You are currently browsing the daily archive for June 8, 2017.

It’s quite a feat to make King George III, the natural villain of the piece in any American Revolution story, rather sympathetic and interesting, but Hamilton does it. He’s funny, and most people, like me, are inclined to soften their view of someone who makes them laugh. Then, too, he’s got problems, poor guy. He gives us a peek into his experience. And even though it’s hard to hear it from him, he speaks truth.

What comes next?
You’ve been freed
Do you know how hard it is to lead?
. . . Do you have a clue what happens now?

That truth is exactly what must be on the victors’ minds now that they have to turn revolutionary dreams into an actual working government. The Continental Congress was overseeing a new country that was fairly desperately in debt at this point; as Hamilton noted back in “Stay Alive,”

Local merchants deny us equipment, assistance
They only take British money, so sing a song of sixpence.

The war debt has the country flat broke–some states more than others, so there’s also the tension among them to be dealt with. The Constitution has yet to be drafted; there are no rules. Throughout history, revolution is often met by counter-revolution, or just never settles down into the sober, boring business of governance. The words Miranda puts in  King George’s mouth drip with schadenfreude and a bit of sour-grape juice, but that doesn’t make them incorrect. No less than George Washington agrees with him, a few songs later when Hamilton’s fine theories come up against realpolitik: “Winning was easy, young man. Governing’s harder” (“Cabinet Battle #1”).

The king’s problems are laid out in the intro:

They say
The price of my war’s not a price that they’re willing to pay
Insane
You cheat with the French, now I’m fighting with France and with Spain
I’m so blue
I thought that we’d made an arrangement
When you went away . . .

Poor George. He is still stuck in the past, looking back nostalgically at that almost 200-year-old “arrangement.” But he is in a world of trouble, now that both Spain and France have been riled up against him. Jonathan Groff hits a tone on “I’m so blue” that makes me want to hand him a hanky and pat his shoulder, he’s so bewildered by his turn of fortune. It doesn’t last–in the next line, “. . . you were mine to subdue,” he sounds aggrieved, even a bit threatening. Yeah, the hell with that. Sorry, dude, the deal is off, and we’re glad we left you. But still, the song has let us see the world from his point of view, and that empathy helps us to hear the warning he delivers.

Also, he’s been there, right? “Do you know how hard it is to lead?” comes from the depths of bitter experience, and then, “When your people say they hate you / Don’t come crawling back to me.” It’s vengeful and petty, the ditched boyfriend crowing that his ex will get her comeuppance, but there’s also a pang of truth: his people said they hate him. And what United States president or member of Congress has not had the same experience? It’s gotta hurt, even when it’s just. We don’t want it to happen to Hamilton and Washington, whom we’ve come to like. And we want our country to be a country, instead of sinking into the morass that so many new nations do after throwing off the shackles. As with the preceding “Yorktown,” it feels a bit miraculous that the leaders of the time did turn to statecraft and create something that could last.

Though we have our problems . . . We had to fight a war 80 years later because we couldn’t find unity without continuing slavery. (In a bitter irony, if we’d stayed in the British Empire, the enslaved people on our continent might have been freed in 1833, when England abolished slavery throughout all of its colonies.) Some of the dreams, such as women’s suffrage, took even longer to become reality, and some of the accomplishments of the new nation ended up being liabilities–I’m thinking of Hamilton’s invention, the Electoral College, which made a lot more sense for those 13 colonies than it makes for today’s vastly disparate states. When I hear this song and think of today, I understand a line that appears in all three of the king’s songs, “Oceans rise, empires fall.” The empires are obvious, but why “oceans rise”? Maybe it’s only in his first and third song so it can be here, and remind us that the rise of the oceans is one of the worst creations of, and greatest challenges to, these United States of America. Is King George snickering, wherever he is?

My favorite line, for laughs, is when Groff, having perched on the pinnacle of British accents–“You’re on your own”–drops down to surfer dude tone with “Awesome. Wow.” I’ve tried to analyze how Miranda makes anachronism work for him, instead of clunking. I don’t know. He just has the ear. Of course, it’s possible that it will clunk when Hamilton is produced 20 years from now; slang is the thing that sounds most cutting-edge when it’s new, and ages fastest and worst. But I think it will wear well. As slang goes, “wow” has shown a lot of staying power. I’m afraid the rising oceans won’t go out of date anytime soon, either.

Enter your e-mail address to receive e-mail notifications of new posts on Sermons in Stones

Follow me on Twitter

Links I like

%d bloggers like this: