Alexander Hamilton gets a huge amount of imagery of upward motion-- flying, climbing, rising, and so forth. He's a social climber clawing his way to the top; he has high ideals; a penniless immigrant rising up from the bottom; a scrapper fighting his way to the top of the heap; taking part in an uprising, one of the people rising up to rebel; a soldier and politician rising up through the ranks; an upstart rising above his proper place; he soars too high and falls; his final shot is fired into the sky.

Hamilton is the embodiment of ambition, ideals, greatness, drive, and hubris, all of which are symbolically expressed in reaching or rising upward: not just forward momentum (“see him now as he stands on/The bow of a ship headed for a new land,”) but upward momentum.

Aaron Burr, Hamilton’s opposite, antagonist, and mirror image, gets appropriately opposite imagery. He’s associated with stillness and waiting; being, not doing.

But Hamilton and Burr— opposites who have more in common than they realize, learn from each other, and sometimes adopt each other’s methods— share two images. One is “stand,” which reverses their usual imagery patterns: Hamilton is the one who takes a stand (literally stands still, but metaphorically speaks his mind) while getting more and more frustrated at Burr not taking one. However, whenever possible, even that phrasing is expressed in terms of Burr being the one to not move: “For once in your life take a stand with pride/I don’t understand why you stand to the side.” The second line re-purposes “stand” to once again mean “stay where you are; don't take part.” Similarly, when Hamilton stands ("See him now as he stands on the bow of a ship/Heading to a new land"), he may be still but the ship is carrying him forward.

The other image both men share is “fall.” Both men get a fair amount of falling imagery, and this time it means the same thing for them both: they fall in love, they fell from grace, they fell on hard times, they reached too high and it proved to be their downfall.

The shared imagery suggests that in addition to being each other’s opposites, they also have similarities and complement each other. Imagine how wide the world could have been if they’d joined forces instead of destroying each other…

Cut for extreme length:

Here’s an example of them both using “fall,” singing to their babies in “Dear Theodosia:”

Burr: When you smile, you knock me out. I fall apart and I thought I was so smart

Hamilton: When you smile, I fall apart and I thought I was so smart

Here’s the very first lines sung in the play:

How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a
Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten
Spot in the Caribbean by Providence, impoverished, in squalor
Grow up to be a hero and a scholar?

Hamilton starts out dropped down. By the end of the very first verse, he’s grown up.

Of course, that’s not how you normally parse “grown up,” but this is a musical meant to be listened to many times, and it’s chock full of multiple meanings and word play. If nothing else, “grown up” suggests growing taller, literally getting higher, in addition to getting older.

Our man saw his future drip, drippin’ down the drain

He’s going down again… but not for long. Next thing you know:

See if you can spot him
Another immigrant comin’ up from the bottom

Now here’s Burr’s first song (“Aaron Burr, Sir”) in which he’s himself rather than narrator-Burr:

Good luck with that
You’re takin’ a stand
You spit, I’mma sit
We’ll see where we land

Burr, the revolution’s imminent
What do you stall for?

If you stand for nothing, Burr, what’ll you fall for?

This song introduces Burr’s characteristic imagery with “sit” and “stall:” staying in one place, waiting, stationary. It also introduces the shared motifs of “stand” and “fall.” In this first meeting, Hamilton’s taking a stand and Burr is foretold to fall. In their last meeting, the words become literal: Burr will stand and Hamilton will fall.

In “My Shot,” Burr recommends downward motion (“Geniuses, lower your voices”) but of course Hamilton intends to do exactly the opposite: “We gonna rise up.” “Rise” has a huge amount of meanings in this context: raise your voice, speak your beliefs, people rising in revolution, ambition, aspiration, high ideals.

Hamilton’s friend Laurens backs him up with some more upward imagery: “I said, shout it to the rooftops.” In the very next song, “The Story of Tonight,” Laurens sings, “Raise a glass to freedom” and “Raise a glass to the four of us.” These lines will return several times, always with multiple connotations of “raise” and also of “freedom,” which at various points means “from King George,” “from slavery,” the carefree life of being single, and finally freedom from one’s body and life, the spirit rising up to meet loved ones on the other side.

Angelica, whose rapid-fire thinking resembles Hamilton’s, repeatedly thinks of him as if he’s actually flying (or attached to something that's flying.) At their first meeting, she sings:

It’s Ben Franklin with a key and a kite!


He’s flying by the seat of his pants.

Much later, when Hamilton has ruined his own life, Eliza sings,

Do you know what Angelica said
When she read what you've done?
She said: "You have married an Icarus.
He has flown too close to the sun."

