HAMILTON: THE LEGACY LEFT BEHINDJuly 14, 2020
Currently available on Disney+ is a filmed version of the Broadway sensation that took the world by storm. Created by Lin Manuel Miranda, Hamilton is a musical that details the legacy of the first Treasury Secretary of the USA, Alexander Hamilton.
The musical details much of his early life, especially his actions in the Revolutionary War. The second act contains his later years when he creates the basis of the financial system in use today. By blending classic Broadway music with hip hop and other contemporary music forms, Lin Manuel Miranda created a truly transcendent experience that everyone can now enjoy.
Hamilton is rife with motifs and themes, giving every significant character a recurring element to them that makes them unique. Alexander Hamilton defines his ambition (My Shot). Aaron Burr shows his caution (Wait for It). George Washington shows how heavy responsibility is (History Has Its Eyes on You). Eliza Hamilton professes her state of being (Helpless) as does Angelica Schuyler (Satisfied). Each of these recurring motifs denotes what drives these characters forward.
The most significant of Hamilton’s themes is that of legacy…what the character leaves behind after he dies.
THE FIGHT FOR FREEDOM IN HAMILTON
After the opening number that quickly runs through Hamilton’s childhood, the audience is immediately thrust into how Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr differ in the pursuit of their goals.
Hamilton is an orphaned bastard immigrant who has absolutely nothing he didn’t struggle for. He comes to America looking to create something that will sustain his name for years after he is dead. The war between America and the British Empire feeds this hunger as he seeks to prove his worth.
Burr, on the other hand, has a significant legacy to live up to. His grandfather, father, and mother were very important people who commanded a lot of respect. He cannot afford to just pursue any course of action because what he has been left with is significant. Hence, Burr is more cautious and unwilling to risk his legacy in ventures that might prove unsuccessful.
These separate courses of action come to a head when George Washington bursts onto the scene. Washington needs a “Right Hand Man” to reduce his burden. Burr immediately throws his hat into the ring but Washington has his eyes on Hamilton. He selects the daring risk-taking Hamilton who manages to excel in his new role.
Ironically, Hamilton is unsatisfied in his role as Washington’s aide de camp. He prefers to be in the thick of the war and covets Aaron Burr’s position as Lieutenant Colonel.
Washington, looking to the future of the nation after the war is won, holds Hamilton from the war. When he can’t afford to anymore, Washington opens up about how a previous mistake in his youth forever haunts him. In this way, he implores Hamilton to remember that “History Has Its Eyes on You.”
HOW HAMILTON AND BURR TRY TO CREATE A LEGACY AFTER THE WAR
After the war is won, Hamilton and Burr start building lives in their new country. They begin pursuing their dreams just as they did before the war.
However, Aaron Burr quickly finds himself left behind as Hamilton quickly climbs up in his career. He works “Non-Stop” to build a great America.
Alexander Hamilton finds that his methods, while great for war, make him many enemies who view his ideas distastefully.
A great example is his initial clash with Thomas Jefferson in the “Cabinet Battle”. Jefferson comes in to counter Hamilton’s financial plan and does so with a few playful digs at Hamilton. Hamilton goes way overboard when defending his plan. He points out how slavery contributed to the South’s financial stability and personally calls out Jefferson in that regard. After Hamilton mocks Madison’s ill health doing so, Hamilton effectively makes two opponents with one speech.
Despite all the enemies he makes, Hamilton manages to negotiate a deal that gives him everything he needs. Burr can only watch enviously from the outside as deals are made in “The Room Where It Happens.”
This envy pushes him to take risky action to cement his legacy. Burr switches political parties and uses some of the negative rumors against Hamilton to get elected to office. He also teams up with Jefferson and Madison to dig up dirt on Hamilton.
Hamilton proves them wrong by revealing his infidelity and goes even further. By publishing “The Reynolds Pamphlet”, Hamilton exposes his affair to the public and destroying his political career.
HOW HAMILTON AND BURR CEMENT THEIR LEGACY
Now, Burr is the rising star in line to have everything he wanted while Hamilton is an unsuccessful outsider.
However, Burr’s hopes of ultimate political glory (the Presidency) are shot down when Hamilton endorses Jefferson. Jefferson then quickly turns on Burr.
Enraged by the actions of someone he considered an ally, Burr challenges Hamilton to a duel. In an ironic twist of fate, Burr becomes the impulsive one and shoots, while Hamilton chooses otherwise and points his gun in the sky.
In the end, Hamilton’s legacy ends with an honorable death. Burr’s legacy is marred as he becomes the villain of the story. He realizes too late that “The World Was Wide Enough” for the two of them.
“WHO LIVES, WHO DIES, WHO TELLS YOUR STORY”
Eliza, Hamilton’s wife, also has her own dreams of legacy but hers are more reserved.
She prefers a simpler life, unlike the ambitious Hamilton, and would rather he spend time with her and his children. However, she is “Helpless” to stop him from pursuing his dream and wrecking his life.
Distraught when she learns about the affair and how Alexander reveals it, Eliza chooses to “Burn” herself out of the narrative and Hamilton’s legacy.
However, after Hamilton’s death, Eliza finds that she is the only one who can fully tell Hamilton’s tale. As such, she pushes herself to ensure that her husband isn’t completely forgotten by history. She tells the story of his fellow soldiers (John Laurens, Marquis de Lafayette, and Hercules Mulligan). Eliza also funds the George Washington Memorial, and much more.
She realizes that Hamilton worked like he was running out of time and still left much behind. Eliza can’t help but question if she’ll have enough time to fully tell his story.
Hamilton is a groundbreaking musical not just for its structure, use of hip hop, or its historical setting but because of how it uses its themes to create meaningful moments with the audience and it cements its legacy as one of the greatest Broadway productions of all time.
Hamilton is currently streaming on Disney+.
Click here for an editor’s pick of what to read next and don’t forget to comment and subscribe.