Analysis of “Hamilton” Broadway Musical

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Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote and starred in this hit Broadway musical. It is based on the book “Alexander Hamilton” written by Ron Chernow. The musical first became an off-Broadway hit in February of 2015. Later that same year in August it made the jump onto Broadway itself, performing to sold out shows, even with the highest ticket prices on Broadway. It went on to receive a record-setting 16 Tony nominations and won 11 of them including best musical. “Hamilton” is now also shown in the West End (London), Chicago and two United States touring shows and also being brought to Puerto Rico where Miranda is from. First giving a brief description of the plot. Then talking about what makes this show so unique and why people are connecting to it. Next taking an in-depth look the historical context of the musical. Seeing just how historically accurate is Hamilton. Last going over an overarching theme of the show that is summed up best with the title of the last song “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story”.

The show starts off talking about Hamilton’s childhood in the Caribbean and how he got to America. Once there he meets his friends John Laurens, Hercules Mulligan, and Marquis de Lafayette all of whom can’t wait to join the revolution. Hamilton also meets Aaron Burr who is Hamilton’s lifelong enemy and eventual killer. Then we meet the Schuyler sisters Angelica, Eliza and Peggy who would later become the family Hamilton never had. Next we see Hamilton refute and ridicule a loyalist, after which King George III shows up to remind the colonists that he will fight for their submission.

When the revolution starts Washington struggles to lead his army and looks for his right hand man which he finds in Hamilton. However, Hamilton doesn’t really fight but instead is a secretary. Attending a ball with Washington Hamilton meets his wife Eliza Schuyler but also finds he has feeling for her sister Angelica as well. In the end he marries Eliza and Angelica contends herself for keeping him in her life as a brother-in-law. Meanwhile Burr is having an affair with the wife of a British officer named Theodosia. It’s here that the audience learns that Hamilton will always take a shot if given the chance but Burr while always wait to see how things play out. The revolution continues and General Charles Lee is unhappy with Washington. This leads to a duel between Laurens and Lee, with Hamilton as Laurens second.

When Washington finds out about the duel he sends Hamilton home, where he finds out that Eliza is pregnant. Hamilton is torn between wanting to be with Eliza and his desire to fight in the revolution. In the end he joins the revolution before the Battle of Yorktown where Washington finally gives him command of some troops. Once the battle is over he races home to meet his son while Burr is deals with pain of losing Theodosia and having to raise their daughter on his own. Life after the revolution finds them both practicing law when Washington shows up. He asks Hamilton to be Treasury Secretary which Hamilton accepts against Eliza’s protest and this ends act 1.

Act 2 opens with Thomas Jefferson returning to the U.S. from France and becoming Secretary of State. Upon arriving home, he finds James Madison who is upset about Hamilton’s finical plan and asks Jefferson for help. The two head to Congress where Jefferson and Hamilton have a fight over the finical plan. Washington steps in and tells Hamilton either comprise with Jefferson or Congress will remove him from his office. Back at home Eliza begs Hamilton to take a break and come on a vacation with his family. However, Hamilton tells her no and stays behind working to get is plan passed.

During this time, he is visited by Maria Reynolds which ends with him having an affair with her and her husband blackmailing Hamilton to keep it quiet. Despite this Hamilton gets his finical plan passed Congress by giving Jefferson the power to move the U.S. capital. This makes Hamilton wildly unpopular and Burr see this as his moment to run against Hamilton’s father-in-law for senator. After winning the senate sees Hamilton and Burr have a huge argument over who did the right thing in both cases.

Another cabinet meeting is held where Jefferson and Hamilton but heads again over whether the US should get involved in the French revolution. Washington agrees with Hamilton and the US remains out the war. Next time when Hamilton comes into work Washington tells him Jefferson has resigned and that he needed Hamilton to write his farewell address. Hamilton is then fired by Adams and some people think they found that while in office Hamilton spend government for personal gain. When really he used his own money to cover up his affair with Maria Reynolds. Fearing his legacy is in danger Hamilton publishes the Reynolds Pamphlet exposing his affair with Reynolds to save his political career. Eliza is very upset when she finds out and burns the letters Hamilton had written to her.

Erasing herself from the narrative and wants nothing to do with Hamilton. What brings them back together is the death of their son Philip who die protecting his father’s legacy. Hamilton is then asked to take part in the 1800s election in which he endorses Jefferson over Burr helping Jefferson win the presidency. Burr angered by the defeat challenges Hamilton to a duel which he accepts. Telling Eliza that he will be back before she wakes up Hamilton leaves for the duel. Where for the first time Hamilton threw away his shot and Burr took his. Hamilton dies and Burr becomes the villain in our history today. When Eliza hears the news she spends the rest of her life protecting Hamilton’s legacy.