Icarus flew too close to the sun on wax wings; they melted in the heat, and he fell into the ocean and drowned. Symbolically, he represents hubris: reaching too high and falling. This fits what Eliza and Angelica are most angry about: Hamilton relying on his ability to write his way out and publishing the Reynolds Pamphlets. (Eliza doesn’t even mention the affair itself— her fury is reserved for the publication, which publicly humiliated her.) Icarus wouldn’t work as a metaphor for sexual temptation or misconduct, but it does for over-confidence, as well as for a fall from a height.

The other interesting thing about that metaphor is that Hamilton is also associated with water imagery. (The hurricane where devastation reigned (or rained), his life drip-dripping down the drain, and the ocean crossing in "Alexander Hamilton," the hurricane again and "I didn't drown" in "Hurricane," and "You and your words flooded my senses" in "Burn." ) Now his wax is melting and he’s falling into the ocean to drown. But what melted the wax? The heat of the sun. Heat and fire is associated with the Schuyler sisters, and the sun is associated with his son Philip. Eliza throws him out and burns her letters, and Philip dies and it wrecks him. He drowns in an ocean of salt water: tears.

But Hamilton isn’t the only one who rises and falls. Let’s get back to Burr. (It’s OK. He’s used to waiting.)

In the middle of Burr’s signature song “Wait For It,” he sings, “Hamilton faces an endless uphill climb” and “He changes the game/He plays and he raises the stakes.” When Burr sings “We rise and we fall,” he’s talking about undiscriminating forces like life and death that affect everyone in the world, not specifically himself or Hamilton. But when it comes to himself, “stand” once again is the one form of stillness he’s not doing: “I'm not standing still, I am lying in wait.”

His other signature song, “The Room Where It Happens,” is about ambition… but it’s expressed in terms of being, not action or movement:

I want to be in the room where it happens.

In contrast, here’s Hamilton trying to get Washington to give him a command:

If you gave me command of a battalion, a group of men to lead,
I could fly above my station after the war

Hamilton’s ambition is expressed in terms of flying, Burr’s in terms of already being somewhere. But you can’t just wait for the room where it happens to materialize around you, which is what “The Room Where It Happens” suggests Burr wants if you look at the actual word choices.

When Burr finally does campaign, he admits, “It’s kind of draining.” All that running around and reaching up feels unnatural to him.

Hamilton, of course, does not find upward or any other kind of movement draining. From “Non-Stop:”

Even though we started at the very same time
Alexander Hamilton began to climb
How to account for his rise to the top?

Burr’s advice to him is characteristic:

Hamilton, sit down

Unless I missed something, except for “stand,” the only time in the entire play that Hamilton advises anyone in terms of staying still or going down is when he snaps and screams, “Sit down, John, you fat mother—” before his words are lost in a chaos of bleeps, screams, and sirens. Losing his temper was normal, but telling anyone, even an enemy, to sit still or go down is a signal that things are going down the drain. “Hamilton’s out of control!”

But before everything goes to hell, in “Non-Stop,” Hamilton has more characteristic advice to Burr:

What are you waiting for?
What do you stall for?

(And then there’s “stand” again:)

For once in your life, take a stand with pride
I don’t understand how you stand to the side

(But Burr’s not going for it.)

I’ll wait here and see
Which way the wind
Will blow

Presumably he plans to move with the wind. But right now, the only movement is that of the wind, which is also an unstoppable natural force like the one Burr evokes in “Wait For It.”

This line also makes me think of the power of the storm in Hamilton’s “Hurricane.” Very unusually for him, there something else moves while he keeps still:

In the eye of the hurricane
There is quiet.

Like “stand,” there are some verbal and musical moments where the men share a motif, indicating that they complement each other, and the call-out to wind may be one of them. Musically, “Hurricane” feels more in Burr’s style than in Hamilton’s, whose most characteristic musical mode is hip-hop; by Act II, the men are switching places, learning from each other, and even borrowing lines, coming closer in spirit even as their relationship is falling apart.

In “The Ten Duel Commandments,” we have “Pick a place to die where it’s high and dry.” If those are the commands for all duels, then Hamilton will be on high ground when he dies. (Technically he dies in bed, but he’s mortally wounded on the heights. Close enough.)

Hamilton has a crucial verse in that song:

Look ‘em in the eye, aim no higher
Summon all the courage you require

By the time he duels with Burr, the men have switched places: Burr sings that same verse, and Hamilton aims far higher than Burr’s eyes.

Here’s Hamilton’s final words:

Rise up, rise up, rise up

My love, take your time
I’ll see you on the other side
Raise a glass to freedom...

The words are a callback to the very beginning of the play, when “rise up” meant rebellion. But spoken at the moment of death, it makes me think of the Biblical apocalypse, when the dead will rise for the final reckoning. And of spirits rising up to Heaven, the other side.

