There are going to be two crucial duels near the end, first the one that kills Philip Hamilton, Alexander Hamilton’s son, and then the Burr-Hamilton duel. So before we get to that point, we need to know how they work. “Ten Duel Commandments” explains (more or less), while also foreshadowing the Philip Hamilton duel by, in effect, putting him into this one: Anthony Ramos, who plays John Laurens, will play Philip Hamilton also. And this song provides the structure by which Burr will tell us (his version of) what happened in the final duel. Miranda fabricates symmetry to make this an even more pointed preview of the Burr-Hamilton showdown; in reality, Hamilton and Burr were not both seconds in the Laurens-Lee duel (Hamilton really was Laurens’s second, but Burr was not Lee’s).

So what was Hamilton saying when he counseled, “Laurens, do not throw away your shot”? At that moment it seemed like he might be saying, “Don’t throw away your life on a point of pride”–but now here he is, Laurens’s second, and doing nothing to dissuade him, or Lee, from going forward with it. So maybe he is saying, literally, shoot to kill (or at least wound; duels were over when one party yielded). Why does he advise Laurens to shoot, but later tells Philip to fire in the air, and makes the same decision in his own duel? I’d love to know what you think.

I said earlier that Miranda does not hammer home a message about the ethics of dueling. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have one. Of the loads of hip-hop references in the musical (thanks for the link, Madeleine!), this is the one whose title is lifted straight out of rap: “Ten Crack Commandments,” by Biggie Smalls. Is Miranda saying that dueling, like dealing crack, is immoral and illegal? Probably.

He also thinks it’s “dumb and immature,” if we’re to agree with both Burr, who says it, and Hamilton, who assents. And then we see them do it anyway, in a game of dare-me that would make ten-year-olds on a playground look like moral giants. At first, Burr tries to rise above it.

Burr: Alexander

Hamilton: Aaron Burr, sir

(See what I mean about Burr being more friendly, while Hamilton keeps him at arm’s length by using his full name or last name?)

Burr: Can we agree that duels are dumb and immature?

Hamilton: Sure
But your man has to answer for his words, Burr

Burr: With his life? We both know that’s absurd, sir

But when Hamilton comes back with a challenge, Burr immediately gives up on the negotiations.

Hamilton: Hang on, how many men died because Lee was inexperienced and ruinous?

Burr: Okay, so we’re doin’ this

So much for being smart and mature. Their “commandments,” like the crack dealer’s, are an ethic that doesn’t extend past the narrow boundaries of its deadly world.

George Washington is, once again, the resident grown-up. The other four men scramble to complete the ritual of surrender and satisfaction (“Lee, do you yield?” . . . “I’m satisfied”), while the man in charge strides up to impose order and a higher morality.

Washington: What is the meaning of this? Mr. Burr, get a medic for the general

Burr: Yes, sir

Washington: Lee, you will never agree with me
But believe me, these young men don’t speak for me
Thank you for your service

Thank you! To the man who’s tried to destroy his reputation and remove him from command! The Washington of Hamilton is a class act.

And then Hamilton’s in trouble. (“Meet me inside” is another rap reference, echoing the  rhythm of “Meet me outside” near the end of DMX’s “Party Up [Up In Here].”) Washington tries a similar line to his earlier “Don’t do a thing. History will prove him wrong,” but Hamilton’s blood is up, and what feels like an old resentment spills over:

Washington: My name’s been through a lot, I can take it

Hamilton: Well, I don’t have your name
I don’t have your titles
I don’t have your land
But, if you

Washington: No

Hamilton: If you gave me command of a battalion, a group of men to lead, I could fly above my station after the war.

It’s a painful moment of class division. To climb the social ladder, Hamilton needs a command, which only Washington can grant. He has to work his way up to a status that “His Excellency” has always securely possessed, simply by being born to it. No wonder he rejects Washington’s conciliatory, or condescending, “son,” losing his temper entirely the third time:

Washington: Your wife needs you alive, son, I need you alive

Hamilton: Call me son one more time!

He knows he’s gone too far when Washington orders him home (his voice half-falters on his response, which is not an assent: “Sir”), but as soon as the next song begins, we realize Washington isn’t only punishing him.