Thursday, July 9, 2020

In Defense of Burr...

Hamilton was released on Disney+ last week, and if you haven't seen it yet, what are you doing with your life?! Seriously, go watch it now. I mean, eve if you've already seen it 14 times like I have, go watch it again. I'll wait.

Burr is the self described "villain in your history". And he's the antihero narrator, inspired by Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar, Che in Evita, and even the Narrator in Into the Woods. Burr tells us within the first few minutes of the musical that he's the dang fool that shot Hamilton. (He says "dang", right? Or is that just what I make my kids say when they sing along with the album?) So we know right up front that this is the bad guy. To further drive home his status as the villain, Burr complains (okay, he whines), he's arrogant, he fights against the hero. Burr is the antagonist. The Villain with a capital V.

But is he?

Burr and Hamilton are immediately put at odds with opposing life philosophies. Burr believes he is best off if he can "talk less, smile more", because the more you talk, it "guarantees free ammunition for your enemies". Whereas Hamilton would "rather be divisive than indecisive," that you should have beliefs and stand for something. Burr: Wait for it; Hamilton: I am not throwing away my shot. (By the way, check out the best lines from every song from Act I and Act II.)

Interestingly, when Burr finally adopts Hamilton's philosophy by not throwing away his shot, figuratively (running for president) and literally (he uses his shot to kill Hamilton at the fateful duel), that's when things go wrong for Burr. Not throwing away your shot is admirable, but is it also admirable to talk too much, to be abrasive, to "exhibit no restraint"? Burr calls Hamilton "intemperate" and Hamilton himself agrees that Burr's grievance is legitimate.

Burr is not the villain. (To be clear, we are talking about the character Burr, not the real life Burr. The real life Burr was a pretty nasty fellow.) Burr is most definitely the antagonist of the story, but only when told from Hamilton's perspective. From Burr's point of view, Hamilton's actions have had some very negative effects on Burr, Hamilton's disrespect being a common thread in Burr's career and life. From Burr's point of view (or even from Jefferson's point of view), Hamilton is the constant thorn in Burr's military career, Burr's legal career, Burr's political career, and even in Burr's personal life. A. Ham is the villain, not A. Burr.

But if that were really the case, what fun would that be? Plus, if Burr weren't the villain, we probably wouldn't get to see him do that crazy chicken dance in "The Room Where It Happens".

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