Plot Development [Song lyrics breakdown]
In this blog post, I wanted to take a really detailed look into all the different lines in the song. It’s pretty lengthy, so if you don’t want to read all of this stuff just go straight to my more condensed version of the song analysis.
This song is based fairly closely on the original letters exchanged between Hamilton and Burr, but Lynn- Miranda clearly chose to go with their spirit, rather than their exact words.
From the very beginning, Burr is angry and starts to question all of Hamilton’s success. He’s repeatedly pointing out that all of Burr’s missteps in life are because of Hamilton.
“How does Hamilton
This is a much meaner rephrasing of the opening lines of the show, and you can see Burr’s frustration shown in the lyrics. This eventually leads to the sentence; “The room where it happens.”
Thomas Jefferson, his enemy
A man he’s despised since the beginning
Just to keep me from winning?”
In the previous song, The Election of 1800, Hamilton states that “Jefferson has beliefs, however Burr has none.” This is why Thomas Jefferson has his vote despite their opposing political ideologies. [Basically he’s super salty that Hamilton supports Jefferson just because he doesn’t want Burr to win”.]
“The room where it happens.”
So this references back to Burr’s song earlier on where he reveals what he wants, and how that turns him into the antagonist of the play. Burr has a strong sense that Hamilton stopped him from becoming an insider to what was going on at the time.
As Carter mentioned previously, Hamilton is the type of person that’s more like go, go, go and Burr is the kind that waits for the perfect opportunity and then strikes. This kind of seems like the moment where Burr transforms from the patient political observer to more of a rash person who acts impulsively. I think this is because Burr believes Hamilton is so disrespectful to him all the time [observed in “The only common thread has been your disrespect.”]. This isn’t a totally untruthful statement either because Hamilton is sometimes rude to Burr especially with the whole “Aaron Burr, Sir” thing and I feel like Burr’s just fed up with the whole idea of Hamilton. So he basically challenges Hamilton into a duel and these lines pretty much a hint to what’s coming;
“If you’ve got something to say
Name a time and place
Face to face”
“I have the honor of being Your Obedient Servant
A dot Burr”
“I have the honor of being Your Obedient Servant
A dot Ham”
The context and the nature of this letter is pretty threatening and accusing so the humble closure is pretty ironic [the music sounds like that too] but this is how Burr and Hamilton actually signed the letters. [“A dot Ham” is a bit of poetic license to fit the music; Hamilton actually signs his letters “A dot Hamilton.] It sounds a bit sarcastic but this is how the two rivals actually signed off their letters.
“You’ve kept me from-
The room where it happens
For the last time”
This segment I think is pretty ironic because Burr’s political career is ruined after killing Hamilton which means that the election of 1800 was NOT the last time Hamilton kept Burr out of the room where it happens.
“I am not the reason no one trusts you
No one knows what you believe
I will not equivocate on my opinion
I have always worn it on my sleeve”
Hamilton basically points out that his own behavior of loud-mouthedness against Burr’s motto of “Talk less smile more” brought him his reputation of untrustworthiness. And this is true as Aaron Burr is vague about almost everything. In the previous song The Election of 1800, Jefferson points out that Burr is “Not forthcoming on any particular stances”.
“Answer for the accusations I lay at your feet or
Prepare to bleed, good man”
Here Burr’s threat for a duel against Hamilton doubles. The actual letter says,
“Your letter of the 20th inst, has been this day received. Having considered it attentively, I regret to find in it nothing of that sincerity and delicacy which you profess to value… Your letter has furnished me with new reasons for requiring a definite reply.”
“I stand by what I said, every bit of it
You stand only for yourself
It’s what you do
I can’t apologize because it’s true”
In this part, Hamilton basically tells Burr that he won’t apologize for what he’s done because it’s all right. He consistently points out that he stands for the republic while Burr only stands for himself and waiting for his opportunities will not get him anywhere. [“If you stand for nothing, Burr, what’ll you fall for?”]
By this time, Burr’s finally had it with Hamilton and challenges him to a duel. The tone of the music changes, and this basically symbolizes Burr’s darkening temper as he’s getting angrier. In the next lines it’s all drums as Burr can’t hide his anger.
“Then stand, Alexander
Oh shoot, Burr, the all courteous polite formal person ever uses Hamilton’s first name Alexander. I think Burr is just pushing Hamilton’s buttons here and for someone like Hamilton’s that’s so impulsive, this could be one of the reasons, he actually went to fight Burr.
Burr originally tells Hamilton to name the time and place, but now he’s too angry to care as he names the time and place. Weehawken on Hamilton Avenue is where the “Death rock of Alexander Hamilton lies.” It was supposedly the place he rested after having been shot but it was moved in 1870 to a more convenient location.
As noted by rap genius, Hamilton misses the beat here whereas Burr’s lines are all spoken exactly on the drum beat. Maybe this notes Hamilton’s hesitation to duel Burr, maybe he’s “Throwing away his shot”?
“I have the honor to be Your Obedient Servant” [In Harmony]
Hamilton and Burr are two figures that are constantly clashing and this is actually only the second time they managed to sing in harmony. However, this is very ironic because they managed to agree that they will never agree and must fight in order to reach their goals.
“A dot Ham”
“A dot Burr”
The ending of this piece in the musical, you can observe a couple things here. First of all, Burr’s line comes in after as if to signify that Burr has the last sentence [maybe this foreshadows the duel’s results.] However, Hamilton’s line comes on top as if to say that Hamilton will always be on top of Burr and be loved more in History’s eyes. With the music accompaniment, Hamilton has the quiet pizzicato and Burr has the loud drum which goes against both of their natures, which shows how angry and forward Burr is.