“Hamilton” is a unique show on Broadway for so many different reasons. For starters, it’s a rap musical about the Founding Fathers. That alone is enough to make Hamilton unique in its own right. But the show takes it one step further by who it has cast for its leading men and ladies. These actors and actress don’t look anything like the people they are portraying. In the main cast, there are eleven people out of which only one of them is white.

The rest is a mix of different races ranging from African American to Asian. The casting agency could have easily just hired all white actors to play the Founding Fathers and no one would have complained about it simply because all the people the actors are playing were all white. As Miranda said when asked about this odd casting choice, he “wanted to tell an American story with the faces of Americans today”. The show also came out at a time when America was divided by race like it never was before. Not worse than before, but just in a very different way than before.

At this point in time police brutality was coming to light in the media. Also the fear of immigrants coming into the country because of terrorist attacks becoming more common. On top of all this, a presidential election that brought race to the forefront of American’s thoughts. The original cast has even made a few jokes about the president’s plan to build a wall on the Mexican border saying that their cast “is so culturally different from his America, they are surprised he hasn’t built a wall around the theater”.

Despite being set in a time long, Miranda has managed to forge a connection between the people now and the people from long ago. He has created unforgettable characters that people connected with. The article “Can Great Art Also Be Great History?” written by Kenneth Owen talked about the emotional connections in the musical. Things like watching Washington and Hamilton snap at each other like father and son, Burr’s scheming to get ahead, Jefferson’s swagger, Angelica’s secret love for Hamilton and Eliza’s determination that Hamilton never be forgotten are just some examples. These are feelings that the audience can relate to and connect with.

We as people have all experience love, longing and determination so we the audience understand what the characters are going through. Miranda just put those emotions into music that has capture so many people today. Even if a person has never experienced a certain event they can feel for others. In the song “It’s Quiet Uptown”, Hamilton and Eliza have just lost their son. When the ensemble sang “going through the unimaginable” said Owen “it was hard to keep myself together.” Miranda has written unforgettable songs that capture what the characters were feeling at that point in time. Even though this story is over 200 years’ old there are still things that the people of today can relate to.

How does a story over 200 years old stand up against the facts of real history? In many ways Miranda kept to true to the story of “Alexander Hamilton” based off of the book by the same name written by Ron Chernow. Owen says “it certainly cannot be argued that Miranda and his writing team did not do their historical research.” For example, the three duels we see in Hamilton are based off the Joanne Freeman’s book “Affairs of Honor” which goes over the rules of duels back in the 18th century. Also the female characters stay very true to the traditional role of women in the 18th century.

While still giving the audience the feeling that the women were more independent. The women in the show are mainly there to further the plot rather than playing an important role in it. A unique add in that really gives the audience the chance to see how the rest of the world views America is King George’s songs. This is a view point that not many Americans get to see because we are so focus on how the American Revolution changed us. King George gives the audience a glimpse of what the rest of the world thinks of America through his three songs. Through how foolish it seemed in the beginning to fight against the British Empire, to seeing what will happen to America after the war and finally watching to see if our government could even work without Washington. Speaking of Washington, the relationship between him and Hamilton is one like father and son.

Which according to historical sources it how it was. This greatly highlighted by the song “One Last Time” where Washington tells Hamilton he is stepping down from the presidency and the writing of his famous fair well address. However, the thing that the show I believe protruded the best is Hamilton struggles. The show really does show the struggles of Hamilton which is a unique one compared to the other founding fathers. As Owen points out “with the possible exception of Franklin; no other Founding Father even came close to experiencing Hamilton’s low-status, poverty-stricken upbringing.” The musical shows this well by highlighting how he struggled to get into college, provide for his family and fight in the American Revolution.

Despite all the things Hamilton got right there are many things that “Hamilton” got wrong. After all it is hard to fit more than thirty years of history into a three-hour musical. As a result, many things got left out as to not overcomplicated things and make the show too long. For example, Hamilton’s son is killed before the election of 1800 rather than in 1801. Also it made it seem like Bur was more upset about the presidential election of 1800 versus the New York gubernatorial election of 1804. The show also made it seems like Hamilton was very progressive for his time in regards for slavery.

Many times in the show Hamilton sings a line related to his distaste for slaves. When really he did have anything to do with slaves since he owned none himself and the only interaction he had was them through his wife father who owned many. Here it is clear that Miranda ran into the problem of showing historical figures in a good light. When our view points about things has changed so much since then. The other thing that historians believe the show got wrong was Hamilton’s personality and American’s opinion of it.

There is a line in the show that talks about the constitutional convention where Hamilton proposes his own form of government. The show leaves out the part where Hamilton proposed that America basically become a monarchy. Another line is “he will never be President now!” sung right after Hamilton publishes the Reynolds Pamphlet. This makes it seem like it was because of the affair that people didn’t like him when really the American public view him elitist with very extreme views. The show also glorifies Hamilton for getting the job when many historians believe that it was other people who did the real work.

