Hamilton, History, And The Importance of Perception.

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Lin-Manuel Miranda as Alexander Hamilton and the real Alexander Hamilton.

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The original cast of Hamilton: An American Musical, at curtain call.

 

By now you’ve probably, at the very least, heard the name of the newest musical to sweep the world and capture practically everyone’s attention. I remember hearing about it back when it made it’s Broadway debut at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in New York. I saw gifsets on Tumblr, obvious references to the play, images, stories. When it debuted on Broadway it took the world by storm. Admittedly, it took me a month or two to jump on the bandwagon so to speak. I listened to the musical’s album in December, and suddenly, oh, I thought, this is why everyone is raving about it. It’s brilliant. From the lyrics, to composition, to the cast and how they throw themselves into the music and the roles, I found myself remembering why I was so in love with Broadway and musicals and theatre. (I did theatre when I was younger.) But even then, Hamilton: An American Musical, (Or just Hamilton, as I will be referring to it in the rest of this entry.)  is unique. There has never been a musical quite like it, although I hope there will be more in the future, because it’s approach is brilliant. And I will add my name to the list of people calling Lin-Manuel Miranda, the musical’s  writer/composer, a genius. It’s a modern musical that manages to combine old and new, and bring newer (ish) music styles, such as using hip-hop, R&B, rap (HELLO THERE DAVEED DIGGS, A TRUE MVP.), and pure soul and love of music,  to a competitive and epic platform, and pull it off in such a way that the audience is left, if you will excuse the first of the NUMEROUS Hamilton related puns/references in this entry, helpless, when it comes to falling under it’s spell. Add to all of this the absolutely stunning (in every sense of the word and it’s faucets) cast and crew ,(The chorus of this musical is amazing as well.) who threw their hearts and souls into their roles and the play, (HI THERE 16 TONY NOMINATIONS AND 11 TONY WINS! Plus, 3 of the 4 main acting awards went to the play. Daveed Diggs for Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson, Leslie Odom Jr. for Aaron Burr {sir), and Renee Elise Goldsberry for Angelica Schuyler-Church.) and you have an easy understanding as to why this play took the world over.

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What’s that haters? I’m sorry, they can’t hear you over the sound of ELEVEN TONY WINS.

So I am sure some of you might be wondering why, beyond being a fangirl and gushing about my current biggest obsession (It  is Archaeology, Nerdom, And Puns, Oh My! after all.), would I decide to write an extensive (Because this will be an extensive entry.) entry on the subject. Well, to be honest, I could do it all about nerding over the musical itself, and the cast, (Adore the original cast. I’m sure the new people will be amazing as well.) and ignore it’s importance to history and all the other serious stuff, and still be justified. I do intend to post fun stuff that isn’t necessarily serious or history related. But here’s the thing, beyond being brilliantly entertaining and visually stunning (I am a huge fan of minimal prop/set plays. Plus, the costuming, lighting, ahhhh it’s all lovely. I am going off of clips and photos I have seen.) this play, historically, is huge and important. To touch on ‘modern’ terms here, let’s start with the fact that most of the cast are people of color. This is huge. Remember how I mentioned Diggs, Odom, and Goldsberry won three of the four main acting nominations at the Tony’s?  All four wins went to people of color (Something HUGE in of itself. To quote James Corden, it’s like the Oscars, but with diversity. Oh yes, I went there.), and three of them were from Hamilton.In fact, the Tony’s this year, altogether, was amazing. We really are, get ready folks, here’s yet another  Hamilton reference, lucky to be alive right now. It also did something I appreciate whenever I see it, it cast people who weren’t necessarily in the public’s eye in a huge way. They were around yes, many had fans, and plenty of them WERE already pretty big, but some weren’t. Some people made their Broadway debut (Again, hi there Daveed Diggs, winning a Tony for his Broadway debut.) with the play and I am so glad they did.

