I had the good fortune last night of sitting in the third row to see Hamilton, Lin Manuel Miranda’s crowning hip-hop opera detailing the life of founding father Alexander Hamilton.
I’d listened to the show a few times and enjoyed the virtuosity of the lyrics and the cleverness of casting complex issues of revolutionary history, like the foundation of the American banking system, into amusing, trash-talking, over-the-top rap battles.
But seeing the show captured what listening to it could not, the moving emotional arc of Hamilton’s story, from obscurity to an early grave, with all the prizes and penalties of life in between.
His life had that quality of drama and scope which seems so often to apply to figures from the long 19th Century. He knew poverty, wealth, fame, peace, war, love, sex, illness, health, ugliness, and beauty. He was an orphan, a soldier, a lawyer, banker, high government official, husband, father, rake, grandee, and, above all, a writer. At every moment in his life, he wrote his way forward, out, and up. His words, like the lyrics that Lin Manuel drew forth from the story of his life, were armor and incantation, a means of analysis and redemption. He made a career and a new nation from them.
The three hours of the show are like a Greek mass I once heard sung continuously from the light of dawn until well into the morning. At the end of the performance, the language and the power of language entranced me.
Love and thanks to Bevan Thomas and my parents for the tickets, and for finally getting me out of my office and into the room where it happens.