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 tells the story of the first Treasury Secretary of the USA, Alexander Hamilton.
The musical details much of his early life as he fought in the Revolutionary War and his later years as he created the basis of the modern financial system currently 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 as every significant character has a recurring element to them that makes them unique. From Alexander Hamilton (My Shot) to Aaron Burr (Wait for It) and even the likes of George Washington (History Has Its Eyes on You), Eliza Hamilton (Helpless) and Angelica Schuyler (Satisfied), each of these recurring motifs denote 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
After the opening number that quickly runs through Hamilton’s childhood, the audience is immediately thrust into seeing 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 outlive him and sustain his name for years after he is dead. The war between America and the British Empire provides his hunger for more ample sustenance as he seeks to prove his worth in any way he can.
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, searching for a “Right Hand Man.” Burr immediately throws his hat into the ring but Washington has his eyes on Hamilton, the daring risk-taker who manages to come through.
Ironically, Hamilton is unsatisfied in his role as Washington’s aide de camp, preferring to be in the thick of the war and coveting 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 until he can’t afford to anymore and opens up about how a previous mistake in his youth will forever haunt him and his legacy. In this way, he implores Hamilton to remember that “History Has Its Eyes on You.”
After the War
After the war is won, Hamilton and Burr start building lives their new country, 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, working “Non-Stop” to build a great America.
Alexander Hamilton, on the other hand, finds that his methods, while great for war, makes 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 South’s financial stability and personally calls out Jefferson on that regard. After he 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 and 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 as he switches political parties and uses some of the groundswell against Hamilton to get elected to office. Burr also teams up with Jefferson and Madison to dig up dirt on Hamilton in an effort to completely shut him down.
Hamilton proves them wrong by revealing his infidelity and goes even further by publishing “The Reynolds Pamphlet” exposing his affair to the public and destroying his political career.
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 who quickly turns on Burr.
Enraged by the actions of someone he considered an ally, Burr challenges Hamilton to a duel where, 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 and Burr’s legacy is marred as he becomes the villain of the story, realizing 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 but 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 and 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), George Washington and much more.
She realizes that, even though Hamilton worked like he was running out of time, he still left much behind that was unfinished and questions if she’ll have enough time to fully cement his legacy.
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+.