Hamilton's Main Character is Aaron Burr, by Rachel Foley
Unless you’re living in the same century that Lin Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton” is set in, I’m sure you’ve heard of the play. (If not, massive spoiler alert coming your way.) It’s a great vessel for absorbing some 16th and 17th century history with an emotional twist, and I highly recommend seeing the play (either LIVE or the Disney+ adaptation). This Broadway stunner is a time machine into the life story of Alexander Hamilton, the short-tempered, Protean creator of the coast guard (The Adams Administration). It’s a must-see musical (unless you hate musicals; in that case, please never speak to me again). The problem with it, however, is that Hamilton isn’t really the main character.
It’s Aaron Burr, the man he accidentally screwed out of the presidency and ultimately, the man who kills Hamilton.
Now, stay with me here, the title of the musical is “Hamilton,” as in, “Alexander Hamilton, Troops are waiting in the field for you, if you join us right now, together we can turn the tide.” But the entirety of the show is narrated by Aaron Burr. Even the private aspects of Hamilton’s life—when he had an affair and cheated on “his poor wife,” (The Reynolds Pamphlet) how he fought to cover up the affair, and how he saved his doomed legacy— and the duel between himself and Burr are all narrated almost entirely by Burr, which shows a lot about history and why some things just aren’t in textbooks. Besides the fact that Burr opens the musical, and that he is the first character you see walk on stage, he also opens the song Say No To This around the middle. This song describes the sequence of events where Hamilton totally slept with some random girl while his family was on vacation. The most pivotal line said by Burr in this song is “Alexander’s by himself, I’ll let him tell it.” This is a very private part of Hamilton’s life that had nothing to do with Burr, which definitely raised suspicion from the first time I’d seen the play. The only one onstage at this point is Hamilton, and then Burr comes on to open the song, only to leave 10 seconds later. This is definitely adding to a point for Burr as the play’s hero.
Hamilton’s downward spiral, beginning with him cheating on his wife, comes to a “helpless” conclusion when he fights in a duel against Aaron Burr. This duel is also entirely narrated by Burr, with Hamilton only being given his dying words at the end. Hamilton’s disposition and the details of the duel and its surroundings are all given through the eyes of Burr, who is obviously not very happy with Hamilton, and we even see him fall apart toward the end as the duel is beginning. He says, “Hamilton was wearing his glasses. Why? If not to take deadly aim… I had only one thought before the slaughter… This man will not make an orphan of my daughter.”
Here, Burr’s mention of his daughter, who was not relevant to the main story, serves to emphasize that Burr himself was an orphan and he would never wish this upon his children. When Hamilton gets his input, all he talks about is the legacy he will leave behind, a common theme in the play, the events of his life or his surroundings as Burr does, describing the environment in the song The World Was Wide Enough. We get very little of Hamilton’s point of view here. After Hamilton is dead, Burr continues to narrate. Burr even says, “They say Angelica and Eliza were both at his side when he died.” If Burr wasn’t the main character, it would be absolutely absurd for him to be narrating this section when Angelica or Eliza could provide some greater insight into the moment. The odds are really stacking up against Alexander as the main character.
Now, the big question: Why does Miranda decide to have Burr narrate this instead of Hamilton? And, really, it’s because Burr is relatable and Alexander kinda deserved what was coming to him. Miranda wanted to create sympathy for Burr as a character and make it so viewers could maybe understand why he killed Hamilton. Burr is an orphan chasing after a married woman. He consistently fails even though he seems to be doing everything right, and has to watch Hamilton succeed. It seems as though Burr’s “wait for it” mentality—not letting anyone know what he is thinking until he has to or until the situation is resolved—isn’t exactly the right way to go about it. Sure, Alexander didn’t mean to screw Burr over and lose him the presidency, but he definitely got what was coming to him. Alexander Hamilton is kind of an asshole.
Okay, so Burr is the main character, but this is pretty controversial. The entire purpose of Hamilton is that history classes never talk about him even though he did so many things, like getting out of the economy that was “increasingly stalling” and came up with the idea that won us the Revolutionary War in the long run. So, why isn’t he the one telling his story? Why do we not get to hear from him? Of course, this definitely adds another perspective that humanizes Hamilton and shows his importance among the other founding fathers. When you think about it, Hamilton was an immigrant, and to put it quite plainly, that’s why we don’t get to hear from him. As he says throughout the play, America is meant to be a place “where even orphan immigrants can leave their fingerprints and rise up.” While, yes, we get to hear from Lafayette, who is also an immigrant, Lafayette is white; Hamilton is from the Caribbean, which was owned by Spain, not Great Britain like France was. This is, yet again, a play that stuffs down the minority and lets the white people tell the story, similar to an argument made about Othello being racist
While this idea of Burr narrating is kind of racist, I don't think this is what Miranda meant to do at all. Most likely, this was just to give more perspectives about Hamilton and emphasize his importance to the people around him. The original cast has many minorities playing people that were historically white and even puts an emphasis on ending slavery. Eliza speaks out against slavery after her husband’s death and John Laurens dreams of leading the first “black battalion.” However, this is still an overarching issue that I can’t stop thinking about when I’m watching. It’s a little discomforting when there is such a huge opportunity to give Hamilton the credit he never got, the credit he deserves.