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Hamilton: Muse, Wife, & Whore

Updated: Jul 8, 2020


Hamilton: An American Musical. A brilliant piece of writing that is not without its flaws...


I was lucky enough to have seen a touring company perform Hamilton here in Rochester in 2019 (courtesy of the Rochester Broadway Theatre League), after which I, like so many others, purchased the soundtrack to listen to on repeat. Last night my family and I watched the original-cast, film version on Disney+. Let me just start off by saying it's definitely worth watching (and if you don't have Disney+, you can sign up for a free trial to watch it!). Despite the things I'm about to point out that I took issue with, the things that they get right - which is a lot - they get VERY, very right. It lives up to, and maybe even exceeds, the hype.


At this point I think everyone knows enough about the show that I don't need to describe it, nor do I need to tell you what a smash hit it has been, with numerous awards, a seemingly-permanent spot on Broadway, two national touring companies, and residencies in Chicago and London. That's five companies performing the show basically year 'round. I'm just saying. It's, like, kind of a big deal.


BUT. But...


Obviously, this show made its name giving diverse actors and singers a huge stage (literally and figuratively) on which to shine. Hamilton presents history in a different light by casting a racially and ethnically diverse set of performers to dramatize the founding (and founders) of this country through a mix of hip-hop, rap, R&B, and a few nods to traditional musical theatre show tunes.


It is "America then, as told by America now," so they say. Just don’t go looking for anything approaching a contemporary look at gender diversity and equality.


Listen, I get that no single show/song/book/whatever can ever be all things to all people. And don't get me wrong - I do LOVE this show. But truthfully? When I listen to the soundtrack I skip over every single song involving the main female cast members. And it's certainly not because they are inferior singers (not at all). It's because every song involving the women characters is so cringeworthy, and, honestly, a little sad. Because WHY are the women pigeonholed into the same, age-old, misogynistic tropes of muse, wife (or mother, Madonna, martyred widow), and whore?


Muse: Angelica Schuyler, to be used for her intelligence, an emotional and artistic sounding board, the woman he would marry/sleep with if that didn't "ruin" her as the idealized, up-on-a-pedestal woman. She has a mind of her own, but it is only useful when it's helping to fuel the true genius of the man for whom she serves as muse.


Wife/Martyred Widow: Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, the dutiful and ever-suffering, the child-bearer and home-maker, to whom he is beholden because she serves as backbone and moral compass of the family. She takes him back after he cheats (of course she takes him back, what else would she do with her life) and spends her widowhood carefully crafting his legacy.


Whore: Maria Reynolds, the seductress, the fallen woman, the one to blame, who somehow overpowers a fully functioning adult with her wanton ways to coerce him into sex - not once, but for four months (and who may actually just be a vulnerable child looking for monetary help to escape domestic abuse, as brilliantly satirized by comedian Katherine Ryan).


(Side note: In his confession, he claims to "effectually wipe away a more serious stain from a name" by disproving the accusation that he embezzled money. Got that? The more serious stain to his name is that he cheated his beloved government, not that he cheated on his wife.)


I've seen the argument that the depiction of women is "reflective of the times" (the 1700s), and sure, I guess. But isn't the whole idea to reflect our times? I mean, Hamilton, Jefferson, Madison, Washington, etc. were not BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color). And I'm willing to bet they also weren't expert dancers, singers, and rappers! That's the point - a contemporary take on a centuries-old story. So, the argument is that in Hamilton, liberties are taken regarding the race and ethnicity of all of the major players (as well as certain provable facts of history), but NOT regarding the depiction of women? Nope. Not buying it.


Last night as I watched the show I found myself wishing it had just chosen a lane... Stick to all of the "fun" men having their wars and rap battles, and their drunken nights leering at women - all of which is entertaining and in character - and leave out the attempt at a nod to female strength, because it doesn't work. As I said at the outset, what Hamilton gets right it gets SO right. Daveed Diggs as the Marquis de Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson is truly hysterical, Leslie Odom Jr. and Christopher Jackson as Aaron Burr and George Washington, respectively, carry the show with their beautiful voices, and I love "Oak" Onaodowan's physical comedy along with his barrel-chested, deep voice as Hercules Mulligan/James Madison. And I can't even explain the perfection that is Jonathan Groff's facial expressions (and foaming at the mouth!) as King George III.


BUT. But...


I just wish that Lin-Manuel Miranda's innovative writing traveled a little further, and encompassed more people. I think it's also worth noting that all the gender roles are entirely heteronormative (with the possible exception of King George III, who might be viewed as a stereotypically flamboyant and effeminate gay man).


I don't mean to take anything away from this incredibly original, clever, and important piece of popular culture, which showcases new representation for people of color in American history. But the conversation doesn't end there. I'm tired of seeing BIPOC in "traditionally BIPOC" roles just as much as I'm tired of seeing women in "traditionally female" roles, and all people in traditional heteronormative roles. Representation matters. I don't think Hamilton gets a full pass for going only partway.

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