Hey, all you literary people (and musical lovers!).
Today, we’re stepping away from our regularly scheduled programming (kind of) to talk about something very, very, VERY important.
HAMILTON IS CURRENTLY ON DISNEY+!
It was very hard not to put a million exclamation points after that sentence because that’s how excited I am! I’ve been counting down the days for months, and it’s finally here. At the time I’m writing this, it will actually be coming out tomorrow, so it will be on Disney+ by the time all of you lovely people are reading this. So in case you haven’t gotten the chance to watch it yet, go do so now.
Disclaimer: Hamilton contains some language and content that isn’t appropriate for children, so just keep that in mind before watching.
In case you aren’t familiar with Hamilton, it’s a musical that originally premiered in 2015, and it was all anyone could talk about for years. People are still going on about it (including me!). I discovered it right before a trip to New York, and from then on, I was obsessed. The music is great, and honestly, it’s a fascinating story about Alexander Hamilton… of all people!
My Hamilton-crazed days took place when I was in college, and my love of the musical led me to write my senior thesis on it. I wrote about how the writing techniques and linguistic structure William Shakespeare used over four hundred years ago in his plays are still alive and well, and—honestly—you can find them in Hamilton. I got to compare songs like “Helpless” to monologues in Romeo and Juliet and talk about the similarities between Hamilton’s creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Shakespeare’s uses of different types of verse in poetry.
Life was good.
But today, I want to do more than simply rant about my love for Hamilton. I want to talk a little bit about what I discussed in my paper and examine a couple of the ways Hamilton has positively affected the literary world and writers everywhere.
We’re going to cover three ways Lin-Manuel Miranda showed us poetry is still alive, effective, and POWERFUL through the Hamilton musical.
- First, Hamilton reflects back to William Shakespeare, whose writing was so dynamic for his time that it’s still relevant and studied today. Hey, I know many of you probably remember how you disliked learning about Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth in high school… but give the guy respect! There’s a reason his plays are still discussed in depth.
Now, some of you may be a little bit skeptical—rap music is nothing like Shakespeare’s writing, right? You may be surprised to discover that Hamilton is very similar to Shakespeare’s style in his plays (especially Hamlet, in my opinion). Miranda and Shakespeare have used many of the same linguistic methods to express musicality in order to convey emotion and information (or prosody, in the poetry world). This includes building tension and excitement through changes in verse style and using fun writing techniques such as different types of repetition.
One of the biggest similarities between these two writers is their use of different verse styles for specific scenes. For example, rhythmic iambic pentameter was used for many romantic scenes in Shakespeare’s writing, and “Helpless”—Eliza’s love song in Hamilton—is written in this exact style. As a matter of fact, along with being written in iambic pentameter, it follows a rhyme scheme familiar in Shakespeare’s works as well (AABBCCDD).
One last comparison comes in the way Shakespeare and Miranda switch between different verse styles to enhance emotion as well as reveal information about their characters’ personalities. For instance, in Hamilton, you’ll notice Angelica Schuyler’s style of rap is much different than George Washington’s—there was a purpose behind this! To enhance the differences in the characters’ personalities. Shakespeare, too, used this method to show differences in social class.
I didn’t have the opportunity to cover this in my paper, but I actually think Shakespeare and Miranda focused on and portrayed similar themes through their characters as well. One of the reasons I believe Hamilton is so similar to Hamlet is the main characters’ focus on death. In Hamilton, Alexander will often interrupt himself mid-song with sentences like, “I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory. When’s it going to get me?” Hamlet, too, though he’s heavily driven by anger and revenge, focuses on death throughout the play, such as with his famous speech, “To be or not to be—that is the question.”
There’s much, much more I could go into, but the point is Hamilton shows us the revered styles we studied in school are still alive and well today, even if the language might sound just a little different.
- Hamilton shows us that wonderful stories can be told from history! One of my favorite genres is historical fiction, and while Hamilton is technically nonfiction, there’s obviously much that’s embellished upon. Whether you choose to retell a story, as Miranda did, or draw from a certain time period to write a book, you’ll find inspiration is rich in this genre. It’s so neat to experience a wonderful story that’s connected to real events, places, or people. The discoveries that occur throughout the story, though you may already be a little familiar with the tale, can feel so new when told in a new way. Hamilton has further revealed how dynamic this genre can be.
- Hamilton shows us poetry is a dynamic storytelling method that brings with it a lot of emotion. Because really, that’s what the music in Hamilton qualifies as—poetry. I’ll never forget my initial thought after listening to the Hamilton soundtrack for the first time. Reflecting on all I’d just heard, I thought, “Rap has to be one of the best and most efficient ways to tell a story through music.” Then I realized writers have been doing this for hundreds of years. Think of all the great epics written in the past—they were told through poetry. You may not have considered this before, but I think Hamilton has once again brought that style of storytelling back to life.
And of course, Hamilton taught us rap musicals are awesome!
So next time you watch Hamilton, I of course hope you enjoy the plot and listening to the music. But I hope you also consider the rich, poetic style behind each line and what it may mean. This musical is truly a work of art, and (in case you can’t tell) I’m thrilled to be able to watch it in my own home. And with the original cast! What a happy day…
In case you need to find me over the next couple of days, I’ll be watching Hamilton on loop. I would also love to try to mimic Lin-Manuel Miranda’s writing style in the poetry I write. Maybe someday…
You should try it, too! Take a look at the different poetic styles Miranda uses in the musical and try to incorporate them into your own work.
That’s all, folks! I’m off to listen to the soundtrack… again.