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The Hamilton Pushback

[ 283 ] April 11, 2016 |

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Finally, a well-deserved pushback to the politics of the Hamilton musical is happening.

The show does include one named black character, Sally Hemings, who appears in a quick cameo that lands mainly as a dig at Jefferson. (The slaveholdings of the Schuyler family, which Hamilton married into, go unmentioned.) The show, Mr. Chernow said, also makes clear that black soldiers fought in the Revolution.

Ms. Monteiro, in her article, points out that other historical African-American individuals could have figured in the story.

The show depicts John Laurens’s plan to create a battalion of slaves who would fight in exchange for freedom, which Hamilton supported. But it omits, Ms. Monteiro noted, the known role of individuals like Cato, a slave who worked as an anti-British spy alongside his owner, Hercules Mulligan, an Irish-immigrant tailor whose espionage exploits are celebrated in the musical.

And then there’s the question of Hamilton the “uncompromising abolitionist,” as Mr. Chernow puts it in his book. He was a founding member of the New York Manumission Society, created in 1785, which among other things, pushed for a gradual emancipation law in New York State.

In the show’s last song, his widow, Eliza, sings that Hamilton would have “done so much more” against slavery had he lived longer.

But Ms. Gordon-Reed, in an interview, said that while Hamilton publicly criticized Jefferson’s views on the biological inferiority of blacks, his record from the 1790s until his death in 1804 includes little to no action against slavery.

Race and slavery, she added, are invoked directly in the show mainly to underline Hamilton’s “goodness,” especially in contrast to Jefferson. But Hamilton the ardent lifelong abolitionist, she said, is “an idea of who we would like Hamilton to be.”

Part of the problem here is that Chernow, who has spent a career openly celebrating capitalism, is problematic as the sole interpreter of Hamilton, which he basically is in the public eye, now through his influence on the play. His comment about African-Americans fighting in the American Revolution is telling. True, some did fight for the revolution. A whole lot more fled to the British because they wanted their freedom and they knew that the army of the slaver George Washington and his aide Alexander Hamilton was going to bind them in slavery. They fled to the British lines by the thousands, as they would again in the War of 1812. Much of the play’s historical narrative, primarily that Jefferson is pure hypocrite compared to the abolitionist Hamilton wash up on the rocks of reality. Hamilton married into a big slaver family, he helped write and defend the pro-slavery Constitution, etc. He’s also a huge hypocrite on slavery, if that’s how we are judging the Founders, which evidently we are. Hamilton didn’t actually do anything at all against slavery, even when he had the opportunity. “Done so much had he lived longer” is an absurd line. Hamilton’s power in American life was already seriously declining when he died. Jefferson republicanism starting to transition into the white male democracy of the Jacksonian period was completely overwhelming Federalism, especially the extremely elitist version of Federalism held by Hamilton. Not to mention a lot of the love of the cast has to do with the casting of African-Americans in white roles. That’s fine. It’s not really that transgressive for theatre in 2016 but given we are talking about a play about the Founders here, I guess it still sort of is. But Gordon-Reed asks the right question. Is that what we are basing this reconsideration of Hamilton through a popular play upon? Is that enough?

Of course, this says nothing about the quality of the play, which is of course high and widely acclaimed. That’s fine. We all need high quality art, especially in the era of 48 superhero movies put out every month. But part of the popularity on the left, where Hamilton is very popular, is about pure political tribalism. I think the roots of the needs to connect our current politics to the Founders has its roots in Scalia’s originalism that was generated by and built upon by the larger conservative movement that made exclusive claims to understanding the Constitution. Trying to find our own wealthy white men of 225 years ago to serve as lodestones for our politics perhaps was a natural reaction but isn’t a very useful one except perhaps in the rhetorical intellectual universe of the political world. In other words, no, I don’t think Alexander Hamilton has anything useful to teach us about climate change.

The reality is that both Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson were wealthy elites who were incredibly complicated figures. If we squint hard enough, we can be inspired by both of them. Neither of them are monsters. But the idea that we should recreate Alexander Hamilton, a man who openly despised democracy and the poor as a man of the modern left during an era of income inequality and massive corporate wealth is deeply problematic. We should stop it. More broadly, we should stop trying to read elites of over two centuries ago into our present politics. And if we really have to, can we at least make the historical analysis realistic?

As art, portrayals of the past can be judged solely by the standards of art. Lots of people have been portrayed inaccurately in good art over the century of film, not to mention other art forms. And I guess that’s fine. But there aren’t lessons for modern politics to be taken out of Hamilton. Enjoy the art. Don’t believe the severely problematic narrative about the real Alexander Hamilton.

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  • Murc

    Y’know, it might just be me, but I haven’t encountered a lot of people who are taking Hamilton seriously as a matter of historical record. And I know a lot of people who have been mainlining the score more or less nonstop ever since it came out.

    People basically seem to like it because it’s a hip-hop based musical with a cast mostly of people of color that isn’t stuck in the “entertainment for blacks” ghetto.

    I mean. I’m sure there are people out there who are coming away with completely erroneous views of history because of it, but the same thing happened with 1776. Hell, the same thing happened with Gibson’s execrable “The Patriot.”

    Basically a lot of people are dumb and have no real sense of history. Twas ever thus.

    • Joe_JP

      Fans of the musical include those who should be a bit more knowledgeable than “a lot of people” or at least they at times seem to be the sort of people who put themselves to a higher standard there.

    • LeeEsq

      Same here. Most people like Hamilton because it’s a rollicking good time. They aren’t going to see it for historical truth. People who try to argue against Hamilton the play basically come off as killjoys rather than teachers. Most people really don’t care, they just want a fun and inspiring show to watch. I also think that the politics and historian of Hamilton the play are much more aligned with that of the average Americsn, including Americans of color, than those of its critics. Most Americans simply do not have the visceral hate of capitalism that people on this blog might. Most Americans, even under privileged ones, also do not mind the Great Man school of history. It’s how the kind of perceive history when they think about it.

      • Most people like Hamilton because it’s a rollicking good time. They aren’t going to see it for historical truth. People who try to argue against Hamilton the play basically come off as killjoys rather than teachers.

        I learned everything I know about the court of Louis Quinze from Du Barry Was a Lady!

        • Judas Peckerwood

          I learned everything I know about Hamilton from Gore Vidal’s “Burr”.

          Still waiting for the musical based on Aaron Burr’s life. Talk about an extravaganza!

          • giovanni da procida

            That is the musical I want to see!

      • ajay

        Most people like Hamilton because it’s a rollicking good time. They aren’t going to see it for historical truth. People who try to argue against Hamilton the play basically come off as killjoys rather than teachers.

        Similarly, I don’t know what all the fuss is about “Birth of a Nation”. It’s just a movie, after all. Just entertainment.

        • Joe_JP

          seems like there can be a middle ground here … shrugs

        • Murc

          Except there were a lot of people who did, in fact, see Birth of a Nation as representing social truths. That’s somewhat different. If there were people out there trying to argue that Hamilton is right and the historical record is wrong, then we might have a legitimate comparison.

          • Manny Kant

            Hamilton is shaping how people view early
            American history! It’s based on a serious history book by Chernow whose purpose was to do that! I don’t think this distinction holds up at all.

            One could argue that the politics of Hamilton are far less odious than the politics of BoaN. But the distinction you’re making doesn’t work.

            • Joe_JP

              I agree with this basically. It’s okay to say that we shouldn’t treat it as a documentary but it does seem that the play is supposed to be at least somewhat historical. It is connected to a specific biography, for instance. And, many will see it as such, even if they are basically aware again it isn’t a PBS documentary. Being aware what is good dramatic material but not history there is useful. You can enjoy it too. No need for killjoy-ism.

            • Murc

              Hamilton is shaping how people view early
              American history!

              Is it doing this to any extent great enough we should be concerned about it?

              I mean… all popular entertainment set in the past shapes how people view the historical period it takes place in, but in general I don’t worry about that unless it’s either actively harmful, actively mendacious, or a lot of people start taking it seriously when they shouldn’t. I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about the fact that Back to the Future isn’t an accurate depiction of the old west. I would spend a lot of time worrying about that if it appeared that depiction were crowding out actual accurate depictions. But it isn’t. So I don’t.

              • Manny Kant

                Concerned to the point of writing articles pointing out the historical problems? I don’t see why that should ever be problematic.

        • LeeEsq

          Hamilton is presenting a version of history that is consistent with certain forms of liberal thought even if it is distasteful to the Further Left. Like Murc noted, there isn’t much evidence that Hamilton is having a negative effect while Birth of the Nation relaunched the KKK. Hamilton’s effects seem mainly but minorly positive from a liberal perspective by expanding the Revolutionary period to be more inclusive.

        • FridayNext

          It seems to me at this point finding evidence that people are taking Hamilton seriously as a historic document would be useful. There is ample evidence that Birth of a Nation. was taken as historically accurate. Woodrow Wilson famously responded to viewing Birth in the White House, “It is like writing history with lightning, and my only regret is that it is all so terribly true.”

          The next step would be to find examples of people doing the same with Hamilton to keep this conversation going.

          I think it is also important to point out that Birth was a movie that was screened in theaters all over America and people could see it for very little money. Hamilton is on Broadway and fairly expensive.

          Also, I think there is an important distinction to be made between a narrative film which has the look of reality and a stage musical which has more of an air of surrealism and magic. Are people “fooled” by the bad history in musicals as they are the bad history in movies? I’m guessing not. No one ever pointed at The Music Man and claimed it portrayed turn-of-the-century Iowa poorly. To my knowledge anyway. It’s kind of just assumed that musicals are not real, isn’t it?

          Even though both might be equally egregious in terms of their representation of history, something I’ll leave to those expert in the content, it is difficult to argue they are equally corrosive to historic knowledge.