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2016 Tony Award winners, Best Performance of an Actor In A Leading Role (Musical): Leslie Odom Jr., Hamilton, Best Performance of an Actress In A Leading Role (Musical): Cynthia Eviro, The Color Purple, Best Performance by An Actor In A Featured Role (Musical): Daveed Diggs, Hamilton, Best Performance by An Actress In A Featured Role (Musical): Renee Elise Goldsberry. This here is a beautiful sight to see. Also, DIGGS’S JACKET.

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From left to right: Daveed Diggs (Marquis de Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson), Okieriete “Oak” Onaodowan (Hercules MULLIGAN!!!/James Madison), and Anthony Ramos (John Laurens/Philip Hamilton) for Cosmopolitan. Diggs, before Hamilton, had performed in productions such as Word Becomes Flesh, Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train, and The Tempest, as well as having a career as a rapper, and a couple of roles in television shows. Mulli-I mean Onaodowan, played football in high school, but had to stop after an injury, and went forth to explore his love of theater, performing in off Broadway productions such as Langston in Harlem, The Shipment, Ruined, and making his Broadway debut in 2014 in Rocky. Anthony Ramos, Brooklyn born and having started theater in high school after a loudspeaker announcement of open auditions for a play (Whose freckles can steal your soul, I am sure of it.) in a way, stumbled onto Broadway. He went to an open audition and was later called and asked if he could be a part of something called Hamilton’s Mixtape, the album that launched the musical. Months later he’s standing on stage on Broadway, belting his heart and soul out for a musical who’s tickets can cost over $1,000. Safe to say, saying yes to that mixtape was a good idea. 

Other cast members, such as Phillipa Soo, who plays the expressive, haunted, big hearted, and heroic Eliza Hamilton (And whose performance of the song “Burn”, which shows Elizabeth Hamilton’s reaction to her husband’s infidelity in Act II will send shivers down your spine. Go ahead, listen to it. Thank me later.), Jasmine Cephas Jones who performs dual roles as both little recognized Schuyler sister Peggy (Sorry Peggy.) in Act I, and the young, naive Maria Reynolds (Who Alexander Hamilton had the affair with.) in Act II (Her transformation between Peggy and Maria is nothing short of spectacular. Going from innocent, soft spoken Peggy Schuyler to deep voiced, smooth speaking, and sultry Maria Reynolds is amazing. All the points to Ms. Jones.)  and of course, the iconic Christopher Jackson playing the stalwart, larger than life, first president George Washington, who the song “I Know Him” quite accurately compared re him and all the presidents to follow “There’s nobody else in their country that looms quite as large…”.

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Christopher Jackson as George Washington, who spends most of the play elegantly telling force-of-nature Alexander Hamilton to sit the hell down and watch his tone. My hero. Probably 90% of Hamilton’s impulse control. Note that things only truly went to hell for Hamilton AFTER Washington stepped down. Just saying.

Hamilton also addresses multiple world issues, and civil/human rights points including: feminism (It’s not a bad word people, stop trying to make it one.), classism, the treatment of slaves/treatment of African/African-Americans,( Three cheers to the shade-throwing, truth speaking line in “Cabinet Battle #1” (Act II), in response to Jefferson’s reasons to dislike Hamilton’s proposed reforms, “A civics lesson from a slaver, Hey neighbor, Your debts are paid ‘cuz you don’t pay for labor, ‘We plant seeds in the ground, we create!’, Yeah, keep ranting, we all know who’s really doing the planting. ” Ohhhhh snap.) the pitfalls/faults of war and the massive effect it has not only on a nation but it’s people (During and after the fact.), the corruption of politicians (Even if they start out well intentioned.), how power corrupts, the erasure of important women in history, racism, and how history has a tendency to erase, in general, information that would paint anyone or any event in a different light than what the public saw them/it as at the time, or for dramatic effect. (A prime example of this, to go off topic, is how it was originally believed that Richard III’s hump was a lie made up by his enemies to defame/shame him, and, after careful examination of his remains, it was found that he did in fact have a hump. Or, to come back to the United States, the fact that during the Salem Witch Trials, the convicted were not actually burned to death, all but one of the convicted and executed victims were actually hanged.) The fast paced, enthralling, and iconic musical also serves as a way to inspire the younger generation of today (Perhaps not in the same exact way it would have during the Revolutionary War.) to take note of the current situation the world is in and do something about it, however you can.

