I’m very obsessed with Hamilton. Like, there was a point where I listened to the soundtrack once a day. As in, I bought the sheet music to learn on the piano. I mean, I signed up for Disney+ just so I could watch the filmed performance. I haven’t written about it before because there’s not much for me to say that isn’t just gushing. The music’s great. The story’s impressive. The lyrics are soooo good. There’s not much I can add to that.
One thing that did occur to me while I watching the stage show is the number of times we change point of view, and how similar the themes are to another work I’ve been examining. Namely, that of narrative and control of narrative. If I had to boil down Hamilton to one theme, it would be encapsulated by the phrase ‘Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story.’ So much of the story centres around who is telling this story, and how that changes the narrative.
It is interesting that the opening number is mostly told in a way where the story is passed between different characters, but Alexander Hamilton himself is the only one not telling the story. He tells everyone his name, he tells everyone to just wait, but even here at the beginning, it is the people around him who have control of the narrative.
Most of the time, Burr is positioned as the narrator. He’s positioned as Alexander’s rival and enemy, and also his philosophical opposite. Most of the tension between them comes from their contrasting beliefs of “not throwing away my shot” versus “wait for it.” In a story where Alexander Hamilton is the protagonist, I guess it would be inescapable that Burr would be a villain. (I don’t know that much about American history, is he normally portrayed as a villain?) But even here, his point of view is given priority in the narrative, to the point where people are telling Alexander to ‘wait for it’ during Hurricane. So we are given insight into the antagonist and his own character journey.
The times Burr cedes his point of view and narration are also fairly key. It seems to happen most often during the romantic aspects of the story. Helpless and Satisfied is a great microcosm of the musical as a whole, showing how the exact same series of events changes completely just by flipping the point of view (the staging and choreography is so impressive). Burr also explicitly lets Hamilton tell the narrative in Say No to This, giving Hamilton control of the narrative only when his weaknesses come into the forefront. At another low point in the story, It’s Quiet Uptown, Angelica takes over as narrator. These are the points of the story that show a different side of Hamilton, and so a different point of view is needed.
This story shows us multiple points of view and validates all of them to some level. We are invested in both Eliza’s relationship with Hamilton and Angelica’s, we empathise with Alexander’s story and with Burr’s. We even get King George’s take on the war, and while most of those songs are comic relief, there are some hidden nuggets of truth when he tells them ‘it’s much harder when it’s all your call.’ There seems to be something to connect with in every character.
At the very end, we don’t conclude with Alexander’s point of view, or even Burr’s, we conclude with Eliza’s. She’s the one who carries on his legacy, she’s the one who ‘makes sense’ of his writings and actually tells his story. In the end, this isn’t really about Alexander Hamilton, it’s about the power of narrative and what happens when you have control of the narrative. It’s about how there are diverse points of view in the world, each of them valid on some level, and we’ve all got to be aware of that as we tell our stories and the stories of others.