Though the recent Broadway hit musical “Hamilton” lasts only two and a half hours, as I watched the stage adaption of founding father Alexander Hamilton’s life, the narrative allowed me to reflect on my time as a Yale student thus far — an experience nearly two and a half years in the making.
The show uses hip-hop and rap to tell a modern American dramatized story of Alexander Hamilton, depicting the gentleman on our 10-dollar bill as a talented and ambitious orphan immigrant. The show’s creator and star, Lin-Manuel Miranda, also an honorary member of the Yale Dramat, uses lyrics to convey the image of the young Hamilton as “young, scrappy and hungry.” The audience watches as his thirst to prove himself frames his actions and decisions throughout the show.
But perhaps we as Yalies can glean a greater lesson from the story of two female leads: The Schuyler sisters, two daughters from an elite New York family that meet Hamilton as the Revolution begins in NYC. Angelica, the eldest, is sharp, quick-witted and fiercely entrancing — it is clear to the audience that she immediately matches wits with Hamilton. Of her younger sister, Eliza, Angelica sings that “you will never find anyone as trusting or as kind” as she is. The sisters meet Hamilton while out in Manhattan, and each is immediately taken with him. However, Angelica, aware of her obligation to marry rich, and of her shyer sister’s affections, introduces the two, prioritizing her sister’s feelings over her own.
As I watched the story unfold, I found myself disappointed in the pairing of Eliza and Alexander. When he married Eliza, a woman initially characterized as “helpless” to his charm, I was confused. Here was this clever, ambitious young man, fervently repeating, “I am not throwing away my shot,” and yet, he appeared to be settling in marriage. How could he end up with someone so simple? While Eliza may be inherently good-hearted, she appeared unadorned. Being “good” didn’t feel like enough, and in marrying Eliza, it seemed as though Hamilton was gaining the Schuyler family name, prestigious in its day, but throwing away his chance at something more meaningful.
As a Yalie in the audience, the refrain “not throwing away my shot” struck home — and not just because of the percussive rhythm. The idea of wasting our time here, of throwing away the opportunities presented to us, feels shameful. In order to avoid doing so, we often feel pressured to drive ourselves to the brink of exhaustion. In one memorable song, “Non-Stop,” the cast repeats the refrain to Hamilton: “Why do you write like you’re running out of time?” This is a question that could just as easily be posed to Yalies — because we, too, struggle to see “good” as “good enough.”
And so, Eliza’s “good” seems a disappointing match for Alexander’s ambition. In response to Hamilton’s dismay at being sent away from Washington’s side during the Revolutionary War, Eliza assures him that, for her, being his wife is more than enough. Regardless of money or legacy — two things Hamilton clearly craves — she claims the simplicity of family could be enough. Yet it isn’t — at least not for him.
And the idea of a simple life doesn’t seem to be enough for most Yalies, either. To end up anywhere other than New York, D.C. or San Francisco in anything but a prestigious role is almost taboo. To have an end goal of just a house, a family and perhaps a dog seems a failure in itself. We crave markers of success, or a world-changing legacy. Thus, as Yale students, we dismiss ideas of simplicity just as the audience dismisses Eliza.
How dare she ask him to be happy with just a family? Angelica, the older sister, seemed to better understand his ambitions, his importance in the scheme of the world’s greater good — how dare Eliza ask him to settle for nothing more than happiness?
This is precisely what we spend four years grappling with here on campus: the belief that anything less than a six-figure paycheck, Nobel Prize or a competitive fellowship can be only a consolation prize. Certainly happiness, alone, is not a goal worth striving for; rather, it is something for which some of us will merely have to settle.
Back in the Richard Rodgers Theatre, I noted a remarkable shift as the show begins to close: Eliza’s simplicity has become her strength. The fortitude of Eliza’s character is revealed as she gracefully handles her husband’s role in the nation’s first political sex scandal, grieves her son’s premature death and finally remains strong following Hamilton’s famed final duel. In the wake of her husband’s death, Eliza spends the following half century fundraising for the Washington Monument, protesting slavery and starting New York City’s first private orphanage.
Passionately, and simply, Eliza Schuyler changed the world after all.
And so, we realize: maybe Eliza had been enough. It doesn’t take the lights and the stage for Hamilton’s message to ring true for Yale. Maybe ambition, wit and a thirst to leave a legacy aren’t the sole indicators of one’s potential. Maybe goodness, simplicity and happiness aren’t ideals we can only settle for.
And maybe it shouldn’t take us the entire show to figure that out.
Laurel Lehman is a junior in Trumbull College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .