By Shannon Sigafoos

It’s not unheard of for historical Broadway shows to take creative license. Les Misérables, for example, places the French Revolution in 1832, when in fact it began with the storming of the Bastille in 1789. The musical 1776 would have you believe the Declaration of Independence was signed July 4, 1776. In reality, this important American event occurred on a day that receives less fanfare: August 2, 1776.

Nonetheless, these shows have been praised for teaching history—as has Hamilton.

It’s been nearly six years since Hamilton opened on Broadway, and a year since a live recording began streaming on Disney+, where it drew more than 2 million viewers in its first 10 days. In the half decade between, it opened stage productions around the globe and was lauded for teaching history to a nontraditional theater audience in the form of a hip-hop musical.

Playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda has said he tried to keep his production “as historically accurate as possible.” But in the book Dueling Grounds: Revolution and Revelation in the Musical Hamilton, Mary Jo Lodge, associate professor of theater, begs the question of whether Hamilton actually teaches history or instead celebrates heritage.

“Heritage is fictionalized history—or history selectively presented,” says Lodge. “Heritage, above all, celebrates history by presenting a not-necessarily-accurate view. Hamilton is not history. It’s something sort of like history.”

In Dueling Grounds, Lodge discusses how it’s not just the deviation from the historical record that makes Hamilton a heritage musical. It is also in the music itself. It is Hamilton’s finale, “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story?” that allows the audience to feel greater empathy for the character of Hamilton and to accept the show as a preservation of Hamilton’s legacy, even if it’s historically inaccurate.

Lodge, who has seen the original Hamilton cast three times, still praises the entertainment value of the play.

Hamilton does a lot of great and innovative things,” she says. “There’s a lot to like, and there’s a reason it speaks to so many people. We just wanted to make sure that while we celebrated those accomplishments, we were also looking at what it’s not doing in terms of being a teaching tool with not a lot of historical accuracy.”

Here, Lodge sets the record straight by identifying a few times Miranda took liberties:

  • Hamilton whitewashes history. Miranda wrote his character of Hamilton as a staunch abolitionist and fails to feature a single enslaved character. “The musical highlights the role of slavery in early America, while simultaneously praising their central characters for their antislavery points of view—which, at least for Hamilton, aren’t entirely justified,” Lodge says. “While John Adams never owned slaves, Hamilton certainly did. It is inconvenient to think about historical figures we admire as owning slaves in the Black Lives Matter era. So, how do you get around that? Well, you say, ‘They were actually opposed to slavery.’ Then, we’re going to go a step further, and we’re going to have Black or Latino men play them, so that you can see them as proud Black men.”
  • During the bar scene that includes the song “The Story of Tonight,” Hamilton is in a room with other men who would become prominent historical figures, including the Marquis de Lafayette, Hercules Mulligan, John Laurens, and Aaron Burr. Lodge says the timeline doesn’t add up. Although Lafayette did form a friendship with Hamilton, it wasn’t until years later, and there is no historical proof that Mulligan ever met Laurens or Lafayette.
  • Hamilton features three Schuyler sisters as key parts of its story, but Miranda left out several Schuyler siblings. In reality, in addition to the three sisters, the Schuylers had five other children, including three sons. The omission helps drive the intrigue between Angelica Schuyler and Hamilton’s relationship, which leads to another critique of Miranda’s presentation of female characters. “The women in this show really exist in relationship to the men, and their roles are broken down into stereotypes, even though the Schuyler sisters actually lived really interesting lives,” says Lodge.