “The Schuyler Sisters.” Perhaps the most famous line from this song is when Angelica tells Burr, “And when I meet Thomas Jefferson, I’m ‘a compel him to include women in the sequel!” Miranda purposefully breaks historical accuracy in order to better establish the women in Hamilton’s community. In opposition to the traditional ideals of complaisance and agreeableness, Angelica and Eliza (and Peggy!) are striking and passionate. This is also in part due to the acting choices by Angelica and Eliza’s actors: Renée Elise Goldsberry and Phillipa Soo respectively. The two actors play the Schuyler sisters in a more progressive and modern manner. They actually take agency within the story, further establishing a contemporary community within an old story, which invites the audience to share in this sense of community. The women are just as revolutionary as the men and they actively make choices that affect Hamilton’s community. For example, when Hamilton publishes The Reynold’s Pamphlet, the audience is encapsulated with Phillipa Soo’s intense and engaging rendition of “Burn,” forever changing the dynamic of the community we see onstage. Eliza’s decision to leave Hamilton tarnishes his legacy and conveys that she can be independent of him. Similarly, it is Eliza, not Hamilton, that carries on their family legacy in “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story.” Phillipa Soo creates depth to Eliza that gains sympathy and further support from the audience to the community in Hamilton.

Finally, honor plays a large role in the building of community within Hamilton. Three duels take place over the course of show, all with the intention of defending and accusing the honor of those involved. The first duel is between Charles Lee, an American General whose cowardice was responsible for the death of hundreds of troops, and Hamilton’s good friend John Laurens. Hamilton challenges Lee to the duel after Lee audaciously blamed his failures on George Washington. Therefore, Hamilton is defending Washington’s (and subsequently, his own) honor. The second duel was between Hamilton’s son Philip and a blabbermouth named George Eacker. Hamilton supported the duel with his son in order to protect his honor. And finally, the last duel was with Hamilton himself, defending his own honor against Aaron Burr. In all of these cases, Hamilton was defending his honor and legacy. Hamilton’s obsession with his legacy creates a relationship, a community, among his inner circle that is an “open-book.” Everyone in Hamilton hopes to be well-remembered, but Hamilton’s legacy holds more validity, for he keeps himself honest throughout the show. The audience trusts the account of Hamilton’s life because they learn to trust Hamilton himself. Whether in regard to the duels or The Reynolds Pamphlet, Hamilton is honest, while the outside community is not. Burr usurps Philip Schuyler’s (Hamilton’s father-in-law) position in the senate and, along with Jefferson and Madison, tries to blackmail Hamilton. Again, Hamilton’s community is contrasted with those against him, which goes to unite the audience on his side, despite his flaws.

There’s no doubt as to why Hamilton was such a success on Broadway. Of course, Hamilton’s music and acting are prestigious, but more than that, Miranda creates a community on stage that the audience can easily relate to. Miranda expertly bridges the gap between an old story and a modern world by including contemporary social issues such as racial discrimination, women’s rights, and integrity. He accomplishes this via his writing and casting choices. Hamilton’s cast is made up of a majority of actors of color. Similarly, though not as historically accurate, he gives the women in Hamilton agency and depth. Beyond that, Hamilton continuously unites the audience behind an unlikely protagonist: an “Arrogant immigrant, orphan / Bastard, whoreson,” by creating a likable community onstage around Hamilton that is readily supported by the audience, and contrasting it with other communities, rivals, with less appealing characteristics.  

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s