          • jroth95

            I agree with all this. Erik’s interest, as a historian, is in accurate renditions of history. But for the rest of us, the relevant question is whether a given rendition of history—whether accurate* or not!—is having positive or negative effects.

            And it’s hard for me to see direct, significant negative effects from Hamilton. I don’t foresee a lot of nascent lefties turning into anti-democratic elitists either because of the messages of the musical or because the musical taught them to idolize the man.

            So we’re left with hazier effects, like adding to Founders worship or giving inaccurate impressions about exactly which Founders thought what about slavery. But there’s literally nothing anyone can do to break America of Founders worship, and there’s no Correct History of the Revolutionary era that most people have that Hamilton is screwing up, or that even exists. We have a bunch of stories and myths and shibboleths, some true, some false, some beneficial, some harmful. As I see it, what LMM has mostly done is to throw in a few more stories that are friendly to, if not left politics, then left worldview.

            *after all, much as we hate to admit it, the other side doesn’t need to lie about history to tell stories in which their side looks good. Hoffa! The Musical could be completely accurate and also make unions look terrible.

          • LeeEsq

            There isn’t actually any evidence that Wilson made that infamous quote about Birth of the Nation. For all his racism, Wilson seems to have been rather critical of Birth of a Nation. What we do know what he said was that it was regrettable that it was made and bad that it was showing in areas with lots of African-Ameticans. Wilson was a very complicated person.

          • Manny Kant

            Woodrow Wilson famously responded to viewing Birth in the White House, “It is like writing history with lightning, and my only regret is that it is all so terribly true.”

            Except that he never actually said that.

            • Hogan

              But it is a famous response.

              • N__B

                Eppur si movie.

                • Hogan

                  I love that movie!

          • spronn

            I’ll admit that I’d be happier with the show if it had a full orchestra including those trombones that Music Man makes such good use of! And trumpets and the other instruments that would be at least marginally period authentic, to go along with all the synthesizers and drum machine programming. But I suppose _that_ ship sailed decades along.

            • The Temporary Name

              That’d be expensive!

        • Similarly, I don’t know what all the fuss is about “Birth of a Nation”. It’s just a movie, after all. Just entertainment.

          So, let me get this straight…you think the problem with Birth of a Nation is, like the problem with Hamilton, a lack of historical accuracy.

          Um

          • ajay

            So, let me get this straight…you think the problem with Birth of a Nation is, like the problem with Hamilton, a lack of historical accuracy.

            Um

            Well, yes. If DW Griffith had wanted to make a generally historically accurate picture about Reconstruction, no problem. It would have been a very different-looking picture.

            • Yes?

              OK.

              Most people’s objection to Birth of a Nation was that it was propaganda for violent white supremacy, a call to arms for white racists, which helped reignite the Klan. Not so much that it got historical details wrong in the cause of good drama, but in the cause of such a dangerous and evil political agenda.

              • Or, to put it another way, most historical revisionism happens in the service of an agenda, even if the artist doesn’t realize it. What that agenda is matters a great deal in evaluating whether said revisionism is a good or bad thing.

            • Warren Terra

              If Griffith had made a film about Reconstruction that was historically accurate according to the then popularly accepted view of history it might not have been any better, or indeed much different.

              • Ahuitzotl

                according to the then popularly accepted view of histor

                Some would argue that that’s what he did

      • Who on this blog has “a visceral hatred of capitalism”? I think a more accurate description would be “An understanding of capitalism, its history, its alternatives and the ways in which capitalism as practiced in the 21st century exploits people and the environment”. I don’t “hate capitalism”, but I sure as fuck don’t trust capitalism and capitalists do the right thing unless forced. Which is exactly the way I view communism socialism and every other way societies can be organized.

        • Murc

          Who on this blog has “a visceral hatred of capitalism”?

          I do.

          • Barry Freed

            Yeah, you can sign me up for that too.

      • Manny Kant

        No one is saying you can’t enjoy the show. Monteiro, who started this, gave an interview to Slate where she talked about how much she enjoyed the show as a show. Why can’t you enjoy something as art and also talk about why it’s politically problematic?

        • JonH

          Monteiro isn’t realistic if she thinks everything in the book is going to show up in a musical. Creative decisions are made, limits in cast and resources and time exist.

          Is it likely that the aspects of the show that she sees as “politically problematic” are due to racism? No. So it basically comes down to the show not pandering to her politics exactly as she would like.

          • Warren Terra

            Huh? Montiero complains that the politics of the show are far more progressive than the truth of the people portrayed in it, and separately complains that other contemporary figures could have been more honestly portrayed to convey progressive ideals. As quoted in the NYT article (I haven’t read her essay), she doesn’t complain that the musical’s politics aren’t to her taste, that the show is “not pandering to her politics”; I’d guess that she largely likes the politics the show promotes, but complains that they’ve got very little to do with Alexander Hamilton.

            • Manny Kant

              Right. I’ve not read the original article, either, but here is the Slate interview with her, where she explains her thinking. Beyond what Warren says, I’ll also note that her problem is largely with Chernow’s book, not that the musical fails to include everything in the book.

      • wengler

        Most Americans simply do not have the visceral hate of capitalism that people on this blog might.

        Considering the huge amount that tickets to this musical are going for, I’d expect more than a few converts by the end of it.

        • Bootsie

          “I saw a musical, therefore I am now signing up with communists to destroy capitalism” – no one, ever

          • wjts

            I once ran a follow spot for a production of Into the Woods. If somebody had told me at the time that after the Revolution I’d never have to hear another Sondheim song, I’d have signed on in a heartbeat.

            • Marek

              It’s no crime to have bad taste. But, try to keep it to yourself.

          • Ahuitzotl

            you’re not familiar with Nick and Nora, then

      • wengler

        Entertainment is popular history. Especially with the near total abandonment of social sciences in public schools, what you see on TV or the movies or the theater is the only historical knowledge most will consume.

    • JonH

      Also, Chernow’s book is 800 pages. You can’t put everything from an 800 page book in a musical. Some things aren’t going to be mentioned.

      • njorl

        Der Hamiltongenlied!

        • wjts

          Is that the one that goes “Gold gold gold gold gold”?

      • Manny Kant

        Except that Chernow’s book is, for Monteiro and other critics, a big part of the problem. People who are criticizing the musical don’t think very highly of Chernow.

      • Ahuitzotl

        Just wait for the musical of, Great Wheel of Time…

    • AMK

      Hell, the same thing happened with Gibson’s execrable “The Patriot.”

      You can’t really compare the two. Hamilton bends and tailors the history to make an entertaining play. The Patriot is entertaining as well, but it has about as much “history” as any other comic book movie…somebody thought it would be cool to make “The Punisher” in colonial drag.

      • EliHawk

        The Patriot is basically Shenendoah but if it were set in the Revolutionary War, with Jimmy Stewart doing a whole lot more ass kicking.

    • timb

      I remember watching a screening of The Patriot and saying to my then wife: I just learned Daniel Morgan’s battle plan at Cowpens was created by Mel Gibson!

    • cpinva

      anyone foolish enough to take any play/movie as pure historic fact is an idiot. “1776”, while very entertaining and reasonably close to historically accurate, also takes dramatic license with its characters, many of whom also appear in “Hamilton”. the best that can be said of entertainment purportedly based on history, is that they might spark someone’s interest enough to go do some actual reading/research of their own.

  • rm

    Having been sick and binge-watching The Next Generation, I find everything I read online reads in the voice of one or the other of the characters. Maybe it’s the infection talking.

    Most of y’all are Picard or Data, but Loomis, I am sorry, you read in Riker’s voice.

    Which is not to say you are wrong. Historical accuracy would be nice. Is there a value to narratives that outrageously, obviously rewrite history? Hamilton seems to do that in casting, but those changes seem less problematic than the more hidden adjustments.

    • Hogan

      Tell me I’m not Wesley. TELL ME.

      • Warren Terra

        Shut up, Wesley.

        • Rob in CT

          Good night, Wesley. Good work. Most likely kill you in the morning.

          • indefinitelee

            that’s Westley

      • wengler

        Wesley, this is Picard. You fell into that garden and the prime directive leaves me no choice but to let those people execute you.

    • Srsly Dad Y

      Loomis is totally Chief O’Brien pre-fatherhood.

      • Rob in CT

        Yeah, that might work.

      • Lost Left Coaster

        Ouch. But I guess you could have said Barclay…

        • Srsly Dad Y

          I meant well. Self-conscious man of the people, reveres traditional music, works night and day, bit of a hothead, cool wife ….

    • I am happy to say that I will have no idea what any of these references on this subthread mean.

      • Joe_JP

        maybe you can check with Charli Carpenter

      • rm

        Y’all see what I mean?

    • tsam

      Obviously I have to know who you read my voice with. (Hint: It’s exactly like Sam Shepard).

    • Sly

      DS9 had the better characters. Loomis is more of an Odo than a Riker.

      • An authoritarian obsessed with order whose supposedly staunch sense of right and wrong proves to be skin-deep, and mainly the result of having never been sufficiently tempted to break bad? I disagree with Erik about Hamilton, but even so that seems a bit harsh.

        • njorl

          Well … he’s pretty grumpy.

    • DAS

      Oddly, since you mention it, I can read your comment in both Picard’s and Data’s voice: either way works well.

      And funny, when I read my own comment I am reading it in Deanna Troi’s voice.

    • Matt McIrvin

      Not Q? “It’s time to end your little trek to the stars!”

      • rm

        Shakezula.

    • N__B

      I’m one of the blue guys with the suction-cup horns, right? (Yes, I know they weren’t in TNG. I don’t care – which is something the blue guys would say!)

      • rm

        Yes. And now you owe me!!

  • I think left college professors probably like Hamilton because it sets itself up in the opening number as being about someone who makes a revolution (and a career) with his pen. This is one of its most appealing aspects: A Chorus Line for introverts.

    it’s also written against 1776 and its adulation of John Adams (there’s a video somewhere of a song about Adams that was cut from the play). The depiction of Jefferson as neglecting his duty because he has a woman waiting for him in Monticello is straight out of that play.

