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!

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Beware the leader who bangs the drums of war in order to whip the citizenry into a patriotic fervor, for patriotism is indeed a double-edged sword. It both emboldens the blood, just as it narrows the mind.

I wonder if somebody confused “drums of war” for “dogs of war” when they attributed this quote to Julius Caesar?  Nothing about this quote shows up in the play, of course. I suppose there’s at least some possibility that it appears in actual Caesar’s actual writings, since I’m not an expert in those.  But others before me have researched this question and apparently nope, not real Caesar either.  This quote doesn’t appear to exist before 2001.

For more details I’ll let the About.com Urban Legends page have the last word:

It’s odd, to say the least, to find a passage attributed to Julius Caesar (born 100 B.C., died 44 B.C.) that never appeared anywhere in print before 2001. It’s equally odd that while the quotation is cited in dozens of Internet discussions concerning post-9/11 political developments, it never turns up in any articles or books about Julius Caesar himself. If it’s to be found among his own writings, no one has yet been able to pinpoint where.

I also think it’s funny that we get to credit a specific person for incorrectly assigning this one to Shakespeare — Barbra Streisand!?  Quick, what’s the difference between Barbra Streisand and every quote-collecting message board on the Internet?  Streisand acknowledged she was wrong.

 

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Shakespeare Geek’s Top 10 Shakespeare Plays

Over the years I’ve seen many Shakespeare lists.  Instead of linking to yet another one I thought it would be fun to combine several and come up with my own, the Shakespeare Geek Top 10.  This is not my opinion, this is the mathematical analysis (according to my own algorithm :)) from a variety of places, some here and some elsewhere, that people have voted on a general “top 10” for Shakespeare’s plays.

How you define “best” is up to you and I fully expect that people use different scales all the time.  That’s why I’m looking at it statistically – if most people pick Dream as the best play, then does it really matter why they think they picked it?

Ready?

#10. The Tempest.   Maybe it’s the fascination with “Shakespeare’s last play”, maybe the fairy tale, happy ending nature of the story (I know it’s the latter that gets my vote), but I’m happy to see one of my favorites just make the top 10.
#9. Julius Caesar.  I appreciate that this is one of the great tragedies that most of us will read in high school, but I was surprised at the showing it made.  I don’t understand.  If the Twilight lady announced that she was filming a new version of Julius Caesar I’d bet you can hear the crickets chirp.

#8. A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  I know there are folks out there who will put Dream up against Hamlet as one of the best, and I have to concur.  I’ve ranted at times that I get sick of seeing it, but really, as I called it the other week after seeing a production, it’s “pretty near perfect on the page.”

#7. Richard III.  I’m not familiar enough with this one to have cast a vote on it.  Tell me why you love it?  Just the evilness of the title character, or something more?

#6. Henry V.  Do we all love it because of the Crispin’s Day speech and the Muse of Fire, or is there more to it?

#5. Romeo and Juliet.  Now we get into some of the more obvious ones, will there be any surprises in the top 5? Does Romeo and Juliet deserve a spot this high or is it just because we’re all so familiar with this high school favorite?

#4. Othello.  I’ve seen many people speak of Othello as one of the great underrated tragedies, and I have to agree.  When you really take the time to dig into it, it’s far better than the more shallow analysis might suggest.

#3. Macbeth. Glad to see the Scottish play fare so well, it’s one of my top choices.

…and the big question *still* not answered:

#1 King Lear and Hamlet
We have a statistical tie for the #1 spot with Hamlet and King Lear both getting the exact same score!  (That just means I need more data, hint hint hint.)

Disclaimer : Only 7 of my top 10 made the final list, so I’m not skewing the results to my own personal choices.

I can’t say there are many surprises.  If I pulled it out to a top 15 we’d start to see some of the popular comedies, As You Like It, Much Ado About Nothing, Twelfth Night … but at some point I run out of numbers to make a meaningful argument, too.

Disagree?  Make your own top 10 and post it in the comments!  I’d love to keep my statistics up to date and have a true and accurate top 10 list, as defined by the audience of Shakespeare geeks as a whole and not just one person’s personal opinion.  I may have even added you already, if you’ve made a list. Who knows? 🙂

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