Hamilton: The Revolution is an amalgam of revolutions: the play, the story of how the play came about, and the book itself. Apparently, a hip-hop musical is a revolutionary thought (made perfect sense to me, but I’m about the same age as Lin-Manuel Miranda). This play, which won the Pulitzer, tells the story of an orphan from the Caribbean who became one of the founding fathers of the United States. Miranda read Ron Chernow’s biography about Alexander Hamilton and decided he needed to turn the story into…something.
As the introduction notes: “Just as Hamilton is the prototype of the immigrant striver (hard-working, ambitious, desperate to prove himself), he is also the model New Yorker: opinionated, hyper-verbal, always on the make. It’s no wonder that John Adams, who despised Hamilton, also despised the town and its citizens: “They talk very loud, very fast, and all together,” he complained before retreating to Massachusetts. Nor is it a surprise that hip-hop, which took root in Hamilton’s city like an orchid in a swamp, suits his life so well.”
The physical book presents a beautiful pastiche. There is the play itself, with all the lyrics footnoted, so we can see Miranda’s thoughts, allusions, and inside jokes. Then there are stories every other page or so of all the people who came together to help make this real. We read about Paul Tazewell, who did the costumes, Christopher Jackson, who played George Washington, and even stories about how Miranda played the first song of the play for the current president. It is a story of an artist, a man who believed in a project and the people who believed in him. This play with all the accompanying stories was a testament to what our country is and what it can be: a beautiful collaboration by diverse people creating something beautiful and moving.
Of course, there are many reasons this play is amazing. One of them is the deep literary value it holds as well as the ambiguity it embraces: “Hamlet dwarfs Hamilton–it dwarfs pretty much everything–but there’s a revealing similarity between them. Shakespeare’s longest play leaves its audience in the dark about some basic and seemingly crucial facts. It’s not as if the Bard forgot, in the course of all those words, to tell us whether Hamlet was crazy or only pretending: He wanted us to wonder. He forces us to work on a puzzle that has no definite answer. And this mysteriousness is one reason why we find the play irresistible.”
Although it is unlikely I’ll get to see this on Broadway any time in the next century, as it is sold out for the unforeseeable future, I could see bringing this in to the classroom in a multitude of ways–to pair with other texts, as a text all on its own, or just excerpts or songs. Whether you’re an English teacher or a Social Studies teacher, or just someone who likes good stories, check out this book. Also, we’ll have one copy of Hamilton: The Revolution to give away at our conference in October in State College, so sign up to attend now!