I have read elsewhere that the British general Cornwallis ordered his soldiers to sing “The World Turned Upside Down” after their surrender; Sarah Vowell says it’s apocryphal (Lafayette in the (Somewhat) United States). But historical accuracy be damned. It’s perfect. You feel it, how long the odds were, how earthshaking it is that “a ragtag volunteer army in need of a shower / Somehow defeat[ed] a global superpower” (“Guns and Ships”). It was absurd to think we could win. But we won.

A Facebook friend-of-a-friend dismissed Hamilton on the grounds that no one leaves the theater humming the tunes after a hip hop musical. I guess he would think I was unbalanced if I said that I’ve woken in the morning with this running unstoppably through my brain:

Take the bullets out your gun! (What?)
The bullets out your gun! (What?)
We move under cover and we move as one
Through the night, we have one shot to live another day
We cannot let a stray gunshot give us away
We will fight up close, seize the moment and stay in it
It’s either that or meet the business end of a bayonet
The code word is ‘Rochambeau,’ dig me? (Rochambeau!)
You have your orders now, go, man, go!

Alexander Hamilton’s part in the battle really was crucial, and it was fought the way it’s described here: an advance up the hill to a siege and hand-to-hand combat. It was incredibly dangerous, and it’s moving (following up on my reflections on “That Would Be Enough”) that Hamilton really wants to survive now. He is so close to death, and his old imaginings are with him again (“This is where it gets me: on my feet /
The enemy ahead of me”), and he’s all right with it (“If this is the end of me, at least I have a friend with me / Weapon in my hand, in command, and my men with me”) until:

Then I remember my Eliza’s expecting me…
Not only that, my Eliza’s expecting
We gotta go, gotta get the job done
Gotta start a new nation, gotta meet my son!

He comes back to this as victory sinks in. The British sing, mournfully at first, he repeats it, Lafayette also crying out victory, and the voices of the company rise in volume and intensity until it doesn’t sound like the British singing anymore at all, but the victorious, finally independent Americans–

The world turned upside down!

I get tears in my eyes, I admit it. I want to jump up and cheer and cry. It’s an intensely patriotic moment, when I feel all the potential of our country, how important it is that it not be frittered away only 236 years later. We won! The world turned upside down! We have to keep moving toward freedom. We can’t let anyone or anything stop us.

Other thoughts:

I know of no musical hints here that Miranda is making reference to Puerto Rico at all. But his father came to New York from Puerto Rico, a colony of the United States empire, and the son supports the struggle for Puerto Rican independence. As the colonists celebrate their freedom, it’s hard not to notice the parallel to Puerto Rico and every land that’s ruled by a power other than its own people.

Another departure from historical fact: at this point, far from being in South Carolina, John Laurens is fighting to take Redoubt No. 10, just like Hamilton. He died in Charleston, South Carolina, the next summer–Yorktown was the decisive battle of the war, but not the very last–and the one unsung scene in the play brings news of his death (just before the last song of the act). So Miranda is condensing the timeline here.

It’s worth paying particular attention to Okieriete Onaodowan’s voice on this rap. He plays Hercules Mulligan, the crudest of the four friends in words and the grittiest in vocal tone, and he’s at his roughest here. The next time we hear the actor, he’ll be playing a different character with a very different voice and demeanor.

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