‘Hamilton’ and the Great American Romance: Act 2

In our last installment of “Hamilton and the Great American Romance,” we met most of the leads we needed to know for the romance. The Schuyler Sisters realized that the American revolution was coming and what that meant for their lives and their homeland. Eliza Schuyler and young upstart soldier Alexander Hamilton met, courted, and were married in relatively rapid succession. Unbeknownst to them, however, Eliza’s brilliant sister, Angelica, was also in love with Alexander, though she was determined to bow out in support of her sister’s love.

But Hamilton is not primarily a romance, but a fairly sweeping re-contextualization of Hamilton’s life. And, of course, a relationship is, to some degree, work – work that does not end with marriage. Alexander and Eliza are married, but they also barely know each other. Where do they go from here?

Act Two

If you’re Alexander Hamilton… you go drinking with your friends.

The reprise of “The Story of Tonight,” is largely inconsequential, a goof on the solemnity of the previous song. There, they were commemorating the meeting of four people who would become heroes of the American Revolutionary War; here, they are drunkenly teasing Hamilton on the loss of his freedom. While this is a more modern way of looking at marriage than what probably existed at the time, it fits with and expands upon what we know about Hamilton: He’s a tomcat, a ladies’ man who is constantly pushing boundaries. Which… of course, in many ways, marriage is. It’s a restriction on a man who didn’t find many rules he wasn’t content to break and reshape.

But he was also a soldier. In “Stay Alive,” we see Hamilton return to the front to a George Washington struggling to come to terms with the weakened morale and congressional support, but Hamilton quickly gets embroiled in a feud that nearly takes the life of another American general, and he’s dismissed as Washington’s right hand man and sent him. Little did we know…

When I discuss the romance of Hamilton and its five act structure, I am building those acts on the back of five vital songs, often songs that provide intimate and important glimpses into the minds of Eliza and Alexander. “That Would Be Enough,” like “Helpless,” is one of those songs.

In “That Would Be Enough,” Eliza pleads with Alexander, hearkening back to her time with Angelica in “The Schuyler Sisters”:

Look around, look around at how lucky we are
To be alive right now

But where Angelica meant it to be hopeful, Eliza means it as a warning: If you go back, you may die. You are lucky to be alive right now.

But this also helps set up a vital theme for Eliza’s character, one that we got an impression of in “Helpless” but that Lin-Manuel Miranda and Phillipa Soo reinforce here. Let me present you with a smattering of Eliza’s lyrics here:

I relish being your wife
Look around, look around…

Look at where you are
Look at where you started
The fact that you’re alive is a miracle
Just stay alive, that would be enough

And if this child
Shares a fraction of your smile
Or a fragment of your mind, look out world!
That would be enough

… and…

So long as you come home at the end of the day
That would be enough

… and…

Oh, let me be a part of the narrative
In the story they will write someday
Let this moment be the first chapter:
Where you decide to stay
And I could be enough
And we could be enough
That would be enough

Eliza is, in fact, helpless. Not literally, of course; she is a smart, politically active woman capable of running her own home and doing it well. But she’s also passive. Her husband, her child — that’s enough for her. She doesn’t need money, she doesn’t need fame, she just needs the people she loves to stay safe and to be content with her love. She sees herself as we see her, a supporting character in the story of her husband. She wants to be, not to do.

Alexander, we’ve seen over and over, is a do-er. What’s his oft-repeated line from earlier in the show? “There’s a million things I haven’t done. Just you wait.” There is a fundamental break between what Eliza wants and what Alexander wants, one that plays off of our expected gender roles, certainly, but as we’ll see it never quite goes in the direction we think it will.

Of course, Alexander returns to the war, leaving his pregnant wife behind. But now he realizes he has something to lose; gone is the carefree hellraiser of the earlier songs. Now, Hamilton has a wife and son, responsibilities that call him home. He’s not alone in that.

“Dear Theodosia” gives us a chance to learn more about narrator and rival Aaron Burr’s home life, comparing it to Alexander’s, as Burr’s daughter, Theodosia, and Hamilton’s son, Philip, are both born, life-changing experiences for both men. These are some of the only moments in the show when Hamilton and Burr are in completely agreement, when both men understand who they are and what they stand for.

In a way, for a moment, domestic life is enough. But only for a moment.

Then we come to “Non-Stop,” the song that closes out Hamilton‘s first act and the second major section of the Alexander/Eliza/Angelica story. In it, we learn that Angelica has married and is leaving the country, pining for Alexander but moving on with her life. But Eliza is still grappling with Alexander’s ambition, realizing now that even after the war, he’s going to want to keep pushing, to keep moving forward, to keep challenging those in power and grabbing at his own opportunities for advancement:

Look at where you are
Look at where you started
The fact that you’re alive is a miracle
Just stay alive, that would be enough
And if your wife could share a fraction of your time
If I could grant you peace of mind
Would that be enough?

In many ways, Act Two of Hamilton‘s relationship drama is much more in line with what we’ve come to expect from a ‘stock romantic subplot’. Except, well… it’s Act Two. Eliza and Angelica are fully fleshed-out characters with their own agendas and interests, and while the passivity of the female characters- and, in “The Story of Tonight (Reprise)”, bro-iness of the men – was initially worrying me right around now in my first listen-through, later listens clarified the segment for me. If the first introduces the characters, the scenario, and the world, this set of songs introduces many of the core conflicts that would complicate those relationships: Eliza’s passivity against Hamilton’s ambition, Burr’s personal life compared to Hamilton’s, Angelica’s departure and the loss of support for both Eliza and Alexander.

Most stock romantic subplots start AND stop right around here. She’s a nag, he’s an adventurer, he gets shit done, and she eventually comes to accept it, often by being forced to tag along and see how he was ‘right’. Whew, patriarchy safely reestablished! But we’ve already seen that there’s more to Eliza than this type of character typically has, and we know that her and Alexander’s story is less than half over at this point.

So now we have the relationships in place and the complications set up. Join us in a couple weeks for Act Three, when things start to turn on our lovers…

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