What is Hamilton’s Tragic Flaw?

They Think Me Macbeth Hamilton Shakespeare T-ShirtYou don’t need to have seen the megahit musical Hamilton to have at least a pretty good idea of the plot.  The soundtrack is practically the script.  Plus, nobody can stop talking and writing about it from every conceivable angle.  I suppose if you don’t count yourself familiar with the play, this post has some spoilers, so be warned.

I’ve been wondering about how it stands up as a tragedy.  We know from the very beginning “See this guy, our hero?  Yeah, he dies.”  Just like Romeo and Juliet.  I don’t mean that like, “We’re all supposed to know the real story, like Julius Caesar,” I mean, “He says it right in the prologue, like Romeo and Juliet.”  In the opening number, Aaron Burr says “I’m the damned fool that shot him.”

So if we’re going to treat it like a tragedy, the next question is what Hamilton’s tragic flaw might be?  I think we could discuss this all day.  His honesty? His failure to play the political games (something that, from the beginning, people more experienced have warned will get him killed)?  His workaholism? (Is that a word?)  His fear that he was going to “run out of time”?

If I dust off my high school memories of A.C. Bradley, isn’t there something about the tragic flaw directly leading to a decision that sets events in motion that ultimately lead to the death of the tragic hero?

Can we pinpoint the event in Hamilton?  I wonder if it’s his decision to go off with Maria Reynolds (which sets about the Reynolds Pamphlet, his marriage troubles, his son’s demise, etc…) but (a) I’m not sure what “tragic flaw” of his led to that decision, and (b) I’m not sure what it has to do with Aaron Burr.

Working backwards, I think Burr is ultimately pushed over the edge by Hamilton’s endorsement of Jefferson, a man who he acknowledges he’s in complete disagreement with politically.  So then is he more of a reverse Brutus character?  Focused solely on what’s right for the people and the big picture, and missing the machinations of those forces surrounding him? Rather than “I generally like you but I’ve become convinced you’re bad for the people so you’ve got to go” we’ve got “I don’t particularly like you but I think you’d be a better choice than the other guy”?

Mostly I just wanted something to talk about, and Hamilton’s more interesting than Pokemon Go :).  If you’ve got any other Shakespeare comparisons you want to make, feel free in the comments!

2 thoughts on “What is Hamilton’s Tragic Flaw?

  1. Hamilton’s tragic flaw would be that of his arrogance or his search for a legacy. I would prefer the latter more, since many of his tragics, like Reynold’s pamphlet and accepting the duel, even letting his shot go, were caused by his search for a legacy.
    Hamilton is like Icarus, who had “flown too close to the sun”, arrogant and wanting to complete something impossible.

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