Hamilton tells the remarkable story of a Steadfast Main Character that ends in Tragedy (a Story Outcome of Failure and a Story Judgment of Bad). Remarkable, in that the typical American narrative of perseverance and the Founding Fathers usually ends up in abject Triumph. Not so with Hamilton, which explains why—aside from the pure genius of writing, staging, and performance—this musical masterpiece struck a resonant chord in early 21st century America: we see the connections between then and now. And we understand the Tragedy of having someone else write our story when we stick with a course of action.
Hamilton positions a subjective Element of Logic against an objective Method of Future to provide a compelling Premise:
Keep disrupting things by focusing on following a course of thought, and everyone will suffer the tragic consequences of having someone else write their story.
The musical presents this Premise through Four Throughlines:
- Objective Story: ambition and love in early America
- Main Character: Hamilton
- Influence Character: Burr
- Relationship Story: Friendship (between Burr and Hamilton) and Marriage (between Hamilton and Eliza)
Arranged within the Dramatica theory of story matrix, the four perspectives offer a balanced look at internal and external conflicts:
The Four Throughlines of Hamilton
Hamilton is a man of action who refuses to consider throwing away his shot (a Main Character Domain of Physics, a Main Character Approach of Do-er, and a Main Character Problem of Consider). Burr, his Influence Character and friend, prefers to "talk less, smile more" to work his way into the room where it happened (an Influence Character Domain of Psychology and an Influence Character Problem of Control). Their subjective confrontation--a clash of points-of-views--results in Burr abandoning his way for Hamilton's (an Influence Character Resolve of Changed). This wild and reckless challenge for respect (an Influence Character Solution of Uncontrolled and an Objective Story Concern of Subconscious) ends in tragic insight for what is to come (Story Outcome of Failure and a Story Consequence of Future).
Pride. Respect. Love. These primary drives and desires formulate the conflict of Hamilton in the Objective Story Throughline. Consider King George's solo, "You'll Be Back."
Why so sad? Remember we made an arrangement when you went away Now you're making me mad Remember, despite our estrangement, I'm your man
The King lists the problems of getting all emotional about everything and lays down a rationale for the Colonists returning. While consistent with the objective exploration of basic drives and desires (an Objective Story Concern of Subconscious), these decrees rest on the surface of the narrative (an Objective Story Focus of Feeling and an Objective Story Direction of Logic). The real motivation lying beneath his blubbering is basic Control:
You'll be back, soon you'll see You'll remember you belong to me
An Objective Story Problem of Control--without having to come right out and say it.
And he's not the only one.
Angelica restrains her longing for Alexander, singing about how she will never be satisfied (more Control with a Direction of Logic). Alexander exhibits no self-control of his desires in the presence of Maria Reynolds, eventually submitting to her husband's blackmail and extortion. Eliza sings of being "helpless" in Alexander's passions, wishing that she "would be enough." And Washington joins the chorus by singing with Hamilton of the problematic longings of their grand experiment:
I promise myself to realize the sweet enjoyment of partaking, in the midst of my fellow-citizens, the benign influence of good laws Under a free government, the ever-favorite object of my heart, and the happy reward, as I trust Of our mutual cares, labors, and dangers.
An Objective Story Concern of Subconscious is uncommon in the American narrative. We fail to explore, or question, widespread problems of desire or drive—mostly due to our cultural aversion to long-form experiences. Cinema and television struggle to capture inequities bred from emotional mindsets. They default to physical expressions of conflict, their absent inner dialogues perfect for bite-sized consumption. Novels and plays and musicals enjoy the breadth of expansion to convey our deepest desires and inherent problems. The subconscious feels right at home on-stage.
Complete narratives argue their Premise; do this, or think that, and you'll end up with this result. Hamilton's non-stop unrelenting drive of genius drives Burr to change his resolve and step impulsively into wild and reckless behavior (a Main Character Unique Ability of Approach and an Objective Story Signpost 4 of Preconscious).
When Alexander aimed at the sky He may have been the first one to die But I'm the one who paid for it I survived, but I paid for it Now I'm the villain in your history
This Story Judgment of Bad anchors the emotional appreciation of the Premise, affecting the entire cast of characters.
Passion and rationale dance the subconscious's conflict in Hamilton; Burr and Eliza and Angelica provide the voice of the former, Alexander the latter. And while a focus on the freedom gained would be a story of success, this is one of the missed opportunities.
I was too young and blind to see I should've known I should've known the world was wide enough for both Hamilton and me The world was wide enough for both Hamilton and me
The recognition by Burr that "the world was wide enough" for both he and Hamilton strikes a cautionary tale for those of us doomed to repeat history. The Story Consequence of Future that balances the narrative structure of Hamilton paints the Tragedy that awaits similar thinking lines:
Legacy, what is a legacy? It's planting seeds in a garden you never get to see
Hamilton was a man who never considered a different approach to getting what he wanted.
His Tragedy could be our Tragedy if we remain just as Steadfast.