    • LeeEsq

      I think that 1776 actually captures the ambiguities of the Revolution better than Hamilton though.

      • EliHawk

        And even then it massively overstates its heroes opposition against slavery (admittedly in service of a very, very good song that indicts that era’s Northern hypocrisy on the subject). It’s also just kind of weird that the big “Keep up the fight” inspirational song comes in the middle of the dark night of deciding to give up on fighting slavery until after the Revolution. Squaring the circle of “These people are heroes doing something revolutionary” and “This revolution did not expand itself to slaves” is not exactly easy in the frequently unnuanced world of musical theater.

        • Joe_JP

          The only one who comes off as firm on the slavery point is John Adams. Franklin was always pragmatic on the question (we aren’t demigods) as well as being against it. That is acceptable dramatic license probably especially given the molasses to rum song provides a rare rub it in our face reminder … more so than how Mrs. Jefferson is treated really. Anyway, Ken Howard will always be Jefferson for me, not a basketball coach.

          • Worth pointing out that “Momma Look Sharp” (which ends Act I in the production I saw–eta which brings us full circle to the TNG sub thread, I guess) is anti-war in a way I didn’t notice anything in Hamilton being.

          • EliHawk

            Yeah, having seen the Encores revival (which was quite good!) I was just struck by how much it whitewashes Jefferson as antislavery and freeing his slaves, when, much like Jefferson in general, the answer is really, really complicated. And of course, the big dustup / near collapse never happened, so it really is dramatic license in support of making the hypocrisy point, which is supportable. (Also, Molasses to Rum is a great song and terrificly insane in live performance.)

            • Joe_JP

              Jefferson as antislavery and freeing his slaves

              I recall him to me somewhat weakly saying when challenged that he would free his slaves when he dies or something. Probably weaker to those who knew he never did (except those related to him) but even w/o knowing that, remember it coming off as pretty weak. So, I guess his anti-slavery principles came off as flawed vis-a-vis to Adams from what I remember of his character (who was at least in the film pretty passive).

              • ISTM he comes off as believing slavery is wrong but being unwilling to go against his peers when the rubber hits the road. Brilliant but weak, where he needs Adams to stiffen his spine and Franklin to call Adams off when collapse threatens.

                eta There are few songs in the second act so almost none of the debate makes it into the soundtrack.

              • Pat

                Wasn’t it true that freed slaves were required to leave their homes? My recollection was that Jefferson did not free them for that reason.

                Of course, that would be exculpatory.

        • LeeEsq

          Besides what others said, 1776 does point out Northern hypocrisy in song and word. It also shows the uncertainty and misgivings that many people had about the Revolution.

    • Gregor Sansa

      But the opening number overstates Hamilton’s “up from the bottom” quality. In particular, the Chernow biography suggests, but Miranda leaves out, the idea that Hamilton’s “adoptive” father may actually be his biological father, giving Hamilton much more of an economic safety net than the “bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman” in the show.

      In other words: the correct name is not Alexander Hamilton, but actually Alexander Targaryan.

      • Yeah, it romanticizes “bastard orphan son of a whore”, which the audience isn’t either, I think to make a point about native-born elites (which in fact Hamilton may have thought he was, I guess, but isn’t really a terrific fit with).

      • I haven’t read the book so maybe I’m missing some point in the sequence of events, but how does this make Hamilton any less of a bastard?

    • EliHawk

      I do have to say I’m infinitely more sympathetic to Adams than Hamilton during the former’s administration, given the latter was around using an invalid Washington as the tool to place him at the head of an Army and scheming for war with France as a way to place him in power.

  • Julia Grey

    Speaking of entertaining takes on history, I’ve been curious about Vikings And figure someone here might have the straight skinny. Did Norsemen really invade France in the days of Charlemagne? (That IS who The Emperor is supposed to be, right?)

    • LeeEsq

      They did it a bit afterwards but yes. Normandy was a part of France conquered by the Nordman or Vikings as we would call them.

    • ajay

      Not exactly – they started in the mid-ninth century, after Charlemagne died. But yes, they really invaded France. That’s why Normandy is called Normandy: it’s the country of the Normans, i.e. the Norsemen.

      • Rob in CT

        Then, 2 centuries later, they conquer England. Frenchified Vikings, ruling Angles/Saxons/Jutes + leftover Romanoceltics. From this, we get PURE ANGLO SAXON RACE arglebargle.

        • ajay

          BEHOLD, my child, the Nordic man,
          And be as like him as you can.
          His legs are long, his mind is slow,
          His hair is lank and made of tow.

      • Bill Murray

        They also conquered Sicily in the 11th Century

    • Warren Terra

      I haven’t watched the show – is it any good? – but here’s an article about it. Charlemagne died in 814, and the Vikings besieged Paris in 845 and most famously in in 885. But the French emperor in 845 was Charles (the Bald, not the Great).

      • wengler

        Yes, the show is good. The best part is it doesn’t have the filler that other shows do. The narrative tends to move quickly.

    • Me too! I’ve been watching the Vikings religiously. Unfortunately some of their interesting cultural/sexual more stuff is (apparently) largely made up. But the invasion of Paris and the conquest of Normandy is quite real. They are collapsing a bunch of stuff to make it all happen in the time of Ragnar Hairy Breeks when he is, actually, a semi legendary figure. But the Vikings definitely came up the Seine and attacked Paris a number of times.

      • timb

        And Constantinople and Sicily and Moscow (as if there was more than a village there at the time). what can you say, they got around. Proving, as always, history is not won by the good guys

    • Origami Isopod

      Norsemen invaded pretty much all of Western Europe and some of Eastern Europe as well.

      • JonH

        And made it down to Byzantium, where some became the elite guard of the Byzantine emperors, from the 10th century.

        • Cheerful

          The Varangian Guard, with their double headed axes! If only the Byzantines had paid for a few more than 5,000 they could have fought off the stupid Crusaders in their stupid 4th Crusade (and remembered that a big chain across your harbor doesn’t do much good unless you do a better job of guarding where the big chain is anchored to the land)

          The 4th Crusade still depresses me. How many perfectly good copies of otherwise unknown Greek comic theater pieces perished in the flames and sacking?

          • Ahuitzotl

            Yes, but on the downside there was a lot of slaughter and rapine, a high price to pay for destroying those pieces.

      • wengler

        And founded Russia.

        • Origami Isopod

          Yep. The “Rus” were Norsemen.

          • apogean

            This is an extremely questionable claim that there isn’t much evidence for beyond the legend of Dyre. However, the Norse definitely did a bunch of other shit that seemed extremely questionable at times and there wasn’t a bunch of evidence for beyond legends (cough Vinland cough) so I’m not necessarily saying it’s wrong.

            • N__B

              I’m not sure about your coughing. There is something more than legend about Vikings making it to North America.

              • Ahuitzotl

                He may have meant that the stories of this predated any actual evidence being discovered?

                • The stories were themselves evidence (of disputable weight); they predated physical evidence (which increased the evidentiary weight of the stories).

                • apogean

                  Yes, that’s what I meant. The view that the Vikings in actual fact discovered America was vaguely disreputable before the Lansey Meadows discovery, because the primary evidence was the legends, i.e. the Vinland saga.

                • N__B

                  Ah. That makes sense. Thanks for the clarification.

    • DAS

      Mrs. DAS is an avid Vikings watcher and has been wondering the same thing. The details mentioned in this sub-thread are known to both of us, but she’s curious about the specifics, and I frankly don’t know any more than she does about that.

    • wengler

      Yes, and Ragnar Lothbrok raided Paris.

      There are a lot of dramatized portions of that series, but that part was true.

    • Ahuitzotl

      No, the emperor is meant to be his grandson, Charles the Bald, I think
      (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Paris_(845)) Of course, since the series started with the sack of Lindisfarne in 793, Ragnar should be about, what, 70, by the siege of Paris.

  • I don’t exactly disagree with this critique (in fact I wrote something along the same lines after first listening to the soundtrack), but I also think that it’s limited. Hamilton is a play about a Founding Father, one that both Miranda and Chernow clearly admire, but its purpose is not, or at least not only, to tell a historical story. To treat the race-swapped casting as incidental to the project of the play (or dismiss it as commonplace, which frankly I find mind-bogglingly wrongheaded) is to miss the whole point of the exercise. The purpose of the play is to push back against the mentality that sees some revolutions as legitimate and others as illegitimate – and which usually sorts them according to the race and social class of the people doing the rebelling.

    One of the side effects of Miranda’s choice to depict the Founding Fathers as rapping people of color is to erase and elide the fact that these were, for the most part, white, wealthy landowners whose rebellion was mostly about protecting their property rights (where that property also included people). This is unfortunate, but to my mind it’s vastly outweighed by the show’s power to challenge and tear down our concepts of what power and authority do and should look like. Especially in the current political climate, telling a story about immigrants and people of color who seize power and overthrow oppression and are treated as a the good guys for doing so is revolutionary. And if along the way one whitewashes historical figures that were already massively whitewashed by every other story told about them, well, that’s not great, but it’s not a failure either, because those people are not really what the story is about.

    • Especially in the current political climate, telling a story about immigrants and people of color who seize power and overthrow oppression and are treated as a the good guys for doing so is revolutionary.

      Except of course that this really isn’t what the story is about unless we completely erase actual Alexander Hamilton from the story, which isn’t what is happening you. You describe part of the appeal of course, but it’s not like this doesn’t have influence on what people think of actual Alexander Hamilton. And that is a problem.

