Anyone who knows me knows I am a huge Hamilton: The Musical fan. What most people don’t know is that Hamilton has been my favorite founding father since I was 11 years old. For those of you counting, that would be 27 years. I have 27 years of founding father fangirling under my belt. For a geek, this means spending a lot of time obsessing about this time period. As Americans, we have created a mythology of purposeful rebellion mixed with justified action against oppressors surrounding the American Revolution. This narrative still fits well with many of the current social justice movements such as Black Lives Matter and feminism.
However, Hamilton is only the most recent repositioning of the American Revolution story to fit the modern day social needs. In recent years, The Dreamer webcomic and Brian Wood’s Rebels have also engaged with the Revolution mythology. The Dreamer follows the story of Bea, a modern day high school student who travels through time to the Revolutionary War when she sleeps. Rebels originally traced the story of a young Vermonter at the outset of the war. Interestingly, the most recent issues follow under-represented groups from freed slaves to Native American women. AMC’s program Turn, about the formation of the Culper Ring, as well as the popularity of Sleepy Hollow also add to this sense that we are seeing a resurgent interest in our revolutionary mythology in recent years.
As we try to overcome the historical oppression of our own people, these updated forms of our historical narratives are popular precisely because they remind us of our roots. Simultaneously, they give us a common language for these contentious discussions. In other countries, people appear to mostly learn that the war happened and that there was the Boston Tea Party. Some get a sense of the Revolution being committed by some justified rabble-rousers. However, Revolutionaries righteously fighting for freedom from oppression is unique to our common cultural sense of self as Americans. In reading through The Dreamer again and in listening to Hamilton (for the numbered time that shall not be stated lest I look crazy), a distinct difference is evident in the portrayal of Hercules Mulligan. Dissecting these differences shows how using our founding fathers as semi-fictional characters can embody the sense of rebellion in a modern narrative.
Based on Google’s collection of Hercules Mulligan pictures, he was your typical late-1700’s white dude. I can’t figure out the age he’s supposed to be in the pictures, but it feels as though he’s a little older than his Revolutionary self. Based on biographical information, Mulligan was 36 at the time the Declaration of Independence was signed, having been born in Ireland in 1740. First, as a heterosexual woman with eyes, I have to admit that Hamilton‘s Hercules (or HamHerc as I plan to call him from now on) is far easier on the eyes and does not look like he’s in his mid-30s. I find the casting of him as a large, virile man interesting since the historical imagery appears to make him seem more slight of build. The Dreamer‘s Hercules (HercuDream from now on) looks to be in his mid-40s and is portrayed as almost chubby in a midlife overweight sort of way.
The interesting part of this repositioning is in the form the masculinity takes in light of the revolutionary narrative underlying the characters. Both narratives focus highly on Mulligan’s sartorial skills. HercHam tells us, “I’m a tailor’s apprentice” and later “a tailor spying on the British government/I take their measurements, information, and then I smuggle it.” Simultaneously, HercuDream, while imprisoned, notes, “What will people think of Hercules Mulligan’s Haberdashery if one of my guests is seen in a plain wool coat?” The wording of these representations and Mulligan’s locations position the two versions extremely differently. These differences match the social movement each intends to harken. Hamilton‘s use of people of color in all roles intends to parallel the current oppression of people of color with the mythology of the colonists’ oppression. Therefore, these lines present Hercules as a strong, young virile man of color fitting in with the image of the young, urban male fighting in the Black Lives Matter movement. In the case of The Dreamer, Bea is a teen girl under the rule of her parents in her modern day incarnation. Her Revolutionary self has freedom of movement despite the oppression of social norms. Therefore, Mulligan’s rhetorical question while imprisoned, implying lack of confidence (even if ultimately a ruse), places him as relying on a young woman. In this case, we see that youth and femininity are able to save the patriarchal structure, and this fits in with the strong female character motif.
Following the representation of masculinity, we need to look at the way Mulligan’s age is represented. Only one line in Hamilton, “and I got y’all knuckleheads in loco parentis,” hints at Mulligan’s fatherly relationship with the young revolutionaries. Mulligan was 15 years older than Hamilton and the other younger revolutionaries. Likely, he was not the single, skirt chasing character portrayed in the play (although that isn’t to say he didn’t tomcat a bit). Acting “in loco parentis” means “in the place of the parents” for the younger set. His actions throughout the rest of the musical, however, hint at youthfulness. Combining this with the fact that Mulligan stayed in New York throughout the majority of the war, he is the quintessential representation of city life in the play. Therefore, portraying Mulligan as a young, swagger-filled, black man at the center of urban life evokes the youthfulness of the Black Lives Matter movement. Meanwhile, in The Dreamer, Mulligan is mirrored to Bea’s uncle, and she has to force herself to call him cousin when she is her Revolutionary self. This age parallel forces the reader to place Mulligan as slightly older than he would have been during the Revolution. Placing him as the older uncle character reinforces the older age when Bea has to focus on the more youthful term of cousin. HercuDream is thus established as a member of the adult authority linking him with the patriarchy. Looking at The Dreamer as a feminist text giving decision-making control to a young woman, HercuDream becomes the representation here of an authority that is contained and in need of aid.
These two separate narratives that use the same historical character in entirely different ways rely on our American mythology. Our understanding of that story is particular to us, as a country. Although other countries may learn about the war, we alone understand the shorthand that it implies. These divergent representations of the historical figure of Hercules Mulligan in these fictional representations allow us to rely on our historical shorthand to reposition our Revolutionary narrative to engage new social goals. These stories are declarations of independence, and these new fights for equality are truths that we shall hold self-evident that all people are created equally.