Storytelling Fact Versus Fiction: Watching and Enjoying Hamilton with a Critical Eye

If you subscribe to the Disney+ streaming service, it is safe to assume that you, like many others, sat down to watch Hamilton since it was first released on Friday, July 3rd. Even if you have not had the chance to watch the musical yet (or perhaps you do not intend to watch) it would have been nearly impossible not to know that the film recording of this theatrical performance was becoming accessible to a wider audience for the low price of $6.99 a month. Whether you are in the already watched club or not, there are some things that everyone should know about arguably one of the most influential musicals of our time.

The creator of Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda, plays a bit fast and loose with some of the history in the musical. There are many facts in the show, but other details are a bit glamorized or fabricated for story purposes. However, that is not the main reason that people have taken issue with the show itself. A glaring issue that many have with Hamilton is its glorification of the historical figures, labeling the musical as a sort of propaganda. There is very apparent bias in Hamilton, any viewer who knows even a bit about American history will cringe when the character of Thomas Jefferson requests Sally open a letter for him. It would be wrong for us to view the musical, reach the final bows, and say “Well, that was great!” without examining the biases that made the story what it is. Alexander Hamilton and the other Founding Fathers should not be figures that we glorify: they owned slaves and many of them had their own selfish motivations and hunger for power, just to name a few of their flaws.

While we can and must acknowledge the bias in Hamilton, we would be ignorant and foolish to ignore the beauty and revolutionary art that the show is. This show has gotten more people interested in the theatrical arts than ever before; it does not just cater to the “theater nerds” of the world, but it is accessible to younger generations and older generations alike, especially now that a way to experience Hamilton is not by buying a ticket that would cost hundreds of dollars. The main style of the music in the show is rap, a largely under-utilized art form in Broadway musicals. Also, most of the performers in Hamilton were people of color, with only a few white actors in the cast, namely Jonathan Groff as King George. These were intentional choices. The historical impact of Hamilton the musical should not be undone by the problematic Hamilton the person. The musical’s overall message is one about progress: Alexander Hamilton always feels like he is running out of time, and when he inevitably does run out of time, his wife, Eliza, picks up where he left off. She continues to strive towards excellence, seemingly not just for Alexander or herself, but for the America that her husband helped found. The character of Eliza shows the importance not only of forgiveness, but also the importance of improving even in the face of adversity. And many are saying that is why the show is titled Hamilton, not because it is just Alexander’s story, but because it is the story of the Hamiltons. Though they were flawed people, their constant desire to progress and make a change in their world speaks to the American dream.

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