The Genius of Hamilton
I was a latecomer to the Hamilton craze. I can recall hearing my students talking about the thousands of dollars their parents had paid to secure tickets to this theatrical phenomenon and tucked it back in the recesses of my mind, as I listened to some of the boys rap a complicated set of lyrics. I didn't make it to New York City or any of the limited-edition tours that hit major cities across the US, but my interest in the play grew. Always a lover of words, I began listening to the many compositions from the genius brain of Lin-Manuel Miranda. I played them over and over again, struck by the intricacies of the complex dialogue put to music.
After moving to Georgia, I was lucky enough to get tickets to see the stage production with my niece, Kate. We were so disappointed when Covid-19 postponed the show multiple times, but thrilled when we were finally rescheduled for September 11, 2021. That date, September 11, still looms large in my mind, as I recall running over to the elementary school to pick up our son from school twenty years earlier, just to have him and hold him and see him, after watching the destruction on the news that day. So, twenty years later, my heart was solemn, but the rebirth of live productions in NYC and all across the globe carried with it a certain kind of hope. The historical Fox Theatre in downtown Atlanta was our venue, and this was the start of a night that will stick with me for years to come.
You can see that our pandemic masks are still in hand, required once we entered the theatre, but we didn't mind. We were just so happy to be in this beautiful place to share this amazing experience!
My favorite lyrics from the play come from the songs, Burn and Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story.
From Burn, we hear the voice of Eliza Hamilton. You can have a field day with this song as an English teacher! The alliteration is beautiful, but also the way that the syllables blend into one another, and the /s/ sound as you repeat the lyrics...breathtaking work.
"You and your words flooded my senses Your sentences left me defenseless You built me palaces out of paragraphs You built cathedrals I'm re-reading the letters you wrote me I'm searching and scanning for answers In every line For some kind of sign And when you were mine The world seemed to Burn"
"I'm erasing myself from the narrative
Let future historians wonder how Eliza
Reacted when you broke her heart
You have torn it all apart
I am watching it
I found myself particularly intrigued with the word narrative. Nearly absent from common language before the last decade, narrative has taken on fresh meaning in modern society. As a teacher of writing, one of the assignments we often worked on was writing a personal narrative. Even fifth grade students are eager to share their point of view. They are beginning to understand that their lives are made up of decisions that they are increasingly making on their own, and there is a certain newfound freedom in this knowledge. This word is finding its way into mainstream conversation, as our world opens up and becomes more accepting of the diversity of stories each of our lives offers to the world...we each have our own narrative.
As a woman, I related to Eliza's horror at the near destruction of her marriage. Mine eventually crumbled into ruin, and I think perhaps it is human nature to withdraw from a huge loss to recover oneself from the wreckage. I love Miranda's word choice and can quite clearly envision Eliza removing herself from the narrative at that point in time, not knowing how the rest of the story would be told for generations to come.
I like to mentally contrast this piece with another song from the play, Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story? in part because of the return of this pivotal word, narrative, into the next part of Eliza's life.
"I put myself back in the narrative
I stop wasting time on tears
I live another 50 years
It's not enough"
I am intrigued by Eliza's grit and perseverance. Influenced by the work of Angela Duckworth and Brene Brown, I am continually seeking people whose stories highlight these hallmarks of character. These ideas set in motion a conversation with a Gifted and Talented (TAG) teacher friend, Ashley. How does someone rebound from the kind of public humiliation Eliza suffered? How does a person survive the loss of not only a son, but also a husband to a duel? What separates a person who goes on from one who gets stuck? Her life deserves closer examination, and several great works have emerged recently. With students, I used the two beautiful picture books shown below. From Eliza, I learned about the love poem Alexander had written to her, and which she wore around her neck in a velvet pouch for the next 50 years after his death. And the pages of From a Small Seed taught me about Eliza's early experience with an orphan boy near her childhood home, and how that shaped her future vision of creating an orphanage to care for children. She was not a lady who waited around for others to wait on her, or to do the hard work. She took it upon herself to make every moment of her life count, and that inspires me beyond measure.