Hamiltrash Tuesday: The Importance of Comma Placement and How to Get Away With Saying “Macbeth” on Stage

Welcome to one of our new installments of Nikole Says Read! If you haven’t read my author’s bio, then let me be the first to inform you that I am the Queen of Hamilton Trash. I love it, live it, breathe it, and can talk about it for hours without ever shutting up. But here, I will be channeling my love for Hamilton into an intellectual setting for a class project.

Today we are going to be taking a look at “Take a Break” (Lyrics) which is the third song in Act 2. For those of you unfamiliar with the show, these are the characters that are present in this scene: Alexander Hamilton is the main character (I generally refer to him as Ham), Eliza is his wife, Philip is their son, and Angelica is Eliza’s older sister.

SCENE SYNOPSIS:

take a break.jpg
(L-R): Lin-Manuel Miranda as Alexander, Phillipa Soo as Eliza, and Renee Elise Goldsberry as Angelica

The scene opens on Eliza giving Philip his piano lesson and then switches to our good buddy A. Ham writing a letter to Angelica who has gotten married and moved to London. In a nutshell, he’s venting to her because Jefferson and Madison are blocking his proposed financial plan to Congress. Eliza interrupts him to remind Ham that it’s Philip’s 9th birthday and he has something to show them, so Philip performs this little rap he wrote and it’s super adorable (never mind that Philip is played by a 25 year old man). Anyway, Ham goes back to his letters and receives a letter from Angelica saying that she will be coming to visit for the summer. She finally gets to the Hamilton house in New York where she and Eliza try to convince Ham to take a vacation with them to their father’s house upstate. But Ham can’t be bothered to take a break (ha!), so Angelica, Eliza, and the kids leave without him.

ANALYSIS!

So we’re going to start with the comma stuff. And I really thought this was common knowledge, but a friend that was a science major in school didn’t understand and asked me to explain it to him so apparently it isn’t as common as I thought. And if this is not immediately apparent to a native English speaker, then I imagine many non-native English speaking fans must be struggling with this as well.

It would have been perfectly acceptable for Ham to write, “My dearest Angelica,” at the start of his letter, but he didn’t. He wrote, “My dearest, Angelica” instead. And of course, Angelica notices and quickly notes that it changed the meaning.

“How did it change the meaning?” my friend asks.

Well, “My dearest Angelica,” is just a nice greeting. It’s like saying, “Oh hey my good friend Angelica.” “My dearest, Angelica” with the comma after “dearest” implies that he is writing to his most dear one, which is Angelica. And Angelica is his wife’s sister, so that’s sort of not okay.

Using Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter as a reference point, this comma misplacement is explored on page 169. On Angelica’s line, “In a letter I received from you two weeks ago I noticed a comma in the middle of a phrase. It changed the meaning. Did you intend this? One stroke and you’ve consumed my waking days” Lin makes a footnote that says, “This took weeks to figure out, but it’s based on actual correspondence between Alexander and Angelica. They’d slip commas between words and change the meaning. The passage that inspired this verse was actually in French. Comma sexting. It’s a thing. Get into it.”

Well okay then, apparently Ham did intend this after all. If you’re familiar with the show at all, you’ll notice there is a lot of sexual tension between Ham and Angelica, EVEN THOUGH HE IS MARRIED TO HER SISTER. Apparently the comma thing was just a tool to heighten the sexual tension, which was something that the real life Alexander Hamilton and Angelica Schuyler Church did in their letters.

Who would have thought that commas could ever be so sexy.

On to the Macbeth thing!

So another learning opportunity for you all, it’s extremely bad luck to say the word “Macbeth” inside a theatre. I’m not sure exactly what all that superstition entails, but I’ve heard all kinds of ghastly rumors from actors dying to the theatre blowing up and what not. So, a good rule of thumb is to just not say it. But of course, if you are Lin-Manuel Miranda, if someone tells you not to do something, you’re going to go ahead and do it anyway.

“BUT WAIT!” you say. “Wouldn’t the other theatre people object to it??”

Maybe some, but the general answer is no! And here is why: apparently the superstition doesn’t apply if you’re referencing the character Macbeth, not the actual play. And if you’ll notice, Ham even says, “I trust you’ll understand the reference to another Scottish tragedy without my having to name the play.” He is referencing the play without naming it, because if he were to actually say “Macbeth” in reference to the show, that would be a huge no-no. However, the line, “They think me Macbeth, and ambition is my folly. I’m a polymath, a pain in the ass, a massive pain.” is okay, because here he is talking about Macbeth the character. Lin was very sly with this one, but he is one of the most creative geniuses of our time so I can’t say that I’m really surprised. Even more sneaky? When Angelica shows up in New York and tries to convince him to come upstate with her and Eliza, she says, “Screw your courage to the sticking place!” which is a line of Lady Macbeth’s.

This man is my hero.13hamilton1-master675-copy.jpg

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