Thanks to a friend who told us how easy it is to get tickets (Hi, Nancy!), we saw Hamilton in May, at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco––loved it. Lin-Manuel Miranda did a fantastic job; the recognition he and the play have received is well-earned.
Then in June, we met other friends for lunch and were asked, “Did you read the two books, so you would know the story?” (Hi, Mary!) “Oh,” I replied, “We knew the story because we read the synopsis and listened to the soundtrack.” From the synopsis, I’d learned that Hamilton was an orphan who grew up on a Caribbean Island––and that was a lot of new information, right there. I described how we could follow along with the lyrics by clicking on the links provided in the soundtrack. (Search YouTube for “Hamilton soundtrack.”) But the truth was that I had not heard of the books, so I checked them out from the library and read them. And I learned more of the story––a lot more. Both books are well-researched novels. In The Hamilton Affair by Elizabeth Cobbs, I learned more about his early life, more about his mother, and more––maybe, depending on how much creative license was involved––about his affair. What stuck with me, though, was how long it took to win the Revolutionary War and how hard it was for states’ militias to fight the battles with no central government providing money. Hamilton was critical to the replacement of the Articles of Confederation with a workable Constitution, and to our having a government treasury.
Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie throughly researched the life of Hamilton’s wife Elizabeth for My Dear Hamilton. Their story demonstrates that Hamilton was an intense person who could be difficult at times. The authors show Elizabeth Schuyler as a powerful woman. She participated in the Revolution along with Hamilton, was passionate about the United States as a nation, was against slavery, and established a home for orphans along with many other charitable works––all in an age when women’s accomplishments were not usually recognized. The book also gives a lot of insight to the personalities of Washington and those known as the Virginians: Jefferson, Madison, Monroe. Elizabeth (called Eliza) lived fifty years after Alexander’s death and died at the age of 97.
The country owes a lot to Hamilton, and to his widow Eliza too, who worked after Hamilton’s death to publicize his importance in the founding of our country. Knowing more details of the story highlights what a great job Miranda did. Of course, Miranda symbolized certain aspects––he had to, because Hamilton packed so much living in his 49 years. In the play, the Schuyler (prounced Sky-ler) sisters, are reduced to caricatures of themselves as is necessary for the storyline and time considerations. They spend time on the streets of New York “because they’re interested in the political activity of the times,” a drastic over-simplification of how involved the whole Schuyler family was in New York politics, even in negotiations with certain native American tribes.
After reading the books, I wonder how much symbolism I missed. What images and representations did Miranda use that went over my head? The only answer is to read Ron Chernow’s biography that inspired the musical and then to see the play again––so that’s what we’re going to do!
Bonus: A fun interview of Lin-Manuel Miranda by Stephen Colbert, way back in Dec, 2015.