Take the Federalist Papers where James Madison, John Jay and Alexander Hamilton wrote a total of 85 essays in support of the Constitution. Many historians believe that Madison wrote the best essay but the shows glorifies Hamilton for writing the most 51 to Madison’s 29. Then there is Hamilton’s personality in general which according to many reports Miranda smooth off Hamilton’s rough edges. It seems he had an aggressive personality and voiced many unpopular opinions. Also when looking at his failings the show views that as Hamilton’s personal failings rather than viewing them as just bad ideas in general.

However, the biggest historical inaccuracy in the show is Hamilton’s view point on immigrants. The show talks a lot about Hamilton’s immigration from the Caribbean and how he had to struggle against this fact for his whole life. At every opportunity his enemies like Burr, Jefferson and Madison make jabs at this fact calling him an immigrate versus an American citizen. This helps drive Hamilton’s end goal which is to secure his legacy. In real life however Hamilton was against immigrants for most of life. He wasn’t always like this in 1791 he asked Congress to encourage an inflow of immigrants in his “Reports on Manufactures”.

However, this view point changed soon after due to the fall out of the Whiskey Rebellion. The Whiskey Rebellion was in response to his federal excise tax and Hamilton lobbied hard for an aggressive federal response. While a Pennsylvania congressman William Findley wanted to deescalate the situation which meant giving the rebels a softer punishment. Hamilton’s reaction to Findley’s plan was to make fun of Findley’s birth of Ireland. Findley recalls Hamilton saying “expressed much surprise and indignation at reposing so much confidence in foreigners.” According to “Alexander Hamilton as Immigrant” by Phillip Magness.

The show however only talks about it in pass. “The ass-hole who taxes the alcohol” is sung by Burr as a reason why Burr ran against Hamilton’s father-in-law. However, the biggest attack Hamilton made against immigrants comes in the form of the Alien and Sedition Acts. This act was four bills signed into law by John Adams which basically gave him the power to imprison and deport non-citizens who were deemed dangerous, from a hostile nation, making false statements about the government and just made it harder for an immigrant to become a citizen. Adam later said that Hamilton was that one pushing these bills to past and basically forced it onto his desk.

Many of Hamilton’s papers were lost or destroyed after his death so it is hard to say what he really did but his fingerprints are easy to spot in regard of this act. Monitored the bill’s progress through his friend Secretary of State Timothy Pickering. There were a few surviving letters to Pickering that clearly show his support for the Sedition Act. When the act was signed into law in 1798 he pressured Adams through Pickering to use the power given to Adam by the act. Adam rebuffed Pickering request for him to use the act, as did the next president Thomas Jefferson. Hamilton actually called Jefferson out for letting nefarious foreign influence his cabinet.

Hamilton only stopped himself short of calling for a prohibition of foreigners. This is in stark contrast to how Hamilton is protruding in the show where he the champion of immigrants. That fact actually makes a lot of his character and helps fuel his end goal which is to secure is legacy. This makes much more sense since he came to this country as an immigrant and rise up to become one of its Founding Fathers. However, Hamilton defense of the Alien and Sedition Acts actually was helpful because as immigrant himself served as a delineation point for “security”. He commented “it will be quite apparent that the natural progress of our own population is sufficiently rapid for strength, security and settlement.”

“Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story” is the last song in the show and it does a great job saying that it isn’t you who decides what stories gets told but the people you leave behind. It is sung by Eliza Hamilton after Hamilton was killed about how she spent the rest of her life fighting to preserve her husband’s legacy. The song is a nod to historiography which is the study of writing history. Historians have to get people to empathize with their objects of their study. The author of the “Alexander Hamilton” Ron Chernow task was to get people to like Hamilton and so wrote a book that celebrates him.

When Miranda read his book and then wrote the show he puts his own view onto Hamilton. Miranda is very pro-immigration and so he put his view on Hamilton. But the show is less about history and more of imaginative playground. Everyone can put themselves into the shoes of different characters and change them to make the character more like them. So the show isn’t really a study of historical character and evaluating his politics and his ideology but more of a morality tale. Owen says “‘Hamilton’ uses history more as a comfort blanket than as a serious means to enhance popular understandings of the American Revolution.”

In conclusion “Hamilton” is a great show that does a good job of connecting to the people of today. It gets many facts about history correct and does a good job of showing the relationship between the characters. But it is not truly historically accurate because it is hard to fit 30 years of history into a 3hour time frame. It also falls into the same hole that so many stories about history fall into. That is that people today put their own spine on the story or they just skip over the parts that they don’t like.

Cite this paper

Analysis of “Hamilton” Broadway Musical. (2022, Feb 10). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/analysis-of-hamilton-broadway-musical/

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