Issues regarding cultural and historical memory are also relevant to the show’s narrative. As Monteiro addresses in her critique,
The actors consciously refer to the shaping of historical memory throughout the play, from early references to ‘‘when our children tell our story,’’ to a beautiful, moving scene in which Hamilton’s wife, Eliza, heartbroken at her husband’s betrayal, sings ‘‘I’m erasing myself from the narrative’’ as she burns her letters. The play’s final song—and final line—also drives home the importance of the creation of historical narratives: “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story?
Monteiro forgot to include one of Hamilton’s most powerful lines from “The World Was Wide Enough,” one of the show’s last songs: “Legacy. What is a legacy? It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.” Historical memory and the relationship the characters have with it is at the heart of this show. A recurring theme throughout Hamilton is the question of who gets to tell someone’s story who gets to tell the stories that get retold and become the basis of cultural and, this case, historical, memory. This is explicitly addressed in the lyrics throughout the show and subtly done with the change of narrators. According to Michael Rothberg, studies of cultural memory emphasize that memory "requires the active agency of agency and publics." He explains that "Such agency entails recognizing and revealing the production of memory as an ongoing process involving inscription and reinscription, coding and recoding." In other words, memory involves agency, as the multiple characters ponderings on how they hope to be remembered reflect.
As it has been said, since Monteiro's article came out Hamilton has undergone criticism for its historical inaccuracies, its failure to address slavery directly and its erasure of the role African-Americans played in the country's founding. In a New York Times article, Harvard history Professor Annette Gordon-Reed argues that the show has received "little serious criticism," yet "she love[s] the musical and listen[s] to the cast album every day." This debate, that struggles between the show’s popularity and success as a piece of musical theater with its historical misgivings, relates to what Marita Sturken addresses when discussing cultural memory and the way the past can be given meaning to. “Memory is crucial to the understanding of a culture precisely because it indicates collective desires, needs, and self-definitions," she explains. "We need to ask not whether a memory is true but rather what its telling reveals about how the past affects the present.” Even when Miranda has included Ron Chernow, the historian whose biography inspired the show, as a consultant in his team to maintain historical accuracy, he is quick to note that some of the show’s inaccuracies are for dramatic and narrative purposes.
Having said that, it is important to confront the show’s failure to address slavery directly and to represent it. In her critique, Monteiro questions the universal understanding of the show as racially progressive based solely in the casting choices, while at the same time wondering why no historical people of color fit in the show’s narrative. For her, Hamilton has erased the role African-Americans played in the country's founding. Considering that thanks to an agreement with the Rockefeller Foundation the show is now immersed in an educational initiative favoring underprivileged NYC kids, Monteiro poignantly asks: “Is this the history that we most want black and brown youth to connect with--one in which black lives so clearly do not matter?” But, is it so bad that the kids are using the show as a starting point to engage with history? Though fans have expressed their discomfort with Monteiro’s article and the critical responses that have originated from it, shouldn’t a great work of art demand criticism from those who engage with it?
With Hamilton, Miranda is offering a re-reading of the founding father myth, and, in the process, is making the history exciting and approachable--something that has been complimented by many and has unsettled others. Aja Romano considers that Hamilton functions as a postmodern metatextual piece of fan fiction. What Miranda is doing is what fans (especially science fiction fans) have done for decades: he has reclaimed the canon for the fan’s enjoyment. According to Romano, “Hamilton’s canon is history, and the fan, Miranda, is doing a lot more than simply adapting it. Like the best fanfic writers, he’s not just selectively retelling history--he’s transforming it.” Hamilton is not a pure work of fiction, or of fan fiction, for that matter. It could be thought of as fan non-fiction, “occupying that odd based-on-a-true-story space that we as a culture still don’t really know what to with.” Similar to the discussion around docudramas, where “fact and fiction, reenactment and fantasy” are combined, the line between the factual liberties the creators can take and sticking to the true story--or history, in this particular case-- is the basis of a heated debate, as has been discussed.
At the beginning I asked if critics are expecting too much from Hamilton itself and if its success is starting to become its worst enemy. The accolades the show has received, the way it has entered the realm of popular culture and the countless positive reviews, give a sensation that what we have at hand is an untouchable piece of art. Yet, the questions critics have raised are important to address and to consider when reviewing the different layers of meaning embedded in the show. While at no point Miranda’s intention has been to replace history, it has indeed entered the imaginary of many, as the spike in Google searches asking if Alexander Hamilton was white after the Grammy performance in February shows. The show has indeed opened up a discussing about the time period it is depicting and the complexities that “rise up” when representing this particular time in American history. But not only that, by reinforcing the idea that the show is telling the story of the founding of America with the sound and look of today, it is also commenting of issues that are still relevant today. Race, class, immigration, and government control are some of the issues that are represented in the show that are still being discussed today.