He aims his pistol at the sky—

When Alexander aimed
At the sky
He may have been the first one to die
But I’m the one who paid for it

Hamilton’s last words and final act are both reaching upward. He literally aims at the sky, but metaphorically, it means “to reach for greatness.”

The higher you fly, the harder you fall. But if you never reach up at all, you’ll never accomplish anything. Hamilton and Burr both stood and fell, but at the end Hamilton rose up again, while the play leaves Burr no longer waiting in suspense, but with a resolution to his story: he’s remembered, but as a villain.

But that’s not the end. The final song isn’t about either of them, nor even about rising or falling or waiting, but about those impersonal forces that Hamilton first observes in wonder, then tries to defy in “Hurricane” and Burr acknowledges in “Wait For It:” time, life, death, history… and then something more human and personal, but equally uncontrollable: all the generations of storytellers to come. Rise or fall, fly or wait, some day someone else may pick up a book, and decide to tell your story. But in doing so, they’ll really be telling their story.
kiezh: Tree and birds reflected in water (Default)

From: [personal profile] kiezh

Thinking about characteristic actions... I think Eliza's is watching, looking, paying attention. Her intro (and repeated theme) is "Look around, look around, at how lucky we are to be alive right now." "Look into your eyes and the sky's the limit" - a sky reference for Hamilton, but what Eliza's doing is looking. Also, I think she's the person who most often mentions eyes, though I'd have to check to be sure.

Her moments of decisive action are about seeing/being seen, too; she removes herself from display in "Burn". Also: "You have torn it all apart; I'm watching it burn..." Watching again, while Alexander gets the action verb. And in the final song, more eyes and seeing: "In their eyes I see you, Alexander" and "I can't wait to see you again."

At the end, she moves from watcher to storyteller: the person who decides what will be seen and preserved. So her verb becomes "tell" instead of "look", which is interesting - "who tells your story?" is asked a lot, but the only time there's ever a specific answer is Eliza in the finale. (Though there's the implicit answer of "Lin-Manuel Miranda and the cast and crew of this show." What's Lin-Manuel's characteristic verb? Write (like you're running out of time)?)

Angelica has a thematic adjective ("satisfied") but I can't think of a verb. We see her refraining from taking action (like Burr?), or being restricted from taking action by her society, or watching with her sisters... hmm, maybe it's "know." "I know my sister like I know my own mind" and "I know that she'll be happy as his bride / And I know / He will never be satisfied / I will never be satisfied." She also shares the eyes theme with Eliza, now that I'm looking at Satisfied.

Anyway, this is a fascinating post and it made me think a lot! I think digging for themes in the word choices is very rewarding in carefully-crafted work like Hamilton. There's so little time to establish and and develop characters that every line has to serve both the scene and the overall character arcs.

From: (Anonymous)

I think another interesting thing about Eliza and Hamilton's last lines is the "rise up"/"wise up"/"eyes.up." falling into "Eliza". First he echoes the message of Act I, then the message he got from Phillip and Eliza in It's Quiet Uptown, and he ends with "eyes up" - on Burr - and only then does he say "Eliza". It's also interesting that his last lines in the soliloquy directed at himself are all upward-directed, but his last words in the show are directed towards Eliza, as if to echo their "that would be enough".
dhampyresa: (Default)

From: [personal profile] dhampyresa

Your Obedient Servant also has this nice exchange, for "stand":

Burr, your grievance is legitimate
I stand by what I said, every bit of it
You stand only for yourself
It’s what you do
I can’t apologize because it’s true

Then stand, Alexander
Weehawken. Dawn
Guns. Drawn
vass: A sepia-toned line-drawing of a man in naval uniform dancing a hornpipe, his crotch prominent (Default)

From: [personal profile] vass

"In the eye of the hurricane
There is quiet."

And then:

"It's quiet uptown."
kass: "let love be your engine," image of Kaylee and of Serenity (let love be your engine)

From: [personal profile] kass

Oh, thank you for this delicious meta. I am relatively late to this fandom and I am LOVING just how damn smart this play is, how meta and referential and intertextual and all of those good things. :-)
ceitfianna: (Tumnus)

From: [personal profile] ceitfianna

Your meta is amazing and is adding so much more to my enjoyment. This is why I did literature in college and research for a Classics' major just about three Pindar odes, so much in the words. Thank you for sharing all that's going on for you about this story.

I also want to find as many nonfiction about Hamilton and Burr as I can and read it.
umbo: B-24 bomber over Pacific (Default)

From: [personal profile] umbo

I never have a chance to really read these posts on the days you post them, but I am really loving everything you've been putting together on Hamilton (& Burr).

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