Burr’s very first line in real time (as opposed to narrating the story after the fact) constitutes one of the best and also most retrospectively hilarious examples I’ve ever seen of a person’s entire character summed up in one line:

HAMILTON:
Pardon me, are you Aaron Burr, sir?

BURR:
That depends, who's asking?

The man won’t even commit to his own name without testing first to see how it will be received: the ultimate weathervane.

That scene and the introduction of the revolutionaries which follows is a great example of introducing people in a brief lyric that sums up the essentials of their character, which is often a good thing to do in a story with a large cast. You can give them more complexity later. Right now, the audience just needs to remember who they are and get a general sense of what they’re about.

Other than Hamilton himself, who got a lengthy introductory song, every else’s intros in the first number went by very quickly and without identifying them by name; they only become meaningful in retrospect, when you find out that the man who said, “I trusted him” was George Washington.

The doubling of Act I/Act II characters, which I didn’t even notice on my first listen until Jefferson started rapping and I suddenly realized that it was the same guy as Lafayette, makes their one-line intro work for both characters. Mulligan/Madison and Lafayette/Jefferson’s “We fought with him” is a play on double meanings: they fought beside Hamilton in Act I and against him in Act II. That must be so heartbreaking onstage to actually see the band of brothers become enemies. Not to mention Laurens/Philip’s “I died for him.” (If I was LMM, I would have made more of Laurens’ death. Maybe he does more with it onstage?)

The revolutionaries announce themselves 80s rap style, which was an era with a lot of songs that summed up as “I’m So-And-So, and I’m super awesome!” (Also lots of political songs, but Miranda seems to be specifically parodying the “Yo, I’m badass and get all the chicks” subgenre.) What’s funnier in retrospect is that Laurens and Lafayette evolve their own styles after that, but Mulligan stays in that style all the way through. When he makes his surprise re-entrance later, it’s with this:

Hercules Mulligan, I need no introduction!
You knock me down, I get the fuck back up again!

His lyrics are way simpler and more straightforward than those of other characters at that point in the play. There’s no alliteration, minimal internal rhyming, and the rhyming isn’t particularly clever: Mulligan/introduction/again is an unimpressive rhyme compared to, say, destitute/restitution or any of the endlessly inventive and funny “Burr, sir” rhymes (of which my personal favorite is “You punched the bursar?”) The vocabulary is very simple. The only exception is “covenant,” but most characters in the play use a lot of very sophisticated vocabulary, not just one medium-difficult word. Compare to a completely typical Hamilton line a few songs back, in this case from Washington: We rendezvous with Rochambeau/Consolidate their gifts. Rhythmically, Mulligan’s delivery lacks the jaw-dropping speed of Lafayette (which indicates both Lafayette’s quicksilver intelligence and his fighting style that leaves the enemy reeling.)

In short, Mulligan’s musical and lyrical style is basic, but in the literal rather than insulting sense— so basic that it wraps around and becomes totally awesome. In case it’s not clear, I love him. He’s one of my favorite characters in the entire play. Also a great example of making a huge impression in a smallish role. (Though it does match oddly with his actual role in the Revolution, which is being the undercover man. Mulligan’s entire character is about “what you see is what you get,” which is the opposite of what you want in a spy. Since we never actually see or get any musical/lyrical indication that Mulligan can be anything but HERCULES MULLIGAN, it gives the impression that the Redcoats were really not paying attention.)

Mulligan’s style strikes me as both in-character and a musical joke about his type of rap and the era it came from. (Not all ‘80s rap was like that, of course, but the joke is about the part that was.) So many “I’m cool! You’re a fool!” songs. SO MANY. Blasting from boom-boxes. Blaring from car radios with the windows rolled down. Teenagers performing absolutely terrible songs they wrote themselves, complete with hand gestures that are now only used in parodies. If you were there, you remember. And also, you probably had horrific hair.

Back to the character intros! All the revolutionaries are in “Yo, I’m So-and-So and here’s why I’m cool” mode, but they also say specific things which imply a lot about themselves in a very few words:

Laurens:
Those redcoats don’t want it with me!
‘Cuz I will pop-chick-a-pop those cops till I’m free.

Laurens, the abolitionist, talks about freedom. He also mentions fighting cops, which suggests political radicalism. (Uh. I assume that means “fighting.”) It’s also a very dangerous thing to do, especially for a black man. So it foreshadows his death, most likely by gunfire. (So does “Fools who shoot their mouths off wind up dead.”)

Lafayette:
Ah oui, oui, mon ami, je m'appelle Lafayette.

Key facts about Lafayette: 1) He’s French. (There may be a nod to Les Miserables’ Les Amis in the “mon ami”):

Lafayette:
The Lancelot of the revolutionary set.

2) He’s effortlessly and genuinely the coolest person in the room, even when he hasn’t quite got the hang of English, and also a great warrior: Lancelot, the larger-than-life hero:

And then we have Hercules Mulligan:

Braaaah! Braaaah! I am Hercules Mulligan!
Up in it, lovin’ it!

Yep. That’s HERCULES MULLIGAN! Say no more.

And then a reiteration of Burr and Hamilton’s philosophies:

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

One of the things that makes this musical endlessly re-listenable is how packed almost every line is.

First, the line is a play on a proverb, “Those who stand for nothing fall for anything.” When I looked it up, I found that it’s of uncertain lineage… but has been attributed to the historic Hamilton. (If there is one way that Alexander Hamilton is like Yogi Berra, it’s that if some phrase of an unknown origin sounds like something he might have said, it’s liable to be attributed to him.)

Burr may stand for nothing, but Hamilton falls in the duel. But Burr falls too: standing for nothing is the basis for his clash with Hamilton, which destroys Burr too.

There’s also two interesting plays on phrases. “Stand for nothing” is reminiscent of “stop at nothing:” ruthless, especially in pursuit of a goal. That certainly applies to both men, and is exactly what leads to their mutual destruction.

“Fall for” can mean “be fooled,” as in the proverb. The direct cause of the duel was Burr’s belief that Hamilton was saying unspecified bad things about him. It’s possible that someone either lied to Burr about that, or it was true but someone deliberately informed him in the hope of engineering some sort of fight that would damage or destroy one or both men, either out of personal enmity or hope of political gain. I don’t recall this being implied in the play, but historically, I think it was a possibility. Those guys both had plenty of rivals and personal enemies apart from each other, so it’s possible.

If someone did lie to or manipulate him, Burr fell for it. The historic Hamilton certainly seemed baffled about what the hell Burr thought Hamilton was saying about him, and he normally didn’t hold back on his opinions. If he was saying insulting stuff, it would have been more in-character for him to admit it and pile on. I could imagine him saying something along the lines of, “I said a dead horse would make a better vice-President, because it’s true. That was in comparison to our current VP, who is a live jackass.” Instead, he basically said, “I don’t know what the fuck you think I’m saying about you, so I can’t repeat the details of your own fevered imagination. You’ve really lost it this time, Burr. Pistols at dawn.”

More commonly, “fall for” means “to love.” So who or what does Burr truly love? His mistress, Theodosia? His daughter, not yet conceived, who will motivate him to go ahead and take that final shot? Power, which drives the rivalry that takes both men down?

All that, in just ten words.
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