12 Excellent Lyrical Annotations from Hamilton: The Revolution
After months of waiting, Hamilton: The Revolution—or, as fans call it, the #Hamiltome—finally hit stories today. The book, co-written by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter, traces the creation of the groundbreaking Broadway musical chronologically, from its inception on vacation to its opening night, and features annotations to the libretto written by Miranda himself. Through the informative and often delightful annotations, Miranda not only fact checks his work and explores how he felt writing the songs, but demonstrates how Hamilton changed over time. Here are a few of our favorites.
1. “ALEXANDER HAMILTON”
There would have been nothing left to do
For someone less astute
He woulda been dead or destitute
Without a cent or restitution …
It famously took Miranda a year to write Hamilton’s opening number, which compresses the protagonist’s first 19 years into a single song. Midway through, “We double the tempo … because Hamilton’s found his way out: He’s going to double down on his education, and make himself undeniable,” Miranda writes. “The image in my head is of Harry Potter finding out he’s a wizard. Everything suddenly makes sense.”
2. “AARON BURR, SIR”
… I may have punched him. It’s a blur, sir.
He handles the financials?
You punched the bursar.
Miranda writes that Hamilton biographer Ron Chernow “blanched a bit at this historical leap—Hamilton wasn’t needlessly violent—but the rhyme was too good to pass up.” (The lyrical annotations for this song also contain the second reference to Harry Potter in Hamilton: The Revolution: “This whole section is basically Harry Potter meeting Draco Malfoy before meeting his real friends,” Miranda writes. “Just Hamilton’s luck to meet his temperamental opposite.”)
3. “THE STORY OF TONIGHT”
In the annotations for “The Story of Tonight,” Miranda reveals that he wrote the melody for the song when he was just 16. “I had a doo-wop group with four other friends, and I’d written this song called ‘I’ve Got a Bridge to Sell You,’” he writes. (“I’ve got a bridge to sell you” became Laurens singing “No matter what they tell you…”) “When it came time to write this number for the show, that melody did everything I wanted this scene to do: It conveyed a yearning and innocence I felt in finding a group of friends to sing with me.”
4. “YOU’LL BE BACK”
Inspiration can strike at unexpected moments—like, say, when you’re having a drink with Hugh Laurie. “I told him I wanted to write a breakup letter from King George to the colonies,” Miranda writes. “Without blinking, he improv’d at me, ‘Awwww, you’ll be back,’ wagging his finger. I laughed and filed it away. Thanks, Hugh Laurie.” Miranda wrote George III’s song while on honeymoon with his wife, sans piano.
5. “THE STORY OF TONIGHT (REPRISE)”
It’s alright, Burr. I wish you’d brought this special girl with you tonight, Burr.
You’re very kind, but I’m afraid it’s unlawful, sir.
What do you mean?
She’s married to a British officer.
Learning this key fact about Burr was a turning point for Miranda. “[I]t wasn’t til I read this detail online—that Theodosia was married to a British officer when Aaron Burr met her, and he waited until she was available—that the character of Burr came free in my imagination,” Miranda writes. “Imagine Hamilton waiting—for anything. That’s when I realized our task was not to dramatize not two ideological opposites, but a fundamental difference in temperament. No easy task. But that was the task.”
6. “THAT WOULD BE ENOUGH”
We don’t need a legacy.
We don’t need money.
If I could grant you peace of mind…
“My first draft of this song ended here, but I revisited the tune after writing ‘Burn’ in Act Two,” Miranda writes. “Tommy [Kail] and I discussed making Eliza even more active here—not just expressing this sentiment, but asking to be let into Hamilton’s internal life. If she’s ‘erasing herself from the narrative’ in Act Two, she needs to be part of it in Act One. I love this way this last section soars—I can’t imagine the song without it now.”
7. “GUNS AND SHIPS”
Sir, he knows what to do in a trench
Ingenuitive and fluent in French, I mean—
Of the word ingenuitive, Manuel writes, “I thought everyone knew this word, yet I don’t know where I’ve heard it. … It’s apparently a super-archaic word. I really don’t know where I met it, but it was there for me when I needed it.”
8. “YORKTOWN (THE WORLD TURNED UPSIDE DOWN)”
“The World Turned Upside Down” was an actual song, which was actually sung by British soldiers after their defeat at the Battle of Yorktown. But that song is not the one you hear in Hamilton. “I sought out the actual song and it’s … well, it’s a drinking song,” Miranda writes. “It’s sprightly and lively and fun to sing with a pint in your hand, but it didn’t serve me musically. So I wrote my own melody for it.”
9. “TAKE A BREAK”
My dearest Angelica,
“Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day”
I trust you’ll understand the reference to
Another Scottish tragedy without my having to name the play…
“This used to be a really obscure Macbeth quote: ‘They have tied me to a stake; I cannot fly, but, bear-like, I must fight the course,’” Miranda writes. “Then Oskar Eustis said, ‘Lin, I run the Shakespeare Festival and even I don’t get the reference.’ … So I went with one of the greatest hits.”
10. “CABINET BATTLE #2”
We signed a treaty with a King whose head is now in a basket
Would you like to take it out and ask it?
“Should we honor our treaty, King Louis’ head?”
“Uh… do whatever you want, I’m super dead.”
In “Cabinet Battle #2,” Hamilton and Jefferson verbally spar over whether or not the United States should provide aid to France during its revolution. Jefferson, former Ministers to France, argues in favor; Hamilton argues against—and wins. “Originally, Hamilton’s argument was as long as Jefferson’s, but I realized I wasn’t gonna top this punchline,” Miranda writes. “Also, Washington cutting him off and agreeing with him nicely leads us into the next song: Hamilton is winning without trying, because he and Washington are in lockstep on this issue.”
11. “THE REYNOLDS PAMPHLET”
I know my sister like I know my own mind
You will never find anyone as trusting or as kind
I love my sister more than anything in this life
I will choose her happiness over mine every time
Put what we had aside
I’m standing at her side
You could never be satisfied
God, I hope you’re satisfied
Hamilton was involved in one of the first sex scandals in our nation’s history. After he began an affair with Maria Reynolds in the early 1790s, the woman’s husband, James, began blackmailing him. Several years later, this led to Hamilton being accused of speculation; he published a pamphlet to clear his name that revealed all the tawdry details of his affair: The so-called Reynolds Pamphlet. Angelica’s mic-drop moment wasn’t originally in the song at all. “This was originally part of a longer tune titled ‘Congratulations,’” Miranda writes. “It came between ‘The Reynolds Pamphlet’ and ‘Burn.’” When it became clear that the audience wanted to see Eliza’s reaction to Hamilton’s betrayal, Miranda incorporated parts of “Congratulations” into “The Reynolds Pamplet.” “I love how different it is from everything else in this section,” he writes. “It contributes to the feeling that the world is crashing, pathos within celebration within schadenfreude.”
12. “YOUR OBEDIENT SERVANT”
In “Your Obedient Servant,” Burr and Hamilton trade increasingly angry letters—Burr accusing Hamilton of slandering his good name, Hamilton asking for specifics and refusing to back down—that eventually lead to their fateful duel. (You can read the actual correspondence here.) “Originally, my lyrics for these letters were super historically accurate, but I could feel us losing the audience,” Miranda writes. “I figured, if they can’t speak plainly here, then when?”
You can order Hamilton: The Revolution here.