This One’s Mine: Women and Narratives in ‘Hamilton’

I love Hamilton as much as the next person with ears. And though I don’t think the play (as many people claim) puts its women characters on the same level as the men, I do think it does some great stuff: Namely, putting them back in the narrative.

It would be hard to argue that Hamilton, which follows Alexander Hamilton’s rise from “bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a scotsman dropped in a middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean” to wise (if unliked) founding father to whom we owe our financial system, is really a story about the women. There are only four women characters with names. Only two of those are very prominent, and neither has a storyline independent of Hamilton’s actions.

But the play is tangled up in legacy and historiography, and even as we see women getting sidelined for the fathers of the revolution (ex: Angelica (as a character) opting to stay in the status quo instead of break out of it) we also see a major shift in the narrative. And that shift’s name is Eliza.

"Oooh/ I do, I do, I do, I doooo"
“Oooh/ I do, I do, I do, I doooo”

Eliza starts (intentionally or not) surrendering her agency and hoping for a quiet life—two of her repeated refrains for Act I are “helpless” and “that would be enough.” “Non-Stop” and “Take a Break” trace this theme for her, pleading with Alexander to take some time out for the family. It’s only once his betrayal is brought to light (“The Reynolds Pamphlet”) that she’s able to channel what Alexander has been lamenting to her all these years: Take control of your legacy. And she does, “erasing herself from the narrative” in “Burn” by burning all the letters she’s written to Alexander over the years. It’s an acknowledgement of the stories even Lin-Manuel Miranda cannot pull out of his hat; some groups fall beyond history’s record.

Ultimately, she forgives Alexander—and largely because the death of their son Phillip prompts him to move closer to her end of the spectrum. During “It’s Quiet Uptown” Alexander’s melody is closer to Eliza’s than it’s ever been, while Eliza’s silence makes a point of the choices she makes. By the end of the play, when Hamilton’s duel with Aaron Burr ends in Alexander’s death, Eliza firmly takes the reins on the narrative: She picks up where Alexander left off, ensuring he’ll have the legacy he always wanted, in the account personally tailored by her (and later one of their son).

This is not evidence that Hamilton is Eliza’s narrative from the beginning. It’s decidedly somewhere between Hamilton and Burr. But it illuminates why they were missing from the narrative to begin with. It helps elucidate the societal context that they grew up in, and recognizes the strength and emotional labor they had within that framework. Eliza’s strength is an echo and a precursor to so much today, from The Good Wife to #GiveYourMoneyToWomen. It’s part of Hamilton‘s magic, allowing for more voices in the narrative than once thought. It’s about how there’s more than one story, and important stories and not yielded from the perspective of one person. And especially not just one man.

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