Hamilton and Literary Terms

I am such a nerd.

I went to work today with an urge to listen to Hamilton in the car, which turned out to be a pretty fortuitous decision.

See, months after I’ve finally moved past the fan phase where I listened to the soundtrack daily in its completeness I still have fragments of songs come into my head unbidden at all hours of the day.  This typically isn’t a big deal; it’s just like having a chronic earworm that I can’t bring myself to be annoyed by, because even in isolation I still get gobsmacked examining Lin-Manuel Miranda’s lyrics.  They’re packed with tons of intricate wordplay and incredibly musical flourishes.

That’s all kind of a tangent, but it serves to say that I had a bunch of Hamilton bouncing around in my head today when I went into work, and it just so happened that we’re beginning our unit on literary terms in my tenth grade classes.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