      • Except of course that this really isn’t what the story is about unless we completely erase actual Alexander Hamilton from the story

        Again, I think that this is reductive. What we’re seeing here is an artist who was inspired by a historical figure and redrew him in a way that reflects his own preoccupations and life experience (seriously, if you watch Miranda’s first play In the Heights, which is highly autobiographical and as different in its subject from Hamilton as it is possible to be, it’s striking how many themes and concerns the two works share). Which is, you know, not unusual for artists in general and, more importantly, par for the course for pretty much every other piece of fiction about the Founding Fathers ever. In a cultural landscape that routinely treats Washington and Jefferson as heroes without the counterweight of Hamilton‘s casting and focus on immigrants, is this really the place where we should be drawing the line?

        • In a cultural landscape that routinely treats Washington and Jefferson as heroes without the counterweight of Hamilton‘s casting and focus on immigrants, is this really the place where we should be drawing the line?

          I’m a historian. I am drawing the line against all bad interpretations of who real people were, including the ridiculous veneration of the Founding Fathers generally. One reason I liked the John Adams miniseries is that it presented Adams with all his warts and deep unpleasantness.

          • EliHawk

            One reason I liked the John Adams miniseries is that it presented Adams with all his warts and deep unpleasantness.

            Well, he is obnoxious and disliked…

            • twbb

              Yes, I know.

          • JonH

            Well, yes, a miniseries is not a broadway musical.

            • Joe_JP

              and the miniseries still provided simplistic snapshots of other people including Hamilton, probably

              • Cheerful

                Oh he was there. Adams opens a door to have a conversation with Washington, only to notice after a moment that Hamilton is busily scribbling at a desk just behind the door.

                • Always scribble, scribble, scribble! Eh, Mr. Hamilton?

                • wjts

                  I don’t recall Hamilton having ever written any thick, black books.

          • I am drawing the line against all bad interpretations of who real people were, including the ridiculous veneration of the Founding Fathers generally

            OK, but you get that this is, at best, an insufficient response, right? We don’t live in a world where all forms of historical revisionism are equal. We live in one where a children’s book about George Washington’s happy slaves baking him a birthday cake passes through probably dozens of hands and none of them see anything wrong with it, while a movie about a crucial moment in the history of the Civil Rights movement dares to downplay the role that a white president played in making that moment happen, and gets dinged for that so hard that its Oscar chances are affected. The glorification of the Founding Fathers, including those of them who owned slaves, is going to keep happening, but a show that engages in that glorification in the pursuit of a goal that is inclusive and, by some lights, radical, is substantively different from the works that do so in order to maintain and perpetuate the comfortable worldview of the establishment.

          • Darkrose

            Have you actually listened to the show, Erik?

            Alexander Hamilton is presented as a genius. And yes, he’s shown as being an abolitionist. He’s also presented as an arrogant asshole who destroys his own political career because he not only couldn’t keep his dick in his pants but he decided to tell everyone he couldn’t keep his dick in his pants. Even though we’ve seen that he opposes slavery, we see him making the compromises that allowed slavery to continue in order to get his economic agenda passed. He had a terminal case of “smartest guy in the room” syndrome and it eventually cost him his career, his son, and his life. Act II is basically Hamilton shooting himself in the foot before Burr shoots him in the abdomen. It’s hard to come away from the show thinking that Hamilton was anything but a deeply flawed, complex and often contradictory figure.

            • I agree with what you’re saying about Hamilton as a character, but I think the play seriously soft-pedals the slavery issue. The only statements he makes about slavery are derogatory ones, and it’s left to us to notice that he doesn’t do anything about it, a fact that the play is entirely silent about. On the contrary, there are multiple scenes in which Hamilton chastises some characters for being slaveowners, while ignoring the fact that others (Mulligan, his in-laws the Schuylers, and most especially Washington) are as well. The construction of the character is deliberately complex, but the handling of slavery is flawed, and largely in service of glorifying some characters while denigrating others.

        • John Selmer Dix

          You can’t ever completely redraw a historical figure, otherwise it becomes a new character. So the Hamilton Hamilton will always be a weird composite, part slave-owner capitalist and part Fievel. At the very least, any fictional Hamilton will have to have had a hand in the revolution. So now the Constitution mythologized as the product of “young, scrappy, and hungry” founding fathers, rather than elites, and I think that’s harmful myth.

          • JonH

            ” So now the Constitution mythologized as the product of “young, scrappy, and hungry” founding fathers, rather than elites, and I think that’s harmful myth.”

            That might be true if the musical depicts all the founders that way.

            On the other hand, if it depicts elites portrayed by people of color, that’s a positive.

          • I think what’s missing from this, though, is an acknowledgment that every generation redraws its heroic, touchstone figures to suit its own purposes and concerns, and the Founding Fathers experience this perhaps more than any other. It’s impossible to listen to the Hamilton soundtrack and think that its characters – the title character in particular – are anything but a filtering of the original history through a very specific, contemporary point of view. What struck me in particular was how much the play stresses New York as a city where people, and particularly immigrants, can come to reinvent themselves, which is obviously a modern way of looking at it, and would probably have seemed completely bizarre to people in the 18th century.

            • I think what’s missing from this, though, is an acknowledgment that every generation redraws its heroic, touchstone figures to suit its own purposes and concerns, and the Founding Fathers experience this perhaps more than any other.

              And I really wish it would end.

              • rm

                I understand and sympathise with this, especially coming from a historian, and I share the feeling that facts and truth matter,

                but since I’ve studied literature and not history, everything I’ve ever learned about culture is telling me that it has always been as Abigail Nussbaum describes it. You can’t escape mythologizing, for good and ill. Aren’t there postmodern epistemologies in the field of history that deal with this?

              • Darkrose

                That’s like saying “I really wish people would stop being human.” Every group of humans has sought an origin story of some kind. It’s part of how we make sense of our world.

            • NeddySeagoon

              “every generation redraws its heroic, touchstone figures to suit its own purposes and concerns” – that’s a concise explanation of the problem.

          • NeddySeagoon

            “the Hamilton Hamilton will always be a weird composite, part slave-owner capitalist and part Fievel”

            Brilliant.

      • 99 percent of the people in this country don’t “think about Alexander Hamilton” at all. Ever. If LMM gets 10 percent of them to pick up a book about the founding, let alone Chernow’s book, he will have significacntly advanced the cause of history and historians.

        • FridayNext

          Well, they do when they have $10 bills in their pockets. Then all they think about him is, “I wonder when he was president.”

          edited for clarity. That first post was a mess.

          • Hogan

            Benjamin Franklin: the only president of the United States who never served as president of the United States.

      • Marek

        it’s not like this doesn’t have influence on what people think of actual Alexander Hamilton. And that is a problem.

        I’m not convinced it’s a problem. As a work of art, Hamilton offers us an interpretation of the protagonist that urges us to value our country as a place where (among other things) immigrants “get the job done.”

        It’s not supposed to be a monograph.

      • N__B

        I may have mentioned this before, but I worked, some time ago, on the restoration of Hamilton’s burial monument in the Trinity Church graveyard. The work required that we temporarily close off access to the monument. Actual A. Hamilton’s fans are some simultaneously scary and pathetic people.

    • ajay

      or dismiss it as commonplace, which frankly I find mind-bogglingly wrongheaded

      Race-swapped casting in musicals is not exactly a new thing. “The Hot Mikado” was in the 1950s, for heaven’s sake.

      Especially in the current political climate, telling a story about immigrants and people of color who seize power and overthrow oppression and are treated as a the good guys for doing so is revolutionary.

      But a story about Hamilton is not a story about people of color who seize power. It is a story about white men who seize power. Hamilton’s whiteness is actually a pretty important part of the story. That you happen to cast a nonwhite actor in the story doesn’t make it a story about nonwhite people. “The Ten Commandments” was not a story about American Protestants, even though it had Charlton Heston in it. Similarly, I have seen Adrian Lester play Henry V, but this does not mean that Shakespeare wrote an inspiring play about a young black man who rises to the rank of King of England and defeats the French at Agincourt.

      It is also not really a story about immigrants: it is a story about conquest which is a different thing.

      • Its not a story about Conquest. Conquest implies something different. It is a story about revolution, urbanism, upheaval, bastardy, daring, chances, tumult, vision. By casting it entirely with non traditional/non white actors LMM ignores one important issue (that black people were not in a position to stroll the streets of New York and join the revolution as equal partners) in favor of drawing a broader, international, point which is that revolutions turn many social relations topsy turvey and are places where daring new people can find and make their own way. He could have set it in the French Revolution (with even more important resonances since that had a huuuuuge component of drama about race and Haiti) but that ends very badly and he wanted to tell a different story.

        • ajay

          revolutions turn many social relations topsy turvey

          Complete this sentence: the wealthy upper-class English-speaking male landowners who had held basically all the power in the American colonies before independence were replaced after the revolution by…

          • Cheerful

            English speaking males who did not all own land and were not necessarily wealthy and in particular not necessarily with landed wealth. I think the move at the time towards a greater democracy among that group, and away from power based on aristocratic lineage loomed larger for people at the epoch than it does now.

            Edited to add: Of course the above is incorrect to the extent it implies that the only people whose opinion counted at the time were white males of at least some social standing.

          • Ronan

            I don’t know how this disputes aimai’s point. The fact that the reshuffling at the top might not be particularly extensive doesn’t mean revolutions dont turn many social relations topsy turvey

        • ajay

          Also: yes, a story about the American Revolution is a story about conquest, not immigrants. Where do you think all these remarkably un-Native American-looking characters came from?
          What, after all, is the backstory? The French and Indian War. What was one of the settlers’ main complaints? Inadequate British support for westward expansion.

          • As I teach my students, the American Revolution is great if you think of white men as the only players in the United States. For Native Americans, it was genocidal, for African Americans disastrous and horrible and for white women deeply ambiguous at best.

        • rm

          I wish we’d get the Haitian Revolution musical. Langston Hughes and William Grant Still wrote one; not sure if it was ever produced.

