Spotlighting Student Work #2: A Musical Prophet

Today’s essay is a piece by Caitlin Jardim, covering the topic of broadway, and how Lin Manuel Miranda has come to be seen by many as a prophetic figure within the medium. Here’s a bit about Caitlin.

I am a first-year biomedical science student, born and raised in good old Auckland! I took THEOREL 101 as my General Education paper because I’ve always been interested in the way religion is used by people to justify actions – be it good or bad. This course really opened my eyes to how much the Bible is referenced in modern day media and it was an incredible course to be a part of – it offered an aspect to my studies that broadened my views beyond just science. I would highly recommend this course. 

Enjoy the essay!

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Hamilton as portrayed by Miranda

Lin-Manuel Miranda as Alexander Hamilton: Contemporary Prophet or $10 Broadway Puppet?

Caitlin Jardim

Lin-Manuel Miranda has made headlines ever since appearing in Hollywood a few short years ago. His hit musical, Hamilton: An American Musical, first appearing on Broadway in 2015, follows the story of Alexander Hamilton, one of America’s founding fathers. Writing, producing and starring in the musical, Miranda has won a staggering number of awards, including the 2016 Pulitzer Prize in Drama, 11 Tony Awards and the 2016 Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album (Broadway, 2018). Being renowned for regularly selling out, Hamilton disturbs preconceptions of what high culture should look like, by being the first Broadway musical to be written almost entirely in rap, telling a historical story in an entirely new, and accessible, way. Like the biblical prophets, both Miranda and his character of Hamilton, disturb our sense of normalcy and challenge the status quo. In doing so, fulfilling the requirements needed to be considered contemporary prophets, as detailed by Marcus Borg (2001). In this essay, I will argue that not only do both Hamilton and Miranda act in their respective roles as contemporary prophets but through his role as Hamilton, Miranda is carrying out his prophetic duties.

Alexander Hamilton, the face of the United States $10 bill, is possibly one of the most well-known characters in American history.

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Hamilton’s refusal to bend to societal norms and his unrelenting drive to do what he believed was just, makes him a contemporary prophet as outlined by Marcus Borg (2001). Namely, Hamilton’s prophetic portrayal, passion for social justice, a deliverance of a message of protest and hope, and his role as an outsider in his society make him an 18th-century prophet of biblical proportions. Talking about his passion for social justice, Hamilton appears in a prophetic light, mentioning that he “rolls like Moses, claimin’ [the] promised land” (Genius, 2018). Exodus 4:12-14 talks of Moses, a biblical prophet, using speech to pass on the message of God, who says, “Now go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak”. This idea of prophetic duty as encompassing the deliverance of a message shows how Hamilton is fulfilling the role of a contemporary prophet, through both his actions and through his words.

Not only does this reference to Moses, a biblical prophet, draw parallels between Hamilton and the God-chosen leader of Egypt, but is representative of the 21st-century view of the founding fathers – having led Americans to their promised land. Hamilton’s place of divinely granted power is also reflected in a quote from the opening titular number of the musical, bearing a striking resemblance to an often quoted biblical expression – “at the right hand of the father” (Genius, 2018). This shows Hamilton’s status as almost reaching biblical proportions – almost because the quote is preceded by a stunning insult “obnoxious, arrogant, loudmouth bother” which only serves to cement his place as an 18th-century contemporary prophet by fulfilling another of Borg’s requirements – being an outsider (Genius, 2018).

Miranda’s portrayal of Hamilton, as just a human man, is a key feature of not only his biblical prophet allusions but of Miranda’s ability to use Hamilton as a mouthpiece for challenging the status quo.

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Miranda’s charisma as a performer has been a key factor in Hamilton’s success

As a society, we often look at those in history and on our screens as more than mere mortals – pictures of perfection at an unattainable standard. Miranda breaks this conventional image by not only detailing his internal monologue through sites such as Twitter but by his portrayal of Hamilton as flawed. This brutally honest retelling of a story most American school-children are taught is played in a light that shows the human side of Hamilton. Hamilton’s fall from grace, instigated by a long affair, is punctuated only by the public letter he writes announcing it to the world. Miranda’s retelling of true events shows one of Borg’s key features of a contemporary prophet played out in Hamilton – that, like biblical prophets, they are only human, and while they may be acting on God’s behalf, are still prone to the same downfall as any other (Borg, 2001).

Lin-Manuel Miranda, the author of the 21st-century re-invention of Hamilton, fulfils Borg’s requirements himself. Miranda’s passion for social justice allows him to disturb the status quo and oppose the accepted view of normalcy–requirements for contemporary prophets (Borg, 2001). For these reasons, I believe that Lin-Manuel Miranda acts as a modern-day prophet. By writing Hamilton as a rap, Miranda breaks the clean-cut status quo of the typical Broadway musical (Broadway, 2018). Explains that he feels rap is a method of communication that goes beyond words and speaks on a different, more accessible level, Miranda opposes the accepted view of Broadway and American history as entertainment for the 1%. In taking something as far off as 18th-century American history and making it contemporary, the story of Hamilton, and of Miranda, is able to reach far and wide.

In addition to this, Hamilton the Musical is the first Broadway musical to employ colour-blind casting.

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The original cast of Hamilton

Colour-blind casting is a method in which actors for parts are not picked based on their race, but solely on their ability. This means that George Washington, a man infamous for his owning of slaves and push to maintain the slave industry, is played by Christopher Jackson, a biracial American (Rich, 2018). Reconciling these two identities was something that pulls to the surface social justice issues, like racism, that span the centuries and still remain today. Miranda utilises colour-blind casting to speak out against the inherent American racism and uses this to speak out against what he believes is a social injustice. Miranda also addresses these injustices directly in a ‘cabinet (rap) battle’ between Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson, saying “A civics lesson from a slaver […] your debts are paid cuz you don’t pay for labour.” (Genius, 2018).

Both Hamilton and Miranda act as contemporary prophets in their respective societies, I believe that in playing the role of Hamilton, in the original casting of Hamilton, and in the simple act of writing and producing the musical, Miranda is acting in the role of a contemporary prophet. By protesting social injustices in a contemporary context outside of Hamilton the musical, Miranda uses the Hamilton as a platform for modern-day prophetic messages and in doing so, is acting as a contemporary prophet through his role as Hamilton.

Miranda does this in many ways, including using the show as a performance influenced by modern-day crises. For example, less than 24 hours after the deadliest mass shooting in US history, at a gay nightclub in Orlando, the Hamilton performance at the 70th Tony Awards was due to take place. Hamilton had earned 16 Tony Nominations in the previous May, and the cast was to perform ‘Yorktown’ a number calling for prop guns. In the wake of the shooting in Orlando, the Hamilton cast made a stand. Guns were absent from stage as the cast members expressed support for those affected by the shooting (Segal, 2016). Miranda also works with a group of 12 non-profit organisations to raise money to support immigrants, refugees and asylees – causes close to his heart, and offers competitions with tickets and flights to the musical as raffle prizes for those who donate (Miranda, 2018). Miranda’s identity as Hamilton means that he is able to use both the past and present to make a difference in the future.

Like the Hebrew prophets, both Hamilton and Miranda are “dramatic speakers first and foremost…asking their audiences to reimagine reality” (Giles, 2018). To see the world through the prophet’s eyes, as what it could be. This biblical flair for drama reflected in the oration that goes beyond the mere repeating of a message from the Heavens and shows a passion for social justice, that exists in all contemporary prophets, both of then and now. Like Hamilton, biblical prophets perform their prophetic duties through drama and oration, such as in Amos 5:12-15, in which the prophetic performer attacks the judicial courts, telling the audience to “establish justice in the gate” with such vigour that the audience “suddenly becomes part of the performance, no longer mere spectators” (Giles, 2018). In this way, Hamilton, like the dramatic performances of the biblical prophets, becomes more than just a tool and is woven into the very act of prophetic duty.

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Miranda has not been shy about speaking out against the current US “Father”

Despite living in an increasingly secular world, contemporary prophets can be found in all aspects of our lives, from our history books, to our $10 notes, to our Broadway stages. Prophetic action calls for a willingness to act as agents of change, and an unrelenting ability to shake off the shackles of social norms. Both Hamilton and Lin-Manuel Miranda were, and still are, prophets of their time. Through their deliverance of messages of protest and hope, their shared passion for social justice, and their flair for dramatics, these two monumental figures mirror the biblical prophets of Amos and Exodus. Lin-Manuel Miranda and Alexander Hamilton show that no matter the platform, or the social context, they are contemporary prophets, not just $10 Broadway puppets.

 

Miranda
A modern spokesperson, but a historic figure

 

References

All biblical references are from the NSRV.

Anon, (2018). [online] Available at: https://www.loc.gov/rr/program/bib/ourdocs/federalist.html [Accessed 8 Oct. 2018].

Borg, M. (2001). Reading the Bible again for the first time; taking the Bible seriously but not literally. 1st ed. Harper San Francisco, pp.111-114.

Broadway.com. (2018). Hamilton Dominates 2016 Tony Awards But Just Short of Record; Complete List of Winners. [online] Available at: https://www.broadway.com/buzz/185131/hamilton-dominates-2016-tony-awards-but-just-short-of-record-complete-list-of-winners/ [Accessed 8 Oct. 2018].

Genius. (2018). Lin-Manuel Miranda (Ft. Anthony Ramos, Christopher Jackson, Daveed Diggs, Leslie Odom Jr., Okieriete Onaodowan, Original Broadway Cast of Hamilton & Phillipa Soo) – Alexander Hamilton. [online] Available at: https://genius.com/Lin-manuel-miranda-alexander-hamilton-lyrics [Accessed 8 Oct. 2018].

Genius. (2018). Lin-Manuel Miranda (Ft. Anthony Ramos, Daveed Diggs, Leslie Odom Jr., Lin-Manuel Miranda, Okieriete Onaodowan & Original Broadway Cast of Hamilton) – My Shot. [online] Available at: https://genius.com/Lin-manuel-miranda-my-shot-lyrics [Accessed 8 Oct. 2018].

Giles, T. (2018). Prophets as Performers. [online] Bibleodyssey.org. Available at: https://www.bibleodyssey.org/passages/related-articles/prophets-as-performers [Accessed 8 Oct. 2018].

Houston, W. (2018). Social Justice and the Prophets. [online] Bibleodyssey.org. Available at: http://www.bibleodyssey.org/passages/related-articles/social-justice-and-the-prophets [Accessed 8 Oct. 2018].

Miranda, L. (2018). Puerto Rico Relief Collection. [online] Lin-Manuel Miranda. Legit. Available at: https://www.teerico.com/collections/puerto-rico-relief-collection [Accessed 8 Oct. 2018].

Rich, K. (2018). George Washington Never Mentions Slavery in Hamilton, but the Actor Who Plays Him Does. [online] Vanity Fair. Available at: https://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2016/04/christopher-jackson-hamilton-interview [Accessed 8 Oct. 2018].

Segal, C. (2018). ‘Hamilton’ cuts guns from Tony performance. [online] PBS NewsHour. Available at: https://www.pbs.org/newshour/arts/hamilton-cuts-guns-from-tony-performance [Accessed 8 Oct. 2018].

 

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