Hamilton Literary Elements





Setting and Context

1776-1804, New York City: during and after the American Revolution

Narrator and Point of View

Although a few characters have monologues in which they tell a part of the story in their point of view, the majority of the play is told through Alexander Hamilton's perspective.

Tone and Mood

Patriotic, hopeful, lyrical, reflective

Protagonist and Antagonist

The protagonist of the story is Alexander Hamilton, and the antagonist is his friend and eventual enemy Aaron Burr. In Act II, Thomas Jefferson becomes an antagonist as well, due to his political conflicts with Hamilton.

Major Conflict

The main consistent source of conflict throughout the play is Hamilton and Burr's growing hostility toward one another. The two always seem to be on the same path in life, vying for the same opportunities, with Hamilton consistently winning over Burr in seemingly everything. Burr prefers to keep his options open by never exclusively choosing a side in any conflict and always remaining neutral. By contrast, Hamilton is very outspoken in his beliefs and criticizes Burr for his inability to take a stand. This conflict between the two continues to grow throughout the play, until it eventually boils over in the final act when Burr challenges Hamilton to a duel.


The climax is Burr and Hamilton's duel, in which Hamilton dies.


Aaron Burr has a few lines throughout Act I in which he foreshadows Hamilton's future death in Act II. In the second song of the musical, "Aaron Burr, Sir," Burr warns Hamilton that "fools who run their mouths off wind up dead." This foreshadows the conflict that will arise between the two, eventually leading to Burr killing Hamilton. Similarly, in "Non-Stop," Burr inquires of Hamilton, "Why do you assume you're the smartest in the room? Soon that attitude will be your doom." This again foreshadows Hamilton's death in his duel with Burr.


In the song "Take a Break," Alexander tells his wife Eliza that "John Adams doesn't have a real job, anyway." This is an understatement because any job in the federal government can be very taxing, and just because Hamilton believes that Adams works less than he does, doesn't necessarily mean Adams doesn't have a "real" job.


Several of the songs in Hamilton allude to classic hip-hop and R&B music, from which the musical takes its influence. Although many songs in the musical reference the classics, the R&B ballad "Helpless" particularly pays tribute to a few of them. "Helpless" has similarities in both rhyme and elements to Beyonce's hit "Countdown," which Lin Manuel-Miranda cited as an inspiration for writing Hamilton. The song also features Eliza repeating the line "the boy is mine," alluding to the R&B hit by Brandy & Monica of the same name. In between lines in "Helpless," Hamilton can be heard interjecting the words "No stress!" which is also done in the 1996 hit by The Fugees, "Ready or Not." Finally, the song seems to allude to another hip-hop duet, "Da Club" by Trina and Mannie Fresh, in which we hear the line "the record went boom," which is delivered in the same style as the similar line from "Helpless," which is "my heart went boom."


The opening song, "Alexander Hamilton," effectively describes the past 19 years of Hamilton's life in less than four minutes. It begins with Hamilton's childhood in the Carribean, depicting an image of a 12 year old boy, abandoned by his father and left an orphan after his mother's death. The boy is moved from home to home after that, facing seemingly endless struggle and sorrow. By 14 he was in charge of a trading charter, and worked any job he could find just to get by. Hamilton's determination to become something in life gave him an opportunity to get an education in the United States, where he immigrated from the Caribbean. All of this and more about Hamilton's upbringing is described in this four-minute song, and gives the audience a solid image of Hamilton's character before heading into the rest of the story.


In the song "Ten Duel Commandments," the first duel of the play commences. Burr asks Hamilton, "Can we agree that duels are dumb and immature?" This statement is paradoxical because years later when the tension between the two reaches its height, Burr challenges Hamilton to a duel and kills him.


Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson seem to have personalities parallel to each other, despite being enemies throughout the entirety of the play. Both characters are firm in their beliefs and are not easily swayed by opposition, which is a contrast from other characters, such as Aaron Burr. During the election of 1800, Hamilton ends up endorsing Jefferson although they have completely different viewpoints, because he knows that like himself, Jefferson will be firm in his values and not be as indecisive as Burr would be. Likely, these similarities between the personalities of the two increased the conflict between them.


Alexander Hamilton personifies America in his monologue during "The World Was Wide Enough" to draw emphasis on everything the country has done for him throughout his life. Hamilton expresses his thanks for America, saying "America, you great unfinished symphony, you sent for me / You let me make a difference, a place where even orphan immigrants / Can leave their fingerprints and rise up." He personifies America in order to address the country directly and make his "thank you" as intimate as possible.

Use of Dramatic Devices

Alexander Hamilton delivers a powerful monologue during "The World Was Wide Enough," at the moment he is shot by Burr at the duel. When Hamilton is shot, he exits reality for a moment and delivers this monologue, reflecting on his life and how history will see him once he dies. In this powerful scene, Hamilton asks, "If I throw away my shot, is this how you’ll remember me? What if this bullet is my legacy?" This monologue effectively summarizes Hamilton's life and legacy, while stirring up emotions in the audience to make the scene more influential.