Once again, the musical ‘Hamilton’ is sweeping across pop culture throughout our nation. The hit musical, which first was seen exclusively on Broadway, can now be seen from the comforts of your home through the magic of Disney+. (By the way, what I say ‘our nation’ I am speaking of my own, that is the USA, if you are outside of the States, and I know some of you are, hello! I am glad you’re here! Is Hamilton as big as a hit outside of the States?)
While Hamilton, due to some of its themes and language, may not be the most family friendly musical to watch in Disney’s streaming service, it is nevertheless a beautiful and powerful story of ambition, tragedy, as well as forgiveness. My intention is to briefly point out a few of the themes I noticed in the musical that I think make it one of a kind.
Since the musical has already been streaming for over a week, there will be a few spoilers in this post, so if you still haven’t seen it yet I recommend watching it first before reading. If you have already seen it, and don’t care for hearing major spoilers, by all means, continue reading below.
First, let’s get the obvious out of the way, and explain why Hamilton is such a great musical. The music, choreography and acting is top notched. Each word and note caries power and superbly conveys the character’s emotion. The music is a mix between different genres including rap (which I was surprised to thoroughly enjoy) and the choreography was just simply astounding, complete with rotating floors, and perfectly timed movements. Although I have only a modest background in theater, my relatively untrained eyes sensed an amount of depth I don’t typically see.
Story, of course, is the area of my expertise. Music, acting, and choreography is fun, but I feel far more qualified to talk about the story. So let get talking about Hamilton and the deep complexity of its story,
The Humanity of Hamilton and Burr
Hamilton is a retelling of the real-life story of Alexander Hamilton and his riveraly with Aaron Burr. Despite a few major creative diversions from history, the musical seems to follow the major points of the true historical drama between these two famous men.
In the musical, Alexander Hamilton, is portrayed as an immigrant who seeks to rise to the top of the forming American Government. He does this through his brilliant mind, writing, and fundamentally shaping the United State’s economy. This aspiration ultimately does come at a cost to both him, and his family, as well as one other person, Aaron Burr. Throughout the show, Burr and Hamilton continuously bump into each other. Hamilton continues to succeed where Burr could not, and eventually, this breeds jealousy.
Both Hamilton and Burr are extremely developed and tragic characters. Burr is portrayed as a man of no opinion or conviction. He is clearly the antagonist but he isn’t a bad guy either. He has a daughter whom he loves, and maintains a cordial aquatinance with Hamilton, then all of a sudden, Hamilton, who lives by a very different philopshy than Burr and never shuts up about his convictions, arrives on the scene. The two butt heads as Hamilton grows higher and higher in popularity, while Burr is always given the shorter stick. We relate to Burr. These jealous feelings are natural and all to real for us.
But we also relate to Hamilton, who is the clear protagonist of the story. In Hamilton‘s first appearance is shown as an underdog, the musical’s opening word portray this quite clearly, (I shall not repeat them here) but we also can see it clearly when Hamilton and Burr first meets. Burr tells Hamilton to stay quiet but immediately, in the scenes following we see Hamilton ignoring his advice and causing a ruckus both in a bar, and then on the streets until at last he joins up with Washington. Hamilton is an immigrant, he is the underdog who rises from being no one to being someone, this desire, this dream, is something we can relate to as well. This is when the musical’s true genius comes into play.
The Good Man’s Scandal.
Thus far Hamilton has been presented as an admirable man who works to accomplish his dreams. He is a good man, with quite a few flaws, but he is likable. We want to see him succeed. But the musical doesn’t end there. After building up Alexander’s likability and causing us to care about him, then see his flaws cascading down upon him until he ends up in ruin. This is very smart writing. He values work, and he dreams great dreams, but he values these over his family. All of the sudden the man we were just rooting for sleeps with another man’s wife, eventually confessing it in the worst way possible without even consulting his wife. Hamilton‘s ambition is the same thing that caused his own fall. Both his name and his family has been ruined. If this had happened earlier in the show, we would not be sympathetic whatsoever. We have spent the whole musical cheering for the man, but now we grieve over what he did, nevertheless we are still rooting for him, but we no longer root for his political success, which the first act was primarily about, but instead we hope that someone how he would fix his family.
Forgiveness and Redemption
While his family is fixed, the story ultimately does end in tragedy. After keeping Burr from the presidency (which isn’t entirely historically accurate) the two of them duel, and Hamilton is killed. This is the moment of realization for both of them. Hamilton realizes that he has thrown too much of his life away, his ambition has led to his own death, and Burr, shooting Hamilton, realizes that history forever will portray him as the villain, and that the world was really big enough for the both of them. Their story is one of tragedy, and yet, it still has a redemptive theme that is encapsulated best in one character, Eliza Hamilton.
Hamilton’s sin broke up his family. His adultery causes a rift between his wife, and ruined both of their reputation. But more tragedy was to come, soon, their son would die in a duel. This causes Hamilton, and his wife Eliza to have further pain.
Their relationship has always been a broken one. Hamilton truely did did love Eliza but he would always put his work first, until at last his misdeeds were made public. At first, Eliza understandly refuses to forgive him, burning all of his letter, but then at last, as Hamilton turns towards prayer and true repentance, moving away from the work he once held so tightly. This is the moment Eliza, despite all of the hurt Hamilton has caused her, decides to do the unimaginable: to forgive.
I am writing, of course, about the song, “It’s Quiet Down Town” which I must confess, I was very hard to hold back my tears during. What Hamilton did was horrible, he did not deserve forgiveness, but some unseen grace compelled her to forgive him. This was a turning point for his character, who would raise his gun towards the sky during his duel with Burr. It also is one of the best portrayals of grace outside of the Bible. It shows forgiveness as something that is truely underserved and even unimaginable. And in that case I think Hamilton is an excellent example of a redemptive story.
But there is even more. In addition to that, there is a strong emphasis on not throwing your life away, which becomes evident at the end of the duel between Hamilton and Burr. The world was big enough for them to reconcile. If Hamilton and Eliza did, so could they. Yet Burr didn’t realize that until it was too late. And all of a sudden, Eliza, who had previously burned Hamilton’s letters, dedicates her life to telling his story, and lives for 50 more years, wondering of all the things Hamilton could have done if he had not thrown his life away.
Truly this is a tragedy, and yet, weaved into this tragedy is also a string of repentance and forgiveness.
I feel like such a novice writing about such a complex musical masterpiece, and in all honestly I am. But despite this I wanted to share my thoughts on why Hamilton is such an incredible play. To summarize it, I think I would put it this way. A musical like Hamilton is able to connect with so many people for a number of reasons that I discussed. It is a masterpiece of music and choreography, it deals with relatable and human characters who experience both success and failure, and it deals with important, redemptive and hope filled themes that we all need and want to hear.
So, that’s my analysis of Hamilton! What are your thoughts on the show?
*Header image taken from IMDb.