          Loomis points out how bad the Am Rev was for the majority. If it had failed, I wonder if abolition would have won in the British Empire or if the Americans would have beaten it back, but it’s hard to escape the thought that the wrong side won. So Hamilton recasts the wrong side as the right side, to paint a picture of today. All stories are actually about the present day.

          • Bill Murray

            The opera Troubled Island, based on the play by Hughes premiered at the New York City Opera in 1949, the first opera by an African-American produced by a major opera company

            eta: Of course the first performance cast whites as the male and female leads.

    • After all, there were no black people in Roman Palestine or in Charlemagne’s France, yet audiences have had no problem with roles in plays about Jesus or Pippin being cast as non-white.

      • Warren Terra

        no black people in Roman Palestine

        Um, wha? Few people in Roman Palestine would be “white” by any modern reckoning, and with a Roman empire that included a lot of coastal North Africa and most of the length of the Nile there would presumably have been some Black people in Roman Palestine by anyone’s definition.

        • I assumed negrita steele was having us on.

          • Warren Terra

            My sarcasm detector gave up – possibly on me – a long time ago.

        • Traditional to cast Judas as very black, is my point.

          • ajay

            Traditional to cast Judas as very black, is my point

            Is it??? In what tradition? He’s white (or whitish) in every painting I’ve ever seen.

            • The Jesus Christ Superstar tradition.

              • ajay

                The Jesus Christ Superstar tradition.

                You need at least two things to have a tradition, and the number of Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals about the crucifixion is still, thank god, one short of that (though also one above the optimum).

                • You’re enumerating over the wrong descriptor.

                • ajay

                  Clarify.

                • Productions?

                  I don’t have time to check the numbers now, but I’d be surprised if there’s no detectable skew.

                • ajay

                  Wikipedia only lists details of a few of the doubtless countless productions: Carl Anderson (the film – black), Ben Vereen (original Broadway, and black), Murray Head (original album cast, white), Stephen Tate (white), Jon English (white), Doug Parkinson (white), Patrick Jude (white, I think?), Jay Lagaia (Maori, in a New Zealand production), Zubin Varla (at a guess, from his name, Middle Eastern?) Josh Young (white), Tim Minchin (white), Jon Stevens (white)…

                  So two.

                • Wait, Judas in the movie was white? Wow, I really misremembered!

                • Wait, Judas in the movie was white?

                  The list is formatted a bit confusingly, but “Carl Anderson (the film – black)”.

                  In the movie, Judas is definitely black.

                  Original cast *recording* was white, but original cast was black.

                • No, when I clicked submit, it said “white”.

                • ajay

                  Original cast *recording* was white, but original cast was black.

                  It started off as a concept album before they turned it into a musical – so the original original cast was the album (with white Judas) and then you got the Broadway production (with entirely different cast including black Judas).

                • No, when I clicked submit, it said “white”.

                  Oh! Yeah. Ajay typoed then corrected I guess.

                • NeddySeagoon

                  Hee!!!

          • Warren Terra

            I was not aware of that tradition. Sigh.

          • burritoboy

            Um, what?

            Caravaggio’s Taking of Christ (1602): Judas white
            Gislebertus’ Autun sculptures (1125): Judas white
            da Vinci’s Head of Judas: Judas white
            Lippo Memmi’s Betrayal of Judas (1340): Judas white

            I have not seen a single depiction of Judas as being other than white. (Not saying it’s not out there because anything is out there. It’s certainly not traditional though.)

            • Joe_JP

              Reading a recent book on Judas, my take-off was the idea was to make him stereotypical Jewish, but given the audience, that would generally be white.

            • ajay

              It would be very weird to have a mediaeval European tradition of Judas being portrayed as black, because one of the roots of European anti-Semitism was that Judas was Jewish. If anything you’d expect him to look, well, caricature-Jewish.

            • N__B

              Last Temptation of Christ: Judas has a Brooklyn accent.

        • LeeEsq

          The Jews of Judea looked what we would call Mediterranean at the time. Olive skin, black loosely curly hair, and dark eyes. There are some Ashkenazi Jews that still look like this if you get the right genetic combination. I look like that.

    • I want to sign on to this. I saw the musical (fantastic, truly fantastic!) and I tried reading Chernow but the two visions of the revolution are so different I lost interest in Chernow almost immediately. The Musical is a work of genius not just for the score, which being musically illiterate I don’t care about at all, but because of its re-envisioning of the entire idea of the American Revolution and Revolution and Revolutionaries in general. There is a different story that could have been told through a specifically black lens but not the story Lin Manuel wanted to tell. And his story, like casting all women in a Shakespearean play, or all men in Swan Lake, is about something more challenging and transformative.

      I was thinking about this issue in reading the critique/anti critique of the casting of Hamilton. I think people who see it as either “about” color blidn casting or “pro” race based casting are missing the point. Lin Manuel is making a larger argument about history and race which can only be made by casting a certain type of actor/dancer/performer. Its not wrong anymore than casting women in female leads is wrong. You can cast a trans actor, you can cast a man (as was done in shakespeare’s day) but those make different kinds of performances and its not the one you necessarily want.

      • Murc

        The Musical is a work of genius not just for the score, which being musically illiterate I don’t care about at all, but because of its re-envisioning of the entire idea of the American Revolution and Revolution and Revolutionaries in general.

        Uh?

        Hamilton doesn’t re-envision the Revolution at all. It’s a completely bog-standard “America, fuck yeah! But throw in some of the problematic aspects so we at least appear to be even-handed” narrative.

        There’s nothing wrong with that per se, but it is pretty standard.

      • JL

        Its not wrong anymore than casting women in female leads is wrong. You can cast a trans actor, you can cast a man (as was done in shakespeare’s day) but those make different kinds of performances and its not the one you necessarily want.

        Just for the record, casting a trans woman actor in a female lead is casting a woman in a female lead (and if we’re talking about whether someone will be read as a cis woman, there are plenty of trans women who are read as cis women, nonbinary people who are read as cis women, and, less commonly, cis women who are read as not-cis-women).

        • NeddySeagoon

          If Aimai had said “cis woman” in the first place would that have been ok?

          Query whether casting a biological woman as a trans woman would be regarded as the same, or an objectionable characterization?

      • Hogan

        The mrs. and I just saw this last week. It’s a reworking of a 19th-century “tragic mulatto” melodrama, with a black actor playing both the hero and the villain (in whiteface), white actors playing the two males slaves (in blackface), black actresses playing the female slaves, a (presumably) white actress playing the octoroon, and a white actor playing the drunk Indian (in redface). Highly recommended.

        (As part of the opening, the playwright-as-character complains that he couldn’t get enough white actors who were willing to play racists, so he has to do it himself.)

    • SethValentine1003

      I agree with Abigail that dismissing the power of race-swapping is wrongheaded. It’s dismissed here as “not really that transgressive,” but 80% of roles on Broadway and at regional theatres go to white actors. See also: the recent meltdown some white actors had over the casting notices seeking non-white actors for upcoming productions, which made the union force the producers to re-write the call. Broadway targets wealthy white and tourist audiences. The power of seeing non-white actors onstage, and especially playing white historical personae is tremendous. White actors playing non-white roles is such normal procedure, and combating that trend is hugely important. Hamilton’s legacy will, I think, be in challenging white supremacy in casting practices more than as a work of historical fiction. I am interested in the criticism that the casting of non-white actors obscures the lack of non-white characters, though, and think that bears more scrutiny.

      That being said, there are valid criticisms to be made about the ability of a work of fiction to tell history, and about the desire for Hamilton to become a leftist icon.

      • JonH

        “See also: the recent meltdown some white actors had over the casting notices seeking non-white actors for upcoming productions, which made the union force the producers to re-write the call”

        Actually, if I’m not mistaken, that was a casting call for Hamilton specifically, and the issue was raised by an attorney, who happens to be black. Perhaps some white actors hired him, or perhaps he became aware of it some other way (social media hubbub?) and raised the issue just because the ad wasn’t legal as written.

      • I would go even further and say that beyond the race-swapped casting, Hamilton is revolutionary for putting rap, hip-hop, and other African-American musical styles in the mouths of its 18th century characters. In other words, it’s not just that these characters are played by black actors, but that they’re played as if they emerged from within black culture. Again, this is an approach that has some obvious problems, but it also has the effect of treating these often-derided musical styles as legitimate, serious artforms which important, historical people can use to express themselves. The fact that the policy disputes within the play are staged as rap battles, for example, is a brilliant way of undercutting the perception of rap as thuggish and trivial.

        It’s also important because it’s in these scenes that Hamilton recalls The West Wing most strongly (Miranda has spoken of his admiration for Aaron Sorkin, and it’s clear that TWW is a touchstone text for him), and they drive home how Miranda was able to take the good from Sorkin’s work and, in a lot of ways, divest it of its elitism. A lot of Sorkin’s writing is undermined by the obvious sense that he prefers characters who went to the right schools and talk in the right way. The fact that Hamilton creates Sorkin-esque characters who talk “street” and still use that dialect to make important, substantive points is only one of the ways in which Miranda expands on Sorkin’s work.

        • jroth95

          Exactly exactly exactly. Staging 1776 with an all-POC cast would be, at most, vaguely interesting. But this is actors of color performing songs in distinctly POC-associated styles, but telling stories that have, for 240 years, been considered the province of whites.

          Writing a play focused on the handful of relevant POC at the edges of the Revolution would be a completely different, and most likely much less consequential, task.

        • Bruce B.

          Yes, very much so. It’s a fantasy, as any musical necessarily is, connecting the revolution to a different spread of elements in the modern day. I’m not sure how far I want to go with the claim, but I think I’m okay with saying that in the end, no musical can really be history, so the question is, what do the liberties taken add up to? For Hamilton, part of the answer is “these styles of music and kind of people are also part of the revolution and its legacy”.

