This is the third and final part of a blog series modelling the musical Hamilton as if it was a session of the (work-in-progress) roleplaying game Hubris Box, which is about the rise and fall of tragic heroes.
What’s going on?
In the first blog post, I introduced the idea behind Hubris Box and introduced the fictional characters who are playing the game. In the most recent blog post, I showed an example of the game’s first Act, in which the Protagonist wrote several cards and posted them to the Hubris Box in order to chase his ambition and accumulate power and glory.
The example game is played by three roleplayers (Lin, Manuel, and Miranda), and it set in a fictional land called America. Lin is playing the game’s Protagonist, Alexander Hamilton, who rose from humble beginnings to be a war hero and is now Secretary of the Treasury under President George Washington. Manuel and Miranda are playing everyone else, taking the role of the game’s Antagonists.
You can listen to the musical Hamilton at the link if you haven’t already. Some people who haven’t heard it yet seem to think it’s a barrier, and have avoided reading the blog post. Instead, I think it’s an opportunity for you to listen to an amazing show, even if musicals aren’t usually your thing.
He takes and he takes and he takes
This blog post will show Act Two of the game (although Act II of the musical began at the end of the previous blog post). Act Two takes place after the Turn, in which the Protagonist finally reaches beyond their Noble Goal and commits hubris, initiating their downfall. For Alexander Hamilton, the goal was to “Secure the future of America”, and that’s still the character’s driving motivation, but in covering up his adulterous affair with the married Mrs Reynolds he acted not for his own benefit, not the benefit of the nation.
In Act Two, the Antagonist players start to take cards out of the Hubris Box. In a game with two Antagonists (as in our example), each Antagonist will have a card in front of them that only they can play and there will be a third card on the table that any Antagonist can play. Cards usually aren’t shuffled or the Box shaken up, but depending on the relative sizes of the Hubris Box and the cards they might not fall in a neat stack, and therefore might not come out exactly in reverse order. This is fine, and adds a small element of randomness to the game.
To play a card, the Antagonist presents it and suggests a scene, then all players (including the Protagonist) roleplay or discuss how the scene might play out. For each card that is played (except for the very last card), the Protagonist gets to protect one element that would otherwise be threatened, or to deflect some of the worst effects that the Antagonists suggest. After the last card, the Protagonist will usually die, but will have a say in the legacy they leave behind.
You don’t have the votes (“The Room Where It Happens”)
Since it was the last card posted before the Turn, the card saying “Nobody needs to know about me and Mrs Reynolds” is unsurprisingly on the table. However, the players don’t want to focus only on a political sex scandal, so the Antagonists instead focus on the other cards they have.
Miranda plays the card “I lead a battalion in the final battle of the war, forcing the British to surrender“, saying that Hamilton excelled in war but in a political arena he is unable to gather widespread support. Lin accepts this, but adds Hamilton does succeed in getting agreement for the major piece of legislation he was working on in Act One: his financial plan to create America’s national bank. Lin says that this plan is approved when Hamilton makes a backroom deal with his opponent, Thomas Jefferson.
Manuel says that this would surely require a significant concession on Hamilton’s part. Since America is so young, perhaps they have also had trouble deciding on a location for the capital. In exchange for Hamilton’s financial plan, Jefferson gets to place the capital of the country in his home state.
You’re nothing without Washington behind you (“Schuyler Defeated” to “The Adams Administration”)
After playing the previous card, Miranda draws another from the Box and decides to play it immediately: “Washington dismisses Burr and makes me his right-hand man“. She says that Hamilton only remains a powerful force in politics because President Washington still supports him. She describes Aaron Burr winning a Senate seat from Hamilton’s father-in-law, and suggests that Hamilton does something that angers Washington, who transfers his support to Burr instead of Hamilton. However, as much as Manuel likes the idea of Burr reappearing, he doesn’t think it makes sense for Washington to turn against Hamilton given the facts previously established about their relationship.
Lin suggests that Washington simply retires and steps down as President. However, Lin doesn’t want Jefferson, the obvious choice in the narrative, to become the next President. Instead, Miranda says that Washington’s replacement is a man named John Adams, who hates Hamilton for being an immigrant. Manuel says that Jefferson might not be President, but he is Vice-President (whatever that means). As a result, Hamilton is fired as Treasury Secretary. Lin accepts, but says that Hamilton remains politically active and influential because he continues writing.
You ever see somebody ruin their own life? (“We Know” to “Burn”)
Sometimes, as with Washington’s retirement, a single card can have wide-ranging consequences. Other times, cards flows into each other like a cascade of disaster.