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Lafayette, Mulligan, and Laurens, teasing Hamilton on his wedding day re: the fact that he is now, surely, totally whipped. The Sons of Liberty ladies and gents.

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From left to right: Christopher Jackson, Daveed Diggs, and Lin-Manuel Miranda in “Cabinet Battle #1”.

Miranda’s inspiration for the Mixtape, and eventually the musical, was based off of Ron Chernow’s biography, Alexander Hamilton.  The biography, of course, talks extensively of Hamilton’s life, including his supposed place of birth, Nevis, the smaller of the two Caribbean islands, his parents (Especially his mother.), his early years in the States (Including his meeting of  revolutionaries and later friends, Marquis de Lafayette, Hercules Mulligan, and John Laurens, and his meeting of friend-turned-enemy, Aaron Burr (sir).), his meeting, courting, and eventual marriage to Elizabeth Schuyler, and his political career (Yes, including details of the Hamilton-Reynolds scandal.). His [Chernow] words on Hamilton are extensive, but more than that, he had a large focus on the people who influenced and surrounded Hamilton, making him who he was and who we know him as today. That’s not to say that was the only thing he read on the matter. Miranda’s research on the story of the ‘ten-dollar Founding Father without a father‘ was extensive. So some may ask, if you are well versed in Hamilton’s story, why he changed a few things in Hamilton’s story. Well, to be honest and realistic here, he did it for the sake of the story. Some elements of Hamilton’s life and story wouldn’t have flowed well for the musical and probably the songs themselves, and as far as storytelling goes, things are usually either left out or altered for the sake of the tone of the story. The Hamilton-Schuyler wedding was a much smaller affair and Hamilton, with no family and only one friend attending, was pretty much alone. Miranda thought that fact was a little depressing (And it was.) and so he decided to have Hamilton’s revolutionary friends attend as well (Come on, “The Story Of Tonight Reprise” is a great song.). Also, while it would be easy to interpret it as such, there was never any actual super solid proof that Angelica Schuyler-Church and Hamilton were attracted to each other the way they are in the play. In fact, a large number of historians believe that it was more likely that Hamilton and his best friend, John Laurens had some form of a relationship (Which may or may not have been physical, there’s no way to know.), based partially on several correspondences between the two that read almost like letters between two lovers. While I’m not certain this was the reason, it could be possible that Miranda decided to switch the storyline with Angelica for the sake of it extending into the second act, to go along with the Hamilton-Reynolds scandal. John Laurens tragically died, along with his battalion, in an attack by British soldiers right after the defeat/surrender after the Revolutionary war, which would mean that Laurens doesn’t make it to the second act. “But they don’t acknowledge he was killed!” I can hear some of you think, and the answer is, yes, on the album they don’t, but in the play they do. Right before “Non-Stop”, and after “Dear Theodosia”, there is a small scene where Hamilton is writing in his office and Eliza delivers a letter from Laurens’ father, telling him of his friend’s death. The scene (I’m going off the ‘lyrics’ and scene description from Genius here.) is dark, somber, and serious, and most of the words are dialog, not song. Miranda chose not not include it in the album because of it’s importance, not that it wasn’t important, but because it was vitally important. It is personal, it is intimate, and it is tragic.

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From left to right: Soo, Miranda, and Ramos in “Tomorrow There’ll Be More Of Us”. 

Additionally, if the birth records and claims by Hamilton’s mother, are to be trusted, Hamilton was 13, not 12, when his mother passed away. It is unknown what year his father abandoned the family but it was early on. Hamilton’s parents did try to get married but the marriage was not considered legal and binding since Rachel, his mother, had been previously married and hadn’t divorced her first husband. There is some speculation as to why Hamilton’s father, James, left the family, as some believe he left to “spare her [Rachel] of biligamy charges.”, but there’s no evidence to back this up. Another rather important (But not at the same time, sorry man.) fact left out of the play is that Hamilton had a brother, James Jr. . After Rachel’s death, the boys were briefly adopted by their cousin Peter Lytton, but after Lytton’s suicide, the boys were separated and not a whole lot is known of James Jr.’s life after that.

