Since my chance of seeing the Tony award winning play Hamilton on Broadway with the original cast are impossible (key players leave the cast in July), Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter’s book – Hamilton: The Revolution was the next best option. Winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical Hamilton uses hip-hop and rap to tell the story of Alexander Hamilton, the poor man who fought the British, defended the Constitution, and helped to found the United States. Full of page-sized pictures from the play, the book itself is large-sized, with the actual script, margin notes, and background information.
As I flipped through the pictures and then slowed down to read, Shakespeare came to mind. Charles Lamb wrote Tales from Shakespeare, with the Bard’s words “translated” to make the stories of Shakespeare’s plays more understandable to young readers (and anyone else needing notes); Miranda and McCarter did the same with their book Hamilton. The script includes margin notes deciphering the action and sometimes explaining the inspiration. The words follow the hip-hop beat, reading like poetry most of the time, creating its own silent music.
With chapters interspersed throughout the script, the authors follow the play’s progress as it developed in the writer’s mind, including tryouts for some of the scenes and songs over the six years before playing Broadway. Miranda’s inspiration for lyrics easily adds to the drama, and the tour behind the scenes on costuming and tryouts provides better understanding of the the play’s construction. At times, the prose gets heavy with modern political asides, teaching moral lessons along with the history lessons.
More than once I found myself researching Hamilton’s role in the Federalist Papers and the Constitution, in the creation of the banking system, in his relationship to George Washington. His famous duel with Vice President Aaron Burr is well-known, but I did not recall studying the Reynolds Pamphlet when I was in school, or the scandal of his three year affair. Miranda shows it to be the beginning of Hamilton’s decline. Amazing how history repeats itself – affairs and scandals and payoffs.
Miranda admits to poetic license in creating a few characters who did not really exist, and in romanticizing some aspects of Hamilton’s life, but for the most part, he got it as right as the history books (which are constantly being rewritten) allow.
I still want to see the play someday – must be amazing to hear those words and feel the beat of history.