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  • Hamilton's Genius
  • Gina Masucci MacKenzie (bio)
Hamilton: The Revolution Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter Grand Central Publishing 288 Pages; Print, $45.00

Lin Manuel Miranda is a contemporary theatre genius. In Hamilton: An American Musical Miranda's genius is almost too obvious as he is able to create a new revolutionary theatre that is, simply stated, cool. He is the undisputed king of Broadway with the ability to revitalize American theatre and bring to it presidents and middle schoolers, both eager to learn the lessons he teaches.

In The Birth of Tragedy (1872), Nietzsche asserts and argues for the persistent separation of Dionysian and Apollonian theatre. That is the exact opposite of what Miranda does. He creates a unity of the two forms of theatre, the Dionysian that extols hedonistic, narcissistic, jouisance and a leveling and somewhat level-headed Apollonian approach. The end result, for Miranda, is a unification of form and content in which, as Nietzsche asserts, "[M]an is no longer an artist, he has become a work of art; the artistic force of the whole of nature, to the most intense blissful satisfaction of the original Unity, reveals itself here in the shudder of intoxication." Miranda is most obviously both the art and artist as he become his title character. While the unification of art and artist is evident is Miranda himself, his Hamilton is one that divides the Apollonian and Dionysian along character lines. Burr is the Apollo of the Hamilton-ian stage. The power of the Apollonian comes from the concept of the dream, as Nietzsche explains, but the dream as it can be interpreted and through that interpretation, tamed. That is the Burr that Miranda creates, the tamed rebel. Burr will fight for the revolution; he is not an establishment figure any more than the god, Apollo is a humble servant, but Burr is measured in his approach to rebellion. In "Arron Burr, Sir," the young Hamilton looks up to Burr, presented as much more seasoned as wise, although close in age, while Burr advises, "Talk less, smile more. Don't let them know what you're against or what you're for." That instinct of self-preservation is distinctly Apollonian in nature. As Nietzsche reminds us, "Apollo, as an ethical deity, demands of his disciples moderation and in order to maintain it, self-knowledge." The concept of moderation which Nietzsche references here is linked to "respect for the limits of the individual." An Apollonian character is then one who understands his own limits and expects that others have limits too.

Miranda shows Burr's limits when Hamilton asks, "If you stand for nothing, Burr, what'll you fall for?" Less question than accusation Hamilton, always willing fully to own or embody his convictions, indicts him for this throughout the drama. The show's climax relies on Burr's final decision finally to stand for something, which results in Hamilton's demise. When the Apollonian becomes the Dionysian, the latter is defeated, the original Dionysian is subdued, but only momentarily, until its agency can be reassumed or reappropriated.

The agency is reconfigured through the use of myth, here raising the life of an historically great figure, Alexander Hamilton, to one of mythic status. For both Nietzsche and Robert Brustein, the great Modernist theatre practitioner and theorist, myth unpins all of what happens in a drama. For Brustein, pre-Modernist theatre is one of "communion," "where traditional myths were enacted before an audience of believers against the background of a shifting but still coherent universe." There is little coherent about the universe Hamilton, the character inhabits, either in the show or in history. His world was one of radical upheaval and transformation, much of which, he, with his compatriots, was initiating. The myth of which he is a part and which Miranda stages is, "theatre of revolt…the theatre of great insurgent modern dramatists, where myths of rebellion are enacted before dwindling number of spectators in a flux of vacancy, bafflement and accident." Miranda is there creating insurgency of theme and style, but instead of dwindling audience, he has the masses...


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