Hamilton is a musical about legacy. It examines the concept from several different angles – what is a legacy worth, what control do you have over your own legacy, how far would you go to protect it? This is very evident in the political parts of the plot, but it also comes through in the personal aspects, namely, his relationship with Eliza and Angelica, and how those relationships develop over the course of the story. In many ways, these personal relationships, as presented in the musical, leave more of a legacy than the fighting and writing. Let’s dig into that, shall we?
What the Relationships Represent
Obviously Hamilton the musical deviates from actual history in many respects. Most of these changes are made for practical reasons – the timeline is condensed, some characters take on different roles so they don’t have to introduce new characters, events are left out, and so on. However, one interesting change is the fact that in history, Angelica was already married when she met Alexander, and that was the reason she was unavailable. (Whether they actually had a romantic connection is a debated point, so that’s not so much a change as filling in a gap.) This change isn’t to make the musical shorter or more understandable, it is there to highlight themes and character.
Angelica shares much in common with Alexander. Her rapid lyrics and wordplay show she has the same level of wit, and she also has ambition and a tendency to place that ambition above her own personal feelings. However, because she’s a woman, the ambition to rise becomes a need for social climbing, and the sacrifice of the personal feeling is her giving up her romantic prospects to help her family rise up, rather than Hamilton giving up time with his family to take part in politics. This all comes across in Satisfied, and it wouldn’t have been possible to highlight if Angelica had been already married.
Eliza’s ethos, on the other hand, is very similar to Burr’s, willing to ‘wait for it’ in order not to lose what she already has. Unlike Burr, she is in fact happy with what she has and isn’t struggling with jealousy. The most Eliza wants when she sings That Would be Enough is to be part of the narrative. However, she wants that narrative to include Alexander staying home. This seems like a contradiction – would there be a narrative to be a part of if he stayed? There would, but it would be a very different one. Basically, she wants this story to end. This is the happy ever after she’s already achieved, and she doesn’t want anything to upset that.
Eliza’s unhappiness actually stems from the fact that the narrative does continue, that Alexander doesn’t stay. She represents safety, contentment, while it is very clear that Alexander chases risk and thrives in uncertainty (he wishes for a war so he can rise up, that’s pretty dramatic). For most of the story, Eliza is on the sidelines, helpless, wanting Alexander to be with her, but he isn’t content.
It should be pointed out that neither Angelica nor Eliza really get what they want, not on their own. Angelica’s social climbing is dependent on her marriage; Eliza’s stability depends on Alexander. Unsurprisingly, gender roles were a thing, but this only helps to show the role these people play.
We can see then, that Angelica represents political ambition and Eliza represents personal stability. Hamilton’s relationship to each of them represents how he relates to these ideas. This is why his romantic relationship with Angelica is emphasised throughout the first act and the early part of the second: she represents what he is reaching for.
The Turning Point
It seems strange, then, to see both Angelica and Eliza team up to urge Alexander to Take a Break. This seems contradictory. In fact it is a nice piece of foreshadowing. Alexander is about to make a mistake that will hurt him both politically and personally — his affair with Maria Reynolds and the ensuing Reynolds Pamphlet leads to losing his chances of ever becoming President, his estrangement with his wife, and eventually, the death of his son.
The early parallels between the Angelica and Alexander means that it hits all the harder when she returns in Reynolds Pamphlet. Alexander assumes she supports him, after all, he just committed the ultimate act of sacrificing personal feelings for his legacy, in the same way she sacrificed her personal feelings for her family’s legacy all those years ago. She of all people should understand. However, she isn’t here for him. She’s here to tell him he should have stuck by her sister.
Angelica’s turn against Alexander parallels Alexander’s turn away from politics. After this point, his only participating in politics is in Election of 1800 when he speaks only after he has been hounded for his opinion. This matches Angelica’s turn. She leaves London (and possibly her rich husband, although this isn’t made clear), sacrificing position in order to comfort her sister Eliza. She turns away from social climbing and towards family.
Narrative and Legacy
The Reynolds Pamphlet obviously is very painful for Eliza. She’s lost her happy ending at this point, through no fault of her own. At this point, Eliza is a casualty, a warning that you can lose it all even if you don’t risk anything. The losses continue as she loses her son and husband, unable to control any of it.
Up to this point, Eliza has been a passive figure. She is helpless. She doesn’t take an active part in introducing herself to Alexander. She is unable to keep him from the war, and she is unable to keep him from engaging in politics. However, the Reynolds Pamphlet triggers a turning point for Eliza. She fights back the only way she knows how, with silence, destroying a part of Alexander’s legacy. Denied her happy ending, she denies him his.
This changes again when Alexander is completely out of the picture. At this point, Eliza does what could be considered the opposite of what she had been advocating for earlier. She preserves his legacy. She works to effect change, helping fund the Washington Monument, speaking against slavery. Yet, she hasn’t turned completely away from personal stability. Out of all her achievements, which is the one she is proudest of?
The orphanage. The means by which she can provide stability and family to children who have none. Not something that would advance her in the political or social climbing sphere, but something that helps people personally.
This musical is all about legacy. Yet after all the political shenanigans, the most important legacy isn’t the wars that were won or the bills that were passed. The most important legacy is the people who are left. The narrative ends with people helping people. In the struggle between personal and political, personal trumps political.
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