Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton is, without a doubt, a revolutionary theatrical production. While this look into society during the time of the American Revolution might seem outdated at first glance, there are many components of the musical’s intricate society that remain true in the 21st century. Take the Schuyler Sisters, specifically Angelica and Eliza, these two characters are key pieces in the vision of Miranda, as they are each examples of how women can adapt themselves due to societal expectations. Hamilton’s representation of society, as told through the Schulyer Sisters, shows how we contort our personalities to fit the standard of acceptance in society.
At the beginning of the musical, the Schulyer Sisters, most specifically Angelica and Eliza, seem to be confident and empowered with their ideas for equality amongst the sexes in this new country, and their ideas relating to the revolution in general. Even though during their song, "The Schuyler Sisters," they are looking for men, most likely to marry, that idea seems to be overshadowed by this goal to become more than just spectators to the Revolution. As Angelica says, “‘We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal,’and when I meet Thomas Jefferson, Imma compel him to include women in the sequel.” This song, which is the debut of the Schuyler Sisters, sets up the rest of the musical to show strong female personalities, but instead, the next two hours and fifteen minutes undercut the ideas and aspirations the sisters originally present to us.
To begin, Hamilton is, quite frankly, historically inaccurate with the history of the Schuyler Family, and most specifically Angelica’s story. Angelica was already married long before she ever met Hamilton at the ball where he and Eliza were introduced. There were also Schuyler brothers, who remain not only unnamed, but do not exist in the musical’s version of the Schuyler family tree. Both of these edits to the story provide opportunities for more drama and plot, however, they both further the traditional female roles in society. While both of these inaccuracies rely on each other for the plot to align, the first allows the musical to perpetuate the stereotype that competing over men plagues relationships between women.
The concept of women constantly in competition over a man is one that could only come from a man, as it demonstrates the only thing about which women care are romantic relationships. While Eliza and Peggy are both important characters to this idea, Angelica is the one from whom we hear the most about this topic in the first few songs. In the song "Satisfied," we hear Angelica’s internal monologue regarding the triangle between Eliza, Hamilton, and her. While this song does emphasize the relations that she might have wanted with Hamilton, it shows levels of selflessness and selfishness simultaneously. The ideas pushed in this song completely undermine the empowerment that we see from Angelica only a few songs prior. As she says, “He's after me because I'm a Schuyler sister, That elevates his status, I'd have to be naive to set that aside, Maybe that is why I introduce him to Eliza, Now that’s his bride.” Even though her emotions are seemingly in control and eloquently relayed to the audience, they still have hints of the outdated idea of competition and betrayal amongst women due to relations with a man.
While Eliza might have never known that Angelica was originally interested in Hamilton, she most certainly knew about the relations between Hamilton and Maria Reynolds, which is a role played by the same actress who plays Peggy Schuyler in the first half of the musical. This was certainly no accident, as this dual role makes it appear that Hamilton is having an affair with his wife’s sister. These decisions undermine the original empowerment seen in "The Schuyler Sisters," who were originally shown as a united front. This visual, however, undermines any of the original camaraderie seen between the sisters. It also perpetuates the idea that women will betray each other, even those most important to them, to get what they want.
Finally, we hear from Eliza in the song “Burn.” While this song is also clearly an emotional ballad, it is well organized and, again, eloquently presented to the audience. We see her grapple with the aftermath of the affair that Hamilton had with a woman who was, at least visually, her sister. She says, “You forfeit all rights to my heart, You forfeit the place in our bed, You'll sleep in your office instead, With only the memories of when you were mine.” While she seems to spend the majority of the song comparing the treatment she has received from Hamilton to that which Ms. Reynolds has experienced, at the end of the song she seems to finally stand up for herself. This essentially demonstrates her taking back the empowerment she previously exhibited in her debut. Eventually, not seen in this song, Eliza decides to forgive Hamilton, which undermines the empowerment that she regains in the song "Burn."
Ultimately, Hamilton shows the relationships between women, especially close women, in a way that undermines all previous empowerment and trust in each other that they might have. While some might argue that this is a historical piece, and therefore these traditional tropes are warranted, there are plenty of other factual pieces of history that were edited to fit the narrative told by Lin-Manuel Miranda. This outdated representation of women’s relations matter because of how revolutionary this musical seems at first glance. When we only look at this musical through the lens of “revolutionary,” it becomes more and more difficult to see the subtle, and not so subtle, outdated and unfair norms demonstrated throughout the show.
While I do not believe that Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote this musical with the intention of furthering the gender norms that we see time and time again, this is yet another theatrical production that is so prevalent in our society with detrimental elements. With the success of this show, and as people continue to view, listen to, and support this musical, these outdated ideas of female relationships continue to be reinforced, and ultimately, will make them even harder to erase.