A large plot point and lesson of Hamilton is mankind’s, conscious or otherwise, tendency to base their opinions and feelings of a person or event on their own perception and how doing so without taking time to take a step back and look at things from another person’s perspective, can lead to bad things. It [the musical] shows the inner thoughts, feelings, and fears, primarily of Hamilton, Eliza, Angelica, and Burr, the major players of the story, and paints a very different picture than perhaps most history books would lead us to believe. For instance, Aaron Burr (sir. Sorry. Can’t stop, won’t stop.), who is, to quote the musical, painted as the “villain in your history” for being Hamilton’s enemy and eventual killer, seen in a somewhat different light. Orphaned at the age of two  Aaron Burr and his sister Sally were living with their grandmother (Burr’s father, Aaron Sr. died  in 1757, then he and his sister went and lived with his mother and grandmother, but tragically, his mother also died, in 1758.), and after his mother’s death, were put into the care of William Shippen, (His grandmother died on the way to collect them after the mother’s death.) later to be taken cared of by their uncle, Timothy Edwards. In Burr’s Act I song, “Wait For It” Burr says “When they [his parents] died, they didn’t leave no instructions, just a legacy to protect,” which refers to the fact that while Burr and his sister were left with plenty of money (Nod to his line in “The Schuyler Sisters”: “I’m a trust fund baby,”.), they weren’t left with many personal memories, just information about who their parents were and the legacy they left behind. With rapid tragedies in the family, and unrest brewing in the colonies, as well as a lack of a solid influence in his life, Burr’s eventual obsession with legacy and image, as well as his tendency to closely guard his feelings and thoughts  on  anything and everything later in his life, isn’t too surprising. Meanwhile, Eliza, of whom not a whole lot of information (At least for her early life/time married to Hamilton.) is widely known, is seen to be completely in love with Hamilton (Which, you know, is good, since they WERE married.) and a pillar in his life. Supportive, caring, and loving, she supported Hamilton throughout his political career, even though he was, on multiple occasions, a jerk/irresponsible. Which is, historically, sort of how she is portrayed. However, she is far from a push-over, as is seen in a few moments in the musical. For instance, in Act I, “That Would Be Enough” she tells Hamilton she does not regret not writing directly to him (Instead writing to Washington.) that she was pregnant, knowing he would be obsessed with the war effort no matter what. Later, in Act II , “Take A Break” she tells him to stop working in order to see something his son had learned, and implores him to go with her and the family upstate. Later, after learning of his infidelity, the entirety of the song “Burn” is her reaction, where she tells him, essentially , “You no longer hold a claim to me or my heart, you no longer hold a claim to our room or our bed, you WILL sleep in your office, you f***ed up big time, hope it was worth it.”, in the most chilling, and one of the most beautiful, songs of the show. She also gets several good digs/burns in, some of the best being “You and your words, obsessed with your legacy, Your sentences border on senseless, And you are paranoid in every paragraph, How they perceive you,“, which pretty much translates to “You wrote like a madman, obsessed with how history will look back on you, to the point where you made no sense at all, and came off as a paranoid weirdo.” with an underlying hint of “You cared about how everyone perceives you except the people who are supposed to mean the most to you, your family.”. After their son Philip’s death, it’s Hamilton pining for/begging Eliza to take him back. From a stage description, he sings to an almost statue-esque in movement Eliza, in her mourner’s garb, staring straight into the crowd, expression somewhere between blank and broken. At the end, she takes his hand and puts her head on his shoulder, forgiving him not just for his infidelity, but also his role in Philip’s death (Not stopping him when Philip came to him for advice about the duel that took his life.). It’s tragic and beautiful at the same time, and makes the later scene, “Best Of Wives And Best Of Women” where Hamilton is leaving for his own duel with Burr and writing Eliza a letter (The title of the song inspired by how the real Hamilton addressed his wife in the letter he left her before the duel.), where Eliza, unknowing as to what was about to happen, sleepily asks him to come back to bed, that would be enough, and then goes back to bed, thinking she’ll see her husband later, all the more heartbreaking. All Eliza wanted was her family, her son and husband, to come home, be safe, and in the end, she lost them both. It puts a new light on Eliza’s actions later in life, and her taking up the mantle from her husband in civil rights movements and bettering the world. In fact, Eliza’s entire storyline in Hamilton is a good example of a different side of a story and how little information is known about important female figures in history, going so far as to say in the play  (During “Burn”.) that she is/was erasing herself/was erased from the ‘narrative’ that was her husband’s life, as very little, as was said before, is known about her, her thoughts, reaction to the scandal, and other life events in history. While her older sister was known for her verbal opinions on politics and the war, Eliza’s opinions weren’t as well known, and historically there’s been a shadow cast on her by her husband (And a bit by her sister.). However, in Chernow’s book and in the play, Eliza is a large part of the narrative, eventually going on to be a narrator of her husband’s life and legacy herself, and putting herself back in the story in order to preserve what her husband worked for.

