Watching the Hamilton juggernaut that was the Tony awards last week, I felt a certain sympathy for those nominated for other musicals. Kind of like East Dakota State University at North Podunk earning the first NCAA basketball berth in the school’s history– only to play Kansas in the first round. I bet many of the other nominated actors were perfecting their “It’s an honor just to be nominated” face (through gritted teeth) in the mirror last week.
I’m not complaining about the record 16 nominations the show earned or its almost-record 11 wins. I’ve seen Hamilton twice, and it’s an amazing work of art–a high-energy recounting of the Alexander Hamilton story, told in large part thorough a hip-hop score. The show is so hot that a ticket costs roughly an average American’s monthly rent and is only slightly more available than an AB blood-type kidney. (Which, when I lived in NYC in the 80’s, you could probably actually buy in Times Square.) So I consider myself lucky to have jumped on the bandwagon before it really took off.
Where else will you see an afro’d Thomas Jefferson in purple velvet or a hysterical, pouting, Freddie Mercury-esque King George? And if you had told me that I’d see people googling The Federalist Papers during a Broadway intermission, I’d have said you were crazy. But as Amy Schisler wrote , life lessons abound on Broadway and Hamilton is no exception. Beyond the history, the politics and the laughs, the Hamilton story ultimately shows how marital and familial mercy are the heart of life, despite our accomplishments.
From the outset, Hamilton is the “$10 founding father” who, driven in large part by the stigma and trauma of illegitimate birth and early orphanhood, burns through life. He “writes like he’s running out of time”and works freneticly to ensure that “the world’s gonna know your name”. His wife Eliza is his calm, and they share a love and respect that he never knew as a young man. She was his “best of wives and best of women.”
But despite his love for Eliza, in the summer of 1791, while she was away, he succumbed to the temptation of a certain Maria Reynolds. There is some evidence that Hamilton was set up, as Maria initiated the affair after pleading with him to help her, a penniless woman deserted by her husband. However, Hamilton was a willing participant and continued the affair throughout the summer. Maria Reynolds was NOT abandoned by her husband, rather Mr. Reynolds used the affair to blackmail Hamilton.
Hamilton handled the scandal uniquely for a politician today, but in a way familiar to Catholics–he confessed. And he confessed in a public way, publishing a document that became known as the Reynolds Pamphlet. Hamilton was ruined and Eliza was publicly humiliated. When Angelica, Eliza’s sister who loved Hamilton from afar for years, confronts him about his betrayal, she utters the ultimate line of mercy. “I will put her happiness above my own.”
Eliza could have held onto her (justified) anger and lived out their marriage in silence. She could have moved back to Albany with her parents. But she didn’t. She chose to forgive Hamilton, to show him mercy.
They moved uptown, and soon after lost their oldest son in a duel, a cruel foreshadowing of Hamilton’s own death. The song, “It’s Quiet Uptown” is a beautiful reflection on the mercy inherent in a decades-long marriage. Even without adultery or the loss of child, every marriage has its scars, its painful moments. It’s in forgiveness, in putting our spouse’s happiness above our own, that we share the love of God’s mercy.
Look at where we are Look at where we started
I know I don’t deserve you, Eliza
But hear me out. That would be enough
I don’t pretend to know
The challenges we’re facing
I know there’s no replacing what we’ve lost
And you need time
But I’m not afraid
I know who I married
Just let me stay here by your side
That would be enough
She takes his hand.
Forgiveness. Can you imagine?
If you see him in the street, walking by her
Side, talking by her side, have pity
They are going through the unimaginable
“It’s Quiet Uptown”, by Lin-Manuel Miranda from Hamilton
When we examine our lives, our consciences, we can let God work within us to heal our relationships. At the end of his life, Alexander Hamilton realized, even though the world DID know his name, it was his wife and his God that would sustain him, not worldly accomplishments.
As he lay dying, Hamilton requested communion and was absolved of his sins by the priest at Trinity Church. His last words were, “I have a tender reliance on the mercy of the Almighty, through the merits of the Lord Jesus Christ. I am a sinner; I look to Him for mercy. Pray for me.” Eliza’s love and forgiveness gave Hamilton the confidence to approach God in trust and humility, a powerful example of how our works of mercy mirror the love God has for us.
If you missed the Tonys check out this video of Carpool Karaoke featuring Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator and star of Hamilton: