#Hamilton’s Eliza, subjunctive mood

mrs_elizabeth_schuyler_hamilton_web-jpg__800x600_q85_cropAbout #Hamilton and grammar, not American literature.

When you listen to the soundtrack of Hamilton repeatedly, features that you hadn’t noticed at first leap out at you.

For example, in “Guns and Ships” Burr sings, “He’s constantly confusing, confounding the British henchmen / Everyone give it up for America’s favorite fighting Frenchman!”

marquis_de_lafayette_2

America’s favorite fightin’ Frenchman

Chorus: “Lafayette!

Lafayette:I’m takin this horse by the reins makin’
Redcoats redder with bloodstains

And so on.

Rising Notes Ask the Question

The chorus repeats this five times, always on rising notes (I don’t know the musical term for it), as though asking a question.

Falling Notes Give the Reply

Then, when Lafayette says “there’s someone else we need” and Washington says, “I know,” there’s this:

Washington and Chorus: “Hamilton!”

This is also repeated 5 times and interspersed with the reasons, but in a series of falling notes.

We’ve heard the question and the first part (“Lafayette!”) in a series of rising notes.

hamilton.jpg

“You called? I’ve got this.” Image from thefederalistpapers.org

The falling notes and the repetition tell us that Hamilton is the answer.

Eliza, Subjunctive and Indicative Moods

Eliza’s lyrics, too, are carefully constructed. Her character is all about the present, as she constantly reminds Hamilton. Her key phrase is  “look around, look around, at how lucky we are to be alive right now” in contrast to Washington’s and Hamilton’s simultaneous past and future perspectives (“history has its eyes on you” for Washington; “this is the only way I can protect my legacy” from “Hurricane” for Hamilton).

In Act I, even without the subject of triple uncertainty in “Helpless”–she’s not sure first what Angelica’s going to do, next what Hamilton’s going to do, and finally what her father’s going to do–her speech patterns show this uncertainty.

Eliza lives in the subjunctive mood, which uses “if,” “should,” “could” and other such words to express  a wish or condition contrary to fact. Think about all the times she expresses herself this way:

In “That Would Be Enough”:

And if this child
Shares a fraction of your smile
Or a fragment of your mind, look out world!

In “Non-Stop”:

And if your wife could share a fraction of your time
If I could grant you peace of mind
Would that be enough?

By Act II, however, she’s past it. In “Take a Break,” she isn’t tentative about asking Hamilton to “go upstate,” and by the time of “Burn,” she uses the subjunctive differently.

She recalls the past (“when you were mine”), scorns the idea of a legacy (“you and your words obsessed with your legacy”) by burning his letters, and uses one more subjunctive, not so tentatively this time, in the last line of the song:

“I hope that you burn.”

By her last songs, “Best of Wives and Best of Women” and “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story,” Eliza’s totally in the indicative mood rather than the subjunctive. Her verbs are active and direct rather than tentative:

“Best of Wives and Best of Women”

“Well, I’m going back to sleep.”

“Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story”

“I raise funds”

“I speak out against slavery”

“I established the first private orphanage in New York City.” [this is the lyric as printed, although it sounds as though she’s saying “establish,” which would make the tenses more consistent.]

Hamilton has gotten a lot of press and praise for its innovative lyrics, its allusions, its uses of various musical forms, and so on, but it’s clear that it keeps that same level of consistency and innovation right down to its use of grammar.

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