          My 85-year-old mother was genuinely impressed by the Cabinet battles and some of the other songs, and felt she’d learned that rap and hip-hop have potential she never realized to take up the range of life’s concerns. She didn’t really like the music, for all but a handful of songs, but she respects it. She’s taught ESL in the past, and remarks that now she’d build lesson plans around it.

    • Marek

      Harrumph.

  • Warren Terra

    But part of the popularity on the left, where Hamilton is very popular, is about pure political tribalism.

    I’m not sure this is fair. The musical and especially its casting celebrate a lot of things that resonate strongly with the left: aspiration, immigration and diversity, manumission/abolition, even sort of a little female empowerment. And hip-hop, of course. There is a big problem in that none of those things have a strong connection to the historical Alexander Hamilton, and some really have no connection at all (and that’s not just a reference to hip-hop). But that doesn’t mean “the left” likes Hamilton the musical out of tribalism – they like it because it agrees with them, even if the actual Alexander Hamilton and his biographer Ron Chernow don’t.

    • Well it’s both, right? Obviously people like it because it is good and entertaining. But they also like the political message. The same style of play doing this project for John C. Calhoun would not have the same resonance on the left. But that political message is not without problems.

      • Warren Terra

        The same style of play doing this project for John C. Calhoun would not have the same resonance on the left

        Well, to be fair, this play doing this project (with this message) for Alexander Hamilton shouldn’t have this resonance with the left, if only because the actual Hamilton would be appalled by most of the things the left likes about Hamilton the musical. The only difference is that the historical Alexander Hamilton is, for most people’s purposes, a blank slate onto which you can project what you like – no-one knows jack about Hamilton, except the duel, which they mostly remember because of a Milk Marketing Board commercial. And there maybe is just enough ambiguity in Alexander Hamilton’s historical record, while Calhoun is perhaps a little too memorably and unambiguously villainous for the purpose. But if anyone wanted to put a whole bunch of modern progressive sentiments in the mouths of other historical figures from the same period who are remembered only by name and not much by ideology – Henry Clay, say, or Dan’l Boone – it would probably work just fine.

        • EliHawk

          Yeah, I’m still waiting for the big Davy Crockett musical where his opposition to Indian Removal is the centerpiece and the Alamo a footnote.

          • I’m waiting for THADDEUS!! The Thaddeus Stevens project.

            • EliHawk

              Come on, we know it’s gotta be Thad! Easier to rhyme.

            • Joe_JP

              Tommy Lee Jones in Lincoln with his black lover shows the potential.

              • EliHawk

                Can he sing though? We could have a Crowe in Les Mis scenario…

                • I thought Crowe was perfectly fine. Mamma Mia! on the other hand…

                • Joe_JP

                  I’d figure someone else would play him but Tommy Lee Jones shows where the character can go. And, hey … I actually liked the singing in Mamma Mia! as a whole.

                • JonH

                  How about Treat Williams? He’s done musical theater on Broadway. More than once, and as recently as 2001.

                • Manny Kant

                  Crowe was horrendous. I’m kind of astonished that anyone thought he was fine.

            • Rob in CT

              We’ll be arguing about him being a Know-Nothing.

            • SUMNER!, with the crossover hit I Shall Be a Tunnel.

              • EliHawk

                Yeah, but it really drags for a long time midway through Act 1 after the show stopper Seriously, Please Stop Hitting Me With That Cane.

                • N__B

                  But it’s got toe-tapping rhythm!

        • JG

          And there maybe is just enough ambiguity in Alexander Hamilton’s historical record[/b]

          There really isn’t at all, though. He wrote a lot and his thoughts on the issues of the day are pretty clear. And for Hamilton, his actions speak much louder than his words (for good and ill)

          • Warren Terra

            Sure, but I assume – if only based on his record on slavery, and for that matter on Jefferson – that in his voluminous writing and busy life he was at least arguably on more than one side of many issues.

            • JG

              Ah, I misunderstood

      • Darkrose

        You seem to think the political message is “Alexander Hamilton was an awesome liberal.” To the extent that there’s an explicitly political message of the show, it’s that politics then was messy and complicated and ugly, and that the Founding Fathers were brilliant men who were also incredible hypocrites and assholes, and that they were real people. And the show is also about drawing the line between then and now, when politics are messy and complicated and ugly and politicians are brilliant men and women who are also hypocrites and assholes and who are real people.

        We’re not seeing Hamilton’s politics. We’re seeing Lin-Manuel Miranda’s politics. Miranda believes that history is about all of us, and he uses the character of Alexander Hamilton to tell a story that Hamilton himself wouldn’t recognize.

    • djw

      I’ve been trying to discern how much my students are into it, and so far the only students who’ve responded with any enthusiasm have been apolitical or conservative. The biggest enthusiast I’m connected to on facebook who isn’t SEK is a Claremont/Straussian guy. I’m sure there are plenty of cases of liberal/left people awkwardly overreading their politics into the play, but the scope of its appeal doesn’t seem tribalist at all, at least to me. In fact it kind of dares conservatives to find plausible grounds to object to it beyond white identity politics.

      • jroth95

        So I’m the father of a 12-y.o. who’s obsessed with the soundtrack, and here’s the pedagogical implications so far:

        – She thinks Jefferson is an asshole, which is fine by me*
        – We’ve talked some about Hamilton and the Bank of the US
        – We’ve discussed how every era redefines the Founders for its own purposes, and so new biographies are always coming out, casting their subjects to suit the moment. This led, among other things, me to talk about how McCullough’s Truman bio was much discussed during the ’92 election.
        – She was impressed to learn that Fayette County, PA is named after Lafayette, a fact that I don’t believe would have mattered to her before.

        I’m struggling to see downsides.

        *I’ve clarified that he did some fine things, but, again, undercutting Founders worship is always a good thing IMO. My daughter already knows about Washington and Oney Judge.

        • sam

          I think the other useful thing the show does, even in its “modifications” of history, is to show that the FFs fought with each other and kinda hated each other (at times).

          Even though the show itself is, in many ways, an edited, condensed, abridged version of history, the “regular” history we so often get told is one where the founders were some sort of monolith that spoke with one voice – we try to interpret their “intent”, as if it was one singular thing instead of many different things that clashed with each other. What better way to highlight that than to have “Hamilton” and “Jefferson” literally (rap) battle it out?

          Obviously this show takes liberties. To the extent that even a fraction of the kids that see it (through the program to bring 20,000 NYC kids to the show) or hear the albums get their interest piqued and dive deeper into actual history? I can’t help but think that’s a good thing.

          It’ll only ever be a fraction, but isn’t that the case with all things? Heck, Miranda’s policy-wonk dad wanted him to be a lawyer, but he became obsessed with broadway musicals when he saw Les Miz and thought “I need to do that” (I’ve been a broadway obsessive since I was a kid too, but without any actual talent, I did end up becoming a lawyer.)

        • djw

          Speaking of founder worship–I recently reviewed a paper that included a discussion of the use of the graphe paranomon (Athenian democracy’s populist jury-based version of judicial review). A common convention of people defending or attacking the law in question was to include an argument about how/why Solon would surely have agreed with their position. Founder worship is a very old problem.

          • Hogan

            And here is a passage from Homer that shows I’m right about what Solon would think.

            • Warren Terra

              Enikidu agrees with me, though.

            • Bootsie

              Would Solon have let the gays marry? I think not, my fellow Athenians!

              • Hogan

                But let’s see what Achilles and Patroklos have to say.

                • wjts

                  I think we know what they’d say – Myrmidons, you know.

          • LeeEsq

            There seems to be something in human psychology that makes people need heroes and figures to look up to. Attempts to get rid of this instinct haven’t really worked.

            • djw

              I’ve taken to reading Rousseau’s lawgiver in The Social Contract as a compromise with this stubborn fact. The reason the lawgiver(s) needs to go away shortly after the founding is so he/she/they can turn into a rhetorical device, rather than remain an actual authority.

              • LeeEsq

                Constitutional monarchy has fans for a similar reason. The monarch acts as a focus of adoration while real politicians are treated as humans by the citizenry,

              • [WASHINGTON]
                No! One last time
                The people will hear from me
                One last time
                And if we get this right
                We’re gonna teach ‘em how to say
                Goodbye
                You and I—

      • mkadel

        The musical tells an up-by-the-bootstraps story. There’s nothing particularly challenging about it. “Outrageous” in is some sense, yes — musically and visually it’s pretty bracing. But it doesn’t transgress conventional conservative (or liberal) values or prejudices. When conservatives deny accusations of racism, for whom do they profess admiration: the POC who works hard and rises. Moreover, the POC embodying the founders are merely embodying — acting and singing and thereby entertaining (an accustomed minority function) — making the musical all the more palatable.

  • pianomover

    Someone didn’t get tickets to Hamilton.

    • Marek

      This is better than anything I thought of as an initial response to the OP.

  • EliHawk

    Way back when I was in high school I saw the New Deal pretty fairly described as Hamiltonian means to Jeffersonian ends. Certainly, the current Republican platform’s version of states’ rights plutocracy is the reverse. Valorizing solely Hamilton or Jefferson over the other misses the point in modern politics.

    • JG

      Wow, that’s a great quote, I think I’ll steal it.

  • Crusty

    Broadway shows are way too expensive. Seriously, is a Broadway show that much better than a good movie? Like, ten times better than a movie?

    • Warren Terra

      The discounted reserved-for-VIPs-and-friends-of-the-cast “House Seat” rate is apparently $167. It’s not hard to find stories of people paying almost ten times that.

      On the other hand, the cast album is included in a bunch of streaming services, including Amazon Prime.

    • medrawt

      My personal rule of thumb is that attending great theater (whatever that means to you; musicals aren’t my thing) is the best thing; it is transcendently, incomparably better as an artistic experience than watching a great movie on a big screen.

      Pretty good theater is about as good as a pretty good movie.