Manuel decides it’s time to play “Nobody needs to know about me and Mrs Reynolds“. Jefferson and Burr arrive on Hamilton’s doorstep, accusing him of embezzlement. They’ve followed the money and discovered Hamilton’s payments to James Reynolds. Although they don’t know about the affair, Manuel suggests that Hamilton would reveal it to them in order to prove that he has not broken the law (a reversal of the statement on the card). Lin accepts this, as long as Jefferson and Burr promise to tell no-one.
However, Manuel immediately plays “My rhetoric demolishes this fool with ease“, and suggests that Hamilton feels such a desire to clear his name that he writes down and publishes the details of his affair. Lin agrees, saying that the scheme works. Manuel and Miranda agree that there’s no question of criminality, but his political career is in tatters.
The table card is replaced with “Angelica falls in love with me at first sight“, which Miranda plays immediately and says that Angelica has arrived in Hamilton’s time of need… only to reject him. She’s here to support her sister, says Miranda, playing “Eliza and I fall in love and get married” from her hand.
Lin says that although Eliza is heartbroken and angry, she and Hamilton remain married. Manuel and Miranda agree, but say that she burns all of the letters he ever wrote her, and forces him to sleep in his office instead of their bed. “I hope that you burn,” she tells him, with some finality.
Hold your child as tight as you can (“Blow Us All Away” to “It’s Quiet Uptown”)
There are only two cards left now. Manuel has one, and other on the table says “I’m sent home because I’m going to have a son“. It would make sense to distance Hamilton from his son Philip (now a young man) just as he has been separated from the rest of his family, but Miranda decides to go in a different direction. She says that Philip is still loyal and besotted with his father, and attempts to defend him from the words of political enemies. He challenges one, a Mr Eacker, to a duel, and comes to his father for duelling advice.
Lin protests that Hamilton would advise Philip not to duel at all. Hamilton and Eliza both have already lost too much. Manuel suggests that perhaps Hamilton advises Philip to make a show of not going through with it, so that his opponent will do the same… but his opponent does not do the same. Philip is shot and taken to a doctor.
Manuel and Miranda look to Lin for what to protect, and Lin squirms at the choice. Hamilton the character would, of course, do anything to have Philip not die. As a tragedy, though, it makes more sense for Philip to die. Hamilton would be utterly devastated by the loss of his son, and ready for his final fate (only one card remains). Lin says that Philip dies with Hamilton and Eliza at his bedside, and that the unimaginable grief they share eventually allows them a measure of reconciliation.
I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory (“The Election of 1800” to “The World Was Wide Enough”)
The last card is revealed: “I’m not throwing away my shot – I make friends who are better than Burr and who say what they think”
It ends with a duel. That’s clear. But how and why? Against whom? Burr is named on the card, but that’s no sure thing.
There’s an election, says Miranda. Burr is running against Jefferson, and they are tied. The country turns to you to make a choice. Jefferson or Burr?
If Hamilton picks Jefferson, he reaffirms the original meaning of the statement on the card. If Hamilton picks Burr, he subverts or reverses the original meaning.
Hamilton votes for Jefferson.
Burr, incensed that Hamilton has kept him from power, challenges Hamilton to a duel. The same spot where Philip died just a few years ago. The last card has been played and Hamilton will die at this duel. But how?
If Hamilton chooses to shoot Burr, and they die together, he reaffirms the meaning of the statement on the card. If Hamilton instead throws away his shot, he subverts the meaning.
Hamilton points his pistol at the sky.
Hamilton he is shot through the ribs by Burr, who lives on with the guilt and regret of it. Hamilton dies with Eliza and Angelica by his side.
Who keeps your flame? (“Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story”)
Although the Protagonist is dead, the game has an epilogue in which Lin gets to have a say on what legacy Hamilton leaves behind.
Jefferson and others try to destroy Hamilton’s reputation after his death. They try to tear down his financial institutions and the national bank that he worked so hard to set up. Hamilton was not a popular man, and perhaps it might have worked. Perhaps America might have forgotten him, the Founding Father without a father.
For 50 years Eliza protects his reputation. She dedicates the rest of her life to telling Alexander’s story. She interviews the soldiers who fought by his side. She goes through his thousands of letters. She raises funds for a monument to Washington. She speaks out against slavery.
She never knows if she has done enough.
She establishes the first private orphanage in their city, and helps raise hundreds of children. In their eyes, she sees her husband, until the day she lays by his side.
(I’m not crying. You’re crying.)
I hope people liked this analysis and the ideas around Hubris Box. I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments.
There will be more posts about Hubris Box in the future. I know people who have very different interpretations, and it’ll be a lot of fun to compare and contrast. Until then
I have the honour to be
Your Obedient Servant
S dot Morff.
Header image is I Wrote my own Deliverance by twistedCaliber on deviantArt