For the trip south this summer, I had Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida. Adella had Hamilton.
Hamilton won. With all due respect to the Bard, thank goodness for Spotify for bringing to us a narrative about the founding of American independence woven and set to music by the son of immigrants.
Hamilton the musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda creates complex characters and then sets them on the road to individual and personal as well as social and universal freedom. Whereas in so many musicals characters represent ideas, Hamilton’s characters represent individuals in all their unwashed, conflicted, complicated glory. Somehow, both because of, and despite, who they are, these characters fight for the greater good at the same time they pursue their own happiness. In the end, the achievement of the greater good is the precise measure of our own happiness.
Here is an award-winning musical written by a second-generation American that celebrates the humanity of our Founders (Read: They make some really bad mistakes that would never pass the Tabloid Test of Decency today.) and is performed by actors who represent minority groups. They sing life into what might be considered a stale story. They remind us the guy on our $10-bill (Remember those?) had a story worth remembering because his story is really our story. If we can accept that his flaws are like our flaws, then we might accept that his reaching for greatness might be like our reaching for greatness.
Simply put: Here are representatives of minorities embracing the canon and making it their own.
The musical ends with the rhetorical question, Who is going to tell your story? (Which is to say, according to my understanding, what have you done for your country?) This is a tear-jerker moment for me and for my daughter because the persons telling the story of our nation’s founding are not people who look like us (and we can trace our roots back to the Mayflower) but people who do not. They found the words, created a story, and made it sing.
And we are grateful--because what else can we be?
I would argue that through his hip-hop musical Hamilton, composer and playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda has breathed new life into Of Plimoth Plantation, a little memoir by my ancestor, William Bradford, as he has breathed life into the story of our Revolution. Hamilton made me look anew at all the old truths I took for granted and treated like private property. I am not a hip-hop fan, so I had to push myself past my taste in music to appreciate the aesthetic of the play. Having done so, I love the music and the play--and I can identify with the characters. I feel them.
Art has this power to kick open doors, set fires, and concentrate a lens on the bigger picture.
Which is why it is so amazing and wonderful that our country has a tradition of funding the arts and thereby fueling the questions that fuel democracy. By broadening our range of options, the arts broaden our understanding of who we are. Hamilton is an essential part of our never-ending revolution.