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Soo and Miranda at the end of “It’s Quiet Uptown”, or as I have nicknamed it “Being Punched In The Face Would Hurt Less Than This Song”.

 

Great, lovely, Pearl, you’ve gushed over the play and talked about it extensively, does this actually have anything to do with archaeology?

Well, yes and no. Directly it doesn’t have anything to do with archaeology, but again, I did say some of my entries would be me gushing about stuff I love, stuff that isn’t necessarily archaeology related. (Although to be fair it is history related.) HOWEVER, indirectly, it kind of does. With archaeology, at the end of the day, as you are with essentially any study that is largely based in historic evidence, you are making educated guesses as to the how, why, and when of any artifact, feature, or remains that are found. While there are plenty of things that are pretty safe to assume about this artifact or that, this culture or that culture, this person or that person, in the end, short of going in a time machine to the past and actually seeing/asking the people, some of the assumptions don’t always hold up. Indeed, especially early on in the beginnings of archaeology, perception and prejudice shaded the opinions of the people and cultures they were studying. Without going too much into it, because if I did I would get worked up and end up with a massive headache, one of the best examples of this is the Moundbuilders ‘controversy’. Early archaeologists had convinced themselves that it was impossible that Native Americans could have built the famous mounds found across the United States. These early archaeologists believed that the Native Americans were too ‘simple minded’ to build them, as the designs were intricate and well thought out, their prejudice shaded by the, unfortunately common, assumption that they were less than, not that intelligent. Unfortunately, some hold ons still believe this, although now, because of science and evidence, most believe that it was early Native American ancestors that made them.

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Probably the most famous of the mounds, The Serpent Mound is located in Ohio and it’s creation is potentially attributed to the Middle Ohio Valley People. Although it’s not entirely certain, as the people occupying the area at the time, and people known for their copper snake pieces, it makes sense.

Perception is a key element in archaeology and shouldn’t be taken lightly. It’s one thing to assume that a flake or spear point was made by this tribe or that tribe (Here in the US.) based on historic evidence saying they were there at the time, but bigger assumptions such as trade routes, disasters, and other important, potentially history book changing information should be approached from all angles. Just because we initially believe one thing, we shouldn’t shut ourselves off to the possibility that it is something completely different. We should also  strive to not allow any prejudices we may have for a culture or person, and welcome the possibility that our theories are wrong.

Beyond all this, Hamilton is just a brilliant musical, and while seeing it live might not be a possibility (The Broadway production is sold out through February of next year the last time I checked. But before he [Miranda], and subsequently, Soo, Odom, Diggs, and company/chorus member Ariana Debose left, the musical, with the original cast, was filmed and will eventually be made available to buy.), do yourself a favor and listen to the soundtrack, which can be found all over the place, including YouTube and Spotify (If you don’t want to buy it.)

Go forth, my lovely friends, and remember, do not throw away your shot!

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