      Mediocre theater is significantly worse than a mediocre movie.

      Bad theater is unbearable.

      • Crusty

        Now that I think about it, I did see Death of a Salesman with Brian Dennehy, and that was sublime.

        But the tickets were a gift, and with little guarantee of quality ahead of time, I don’t know that I’d ever shell out on my own.

      • ajay

        Going to the theatre at all is a long-odds gamble, in that case. If it’s pretty good, you’ve paid ten times too much. If it’s mediocre, you’ve paid 30 times as much (given that a mediocre movie is one you might rent on DVD but not watch on the big screen; a Broadway show is about 30 DVD rentals) and if it’s bad then you’ve wasted your money. You’d have to value those few great experiences very, very highly.

        • Origami Isopod

          Well, there’s also off-Broadway, off-off-Broadway, theaters in US cities other than NYC, student productions, “underground theater,” etc. Quality isn’t guaranteed, but quality isn’t guaranteed on Broadway, either. The unifying factor is that you’re seeing a live performance, which is very, very different from watching a movie. And movies are great! They’re just not the same thing.

          • ajay

            Agreed. I should have said going to on-Broadway is a long-odds gamble. Which is why I generally don’t.

        • Meh.

          My beloved and I noticed that we weren’t going to the movies or plays like we used to and instituted an annual quota: We must average 1 play and 1 movie (in the cinema) a month. We’ve been doing this for several years.

          It’s great! If we see something bad, at least we advanced the quota. We don’t usually see bad expensive things, and we’ve seen some really amazing things. We’ve seen some duds, but eh! We got out and we advanced the quota. In generally, finely optimising my marginal entertainment dollar’s value by going least common denominator doesn’t seem like a win.

    • pianomover

      You get what you pay for.
      Papa John

    • I’m going to push on this from a different angle.

      If really good movies cost what a Broadway show costs, they would still be worth it. The difference is that most high quality shows don’t exhibit economies of scale. When you scale them out, you get a drop in cost, but also a drop in quality, and often they don’t scale out conveniently (e.g., you miss a show in NY and London, your next chance might be 10 years later in a community theatre done poorly). So, cost + scarcity means you have to pay more.

      And they are different things than movies. One isn’t intersubstitutable for the other.

      People pay far more for live musical performances which one might have to work hard are equal (in sound quality and production values) to the $10 CD which you can play a million times.

      So it’s a weird gripe.

      • Crusty

        Broadway is too expensive is a weird gripe?

        • The weird gripe is saying that it’s too expensive in comparison to a movie. Live things typically cost multiples of recordings. People go for what’s distinctive about live things.

          If you don’t like it enough to pay what it costs to go to a particular live thing or prefer recordings, no big. But you wanted to know if it was that much better. But that’s really a silly way to think about it.

          So, whatevs.

          • Marek

            This.

            • pianomover

              We saw Book of Mormon in NY and then in Portland both were worth every penny.

    • NeddySeagoon

      Part of the ‘value’ of Hamilton in particular has been the signaling effect – that is, the ability to send the message that one has either the connections or the scratch to land tickets.

      I suspect that it will be one of those shows that’s rarely ever seen again more than 15 years past its sell-by date.

      • Marek

        I think it is more likely that it will still be playing on Broadway in 15 years. Let’s check back then.

    • JG

      Yes, just like going to a baseball game is better than watching on TV.

  • djw

    “Done so much had he lived longer” is an absurd line. Hamilton’s power in American life was already seriously declining when he died.

    See, I think the play more or less conveys this fact in the second act. The flawed hero has had his tragic, largely self-inflicted fall, and has retreated into private life/irrevelance. He’s so much of his power and influence that he’s reduced to endorsing Jefferson. The conventions of narrative don’t rule out a late-life second act comeback, but the play isn’t giving us reasons to be terribly optimistic about this prospect. This line makes perfect sense for his bereaved, devoted wife to eulogize him with, but I don’t really see the narrative of the play backing her up here.

  • ajay

    A whole lot more fled to the British because they wanted their freedom and they knew that the army of the slaver George Washington and his aide Alexander Hamilton was going to bind them in slavery. They fled to the British lines by the thousands, as they would again in the War of 1812.

    A show about Colonel Tye and the Ethiopian Regiment generally would be extremely worth watching.

    • jroth95

      I dunno, he’s an interesting character, but I’m more of an Adama guy.

  • Bruce Vail

    “I think the roots of the needs to connect our current politics to the Founders has its roots in Scalia’s originalism that was generated by and built upon by the larger conservative movement that made exclusive claims to understanding the Constitution.”

    Well, Erik, this is just wrong. A lot of the Confederates of 1860 (and now) justified their positions by comparisons with the Founding Fathers. And there are countless other examples, from the anti-New Deal Liberty League to the anti-Obama Tea Party. Hell, I’m old enough to remember when the New Left of the 1960s-1970s would sometimes call on FF writings to demonstrate its ‘Americanism.’

    The desire to justify one’s own political preferences by cherry picking the FF is an enduring feature of American politics. It was around long before modern Buckley conservatism and will certainly outlive any of us reading today.

    • Well, Erik, this is just wrong. A lot of the Confederates of 1860 (and now) justified their positions by comparisons with the Founding Fathers. And there are countless other examples, from the anti-New Deal Liberty League to the anti-Obama Tea Party. Hell, I’m old enough to remember when the New Left of the 1960s-1970s would sometimes call on FF writings to demonstrate its ‘Americanism.’

      I know all of this. But I think there was a moment where liberals weren’t really trying to do this very strongly and there was a lot of hand-wringing in the Bush years over the connections between originalism bullshit and how Republicans were distorting the Founders. Hamilton is partly a response.

      • Bruce Vail

        Well, you’re memory of the Bush years is better than mine.

        My memory is overwhelmed by 9/11, opposition the Second Irag War, torture scandals, and the Hurrican Katrina fiasco.

    • LeeEsq

      FDR was explocitly compared to Jefferson at his nominating convention.

  • SullenHoo

    The other side of that is that the musical enthusiastically endorses American capitalism and “competitiveness” through the character of its title workaholic – at times it’s a conventional Horatio Alger narrative with a more diverse cast. Your mileage may vary, but I consider that cliche and superficiality to be serious aesthetic drawbacks.

    • NeddySeagoon

      This

    • Darkrose

      Except that the title character’s competitiveness is his downfall. Hamilton is a deeply, deeply flawed protagonist, and the show doesn’t at all shy away from that.

  • Quite Likely

    “In the show’s last song, his widow, Eliza, sings that Hamilton would have “done so much more” against slavery had he lived longer.”

    Uhhh no, she does not sing anything like that.

    Her lines in the relevant section are:

    “The Lord, in his kindness
    He gives me what you always wanted
    He gives me more— TIME
    I raise funds in D.C. for the Washington Monument
    I speak out against slavery
    You could have done so much more if you only had— TIME
    And when my time is up, have I done enough?”

    Trying to twist this into some claim about Hamilton’s passion for abolition just seems like sour grapes searching for things to criticize.

    • Warren Terra

      Pish and tosh. Earlier in the show Hamilton sets up the Manumission Society and (separately) is outright contemptuous of Slavery as an institution and Jefferson’s ownership of slaves. Then there is the passage you talk about, in which anti-slavery is directly apposite to “could have done so much more”. Sure, that last song doesn’t actually say that it’s on slavery Hamilton “could have done so much more”, but that’s the clear impression left in the listener’s mind, which is not remotely an accident.

      • CHS

        From the final song:

        ELIZA]
        I speak out against slavery
        You could have done so much more if you only had—

        [ELIZA AND COMPANY]
        Time

      • Marek

        Pish and tosh yourself. Erik made a claim about the lyrics that is factually untrue. You can argue over the impression left in “the” listener’s mind, but the lyrics are printed on a page.

        • addicted44

          It was hard to take the original article too seriously when it was so dependent on a pretty obvious untruth.

  • NeddySeagoon

    Setting aside the serious lack of historicity for the moment, I feel a bit like Elaine Benes hating “The English Patient”: I found the actual music of “Hamilton” a dreadful disappointment – I’m not talking about the lyrics, but that actual notes. Milquetoast Broadway harmonic language that had been billed as groundbreaking was decidedly not.

    • By comparison with which decade, in the history of Broadway musicals?

      • NeddySeagoon

        What an odd comparison to make. I take it that you find the music itself groundbreaking? In what way?

        • Groundbreaking would suggest different from anything that has gone before. I think “only as good as musicals of thirty years ago” would be pretty good in this case. “Fourth rate wannabe classical composers slumming for ideological reasons” would be, on the contrary, not. I haven’t listened to Hamilton enough to say for sure, but yes, it’s better than a lot of other recent musicals. I still haven’t recovered from turning on the Tonys and hearing “oh, my love”–if I didn’t know better, I’d have thought it was a joke.

          I used to know someone who wouldn’t listen to Phantom, not because it was cheesy or derivative, but because she didn’t like rock music. If that’s your attitude, we don’t have much to talk about.

          eta And framing Washington as Escamillo is pretty cool.

          • NeddySeagoon

            “It’s better than a lot of other recent musicals” – we might be able to agree on that part – there has been all too much warmed-over dreck recently. “Only as good as musicals of thirty years ago” might work as well, since that takes us back to the heyday of Webber, who may have been a “fourth rate wannabe classical composer,” but I don’t think ideological reasons were why he was slumming. Derivative doesn’t bother me – all composers are to some degree derivative. In fact, the ones I enjoy the most are some of the most frequently accused.

    • jroth95

      It’s the only Broadway musical my wife has ever chosen to listen to. I think your perspective may be skewed.

      • NeddySeagoon

        I didn’t say that I don’t think anyone else should enjoy listening to “Hamilton.” There’s oodles of extremely popular music that I’m not terribly fond of and/or do not find particularly impressive in any technical sense – I’m fairly certain that you feel the same.

  • Matty

    I realized the other day that we’re actually further from Hamilton (and the rest of the founding generation) in time than Shakespeare was Richard III and anyone involved in the Wars of the Roses. That is, no one who lived through it is alive right now, and we’re separated from it by not only 200+ years, but also by the Civil War and the rise of industrial capitalism. I think it was inevitable that we’d continue seeing aggressively fictionalized versions of the founders, bent to the needs of 21st century Americans.

    I think that the same way that the history plays are all about legitimizing the Tudor/Stuart monarchies, Hamilton is about legitimizing basic US liberal republicanism, and I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. Given how nuts people went over, say, Downton Abbey, I think we need more art with the thesis that the people, however defined, should rule themselves.

    • Warren Terra

      Well, okay, but on the other hand literacy and record keeping, and especially the dissemination and recovery of information, made great strides from the days of Richard III to the days of Alexander Hamilton, and vastly greater strides from the days of Shakespeare to our own. Richard III was essentially a mythic figure in Shakespeare’s time because that was how history worked at that time. Some of that is human nature, but not all of it. History doesn’t have to be mythos nowadays.

      • Matty

        That’s not at all how history worked at that time. We’ve got a better body of texts by and about Hamilton (and visualizing some of those print controversies is one of the neatest parts of the play), but especially by the time you get to late Tudor England (basically, the grandchildren of the protagonists of Richard III – Richmond is better known as Henry VII, Elizabeth I’s grandfather), print culture is well dug in, and Shakespeare himself is working from a print history tradition. [edit: although you could make an argument about the development of history of a way of understanding and the difference between present-day and early modern modes of argument and writing, that’s still a far cry from “basically myth”]

        I think arguing about the historicism of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton” is like arguing about the historicism of Shakespeare’s Richard III. Both plays are using versions of historical figures to make arguments about the times they plays were written in (and, since we’re staging Richard III* centuries after it was written, the times they’re performed in), which I think is an entirely worthwhile human endeavor. I’m a lot more interested and responsive to arguments like “Hamilton promotes a bland neoliberalism” or “Hamilton isn’t that good as a work of theater” than “Hamilton is bad history.”

        *Richard III being on my mind today, since I just saw a pretty impressive performance of it over the weekend.

        • Warren Terra

          Sure, for the educated people and the nobility history might be a matter of the printed record (however distorted by political motive). But for the groundlings?

          • Matty

            That’s a pretty good question, and I’m not sure. A matter of printed record, probably not, but I’d be willing to be beer money that your average Tudor Englishman had some kind of historical sense, and that 2-3 generations wasn’t enough to turn things into myth.

            • Hogan

              Popular memory of monarchs was probably as closely tied to what we now call “economic fundamentals” as presidential elections are now. “Remember how cheap beer and bread used to be? Good Queen Bess!”

      • Hogan

        I wouldn’t say “mythic.” Shakespeare’s Richard III is pretty much straight out of Morton/More’s History of King Richard III, which was more propaganda than mythmaking.

        • tsam

          Richard had 3 eyes…

          • Hogan

            I hear that motherfucker had, like, thirty goddamn dicks.

            • cppb

              I feel absolutely no shame in coming back over a year late to say that Brad Neely’s biography of Washington will forever be my favorite.

  • CJColucci

    I am now inspired to write a musical about that cantankerous, dipsomaniac antifederalist Luther Martin. I have no musical chops to speak of, so I’ll write the book. Anyone interested in doing the music?

  • JG

    My twitter feed has been non-stop harassing people who like Hamilton for “leftism” so I am inclined to view this play favorably (plus I like musicals).

    However, when I first heard of it I shared Erik’s pov. It’s a little bit disturbing to see Hamilton become the hero and Jefferson the villain. Hamilton is probably the perfect symbol for modern neoliberalism- value capital above all, ignore or directly harm society’s most vulnerable, and make a half-assed (at best) attempt to fix problems of race.

    But it’s a musical, and one that brings a different musical perspective to Broadway, so I’ll just enjoy it.

  • PJ

    1) 75% of the people who are soooo exited about this can’t have seen the actual musical, unless there was a sudden mass exodus to NYC that I’m not aware of. So … how do they judge whether what they’re hearing on record actually works on stage if they don’t have that experience?

    2) I’m sure there are historians fighting against Les Miz’ interpretation of French history — the question is whether that’s a good way to spend your time as a historian

    3) I’m sure that Jonathan Franzen meant well in trying to protect the original Weidekind Spring Awakening against the teenybopper musical. However, he really needed to acknowledge that he wouldn’t have been commissioned for a new translation without that surge of interest

    4) It feels like this thread is assuming mass influence of Broadway when Hamilton is a genuine cultural phenomenon that’s mostly the exception. The Scottsboro Boys was a semi recent historical musical with majority-black cast, famous writers (Kander & Ebb), and a deeply controversial and timely topic (it was touring the Trayvon Martin trial). It wasn’t exactly lighting up the way Hamilton is.

    So … I would say, the excitement is not so much about either the casting or the political import taken in isolation. I’d have to see the musical to see what actual deal is, though.

    • 1 – It feels like you’ve answered your own question. The overwhelming majority (I would guess it’s a lot more than 75%) of people who are excited about the play haven’t and probably won’t see it on stage. (That includes myself, by the way – I might be able to see the London transfer, but that won’t happen until 2017.) And yet they are extremely excited and fannish about the play. Obviously none of them have experienced Hamilton as a stage show, but if you listen to the cast recording, it holds up as a narrative in its own right. The play is sung-through, and most of the dialogue bits are integrated into the songs, so you get the whole of the narrative. And the performances are as much in the singing as in the acting – in particular, Leslie Odom Jr. (Burr) and Daveed Diggs (Lafayette/Jefferson) are both very good at conveying the nuances of their characters’ personalities and emotions through song.

  • Darkrose

    I read the NYT piece, and this post, and to use an old Fandom Wank line, I think some people are interrogating the text of Hamilton from the wrong perspective. It’s historical fiction, not a documentary, and while it’s based on Chernow’s biography of Hamilton, the musical is not intended as a biography any more than Henry V or Richard III are primarily histories or biographies. The real lens to look at Hamilton from is not that of the historian or the biographer: it’s through the point of view of the dramatist and the storyteller.

    If you want to know what Hamilton is really about, Miranda tells you:

    “Who lives, who dies, who tells your story.”
    “I’m writing myself back into the narrative.”
    “The story of America then, told by America now.”

    Hamilton is about the story of America’s founding and about (some of) the people who have always been excluded from that story reclaiming it and making it our–and I use that deliberately, because I think that’s a real part of the disconnect–own. I’m well aware that the Founding Fathers weren’t a bunch of insanely attractive young people of color. I’m also aware that there are plenty of true stories about black people and women in the American Revolution that could be told. But by taking a story that most of us know, centering it on characters we’ve heard of, and then flipping the script, giving lines about “Slaves being slaughtered and carted away across the waves” to an actor who’s the descendant of slaves, and who later in the show plays Thomas Jefferson, Miranda underlines the contradictions and compromises that were both part of the nation’s founding, and lays claim to that founding mythos for those of us who have always been left out of it. Hamilton isn’t just about Alexander Hamilton’s story; it’s about drawing a line from then to now and saying, “We’re part of this too.”

    I seriously doubt anyone who listens to “My Shot” actually thinks the Founding Fathers were a bunch of multicultural rapping bros. But there’s a reason Miranda uses the New York subway guys “It’s showtime!” and references “this is not a moment; it’s the movement” in a direct nod to Black Lives Matter. When the actors sing “Tell your brother that he’s gotta rise up/Tell your sister that she’s gotta rise up” the message is not “This is what the Founding Fathers were like back then.” The message is that “This is us, now, using the past to tell a story about today.” And that’s what historical fiction does.

    • JG

      good point. good art reveals deeper truths.

    • Ormond

      Absolutely right. Historicity is not the only, or even primary, means by which we might interrogate what a narrative does and how it does it.

  • mch

    Hard for me to see a downside in this show. As for Erik’s concerns: you start studying history with questions, not answers (right?), and if “Hamilton” gets people interested enough to ask even a few questions, that’s good. The casting of the show (which I have seen and loved) is brilliant, if you ask me: an invitation to people of color to claim this country’s history as theirs, too. What that history may actually have been can and will continue to be argued, but until those arguments are embraced by all of us as belonging to all of us, no progress is likely. Also, something I haven’t seen mentioned in comments here (though I haven’t read every one): the Caribbean, hugely important in American history (including, not least, US history) and largely overlooked not just in middle and high school (except for summary attention to sugar cane and rum and triangles, unmoored attention to the Monroe Doctrine, and bloody shirts) but also college curricula. “Hamilton” brings it to the fore, where it belongs. Good for many reasons but not least for the need to get descendants of US and Caribbean descendants of African slaves on the same page with, rather than looking askance at, one another.

    • JG

      Yeah, the history teacher and cultural leftist parts of me love it.

      The historian and political/economic leftist parts of me are very skeptical.

  • Ronan

    I tend to agree with a lot of the pushback against historical accuracy above, but putting it another way..for the future historian isn’t it a useful data point when looking at our own time? What it puts emphasis on (apparently, I haven’t seen it) and what it doesn’t , what myths it tells, doesn’t that say a good bit about contemporary America? So if seen as something like a part of an oral tradition of folklore for future historians, I’d assume it could be quite insightful.
    Same goes imo for historical commemoration. Some get caught up on whether the commemoration is “historically accurate” (for whatever definition of historical accuracy ) but isn’t the point also that how we choose to commemorate something says a lot about the society doing the commemorating? So both have historical value, even if not historically accurate (the value coming as much from the inaccuracies)
    That’s my two cents anyway

    Edit: sorry if these points gaeve been made, I haven’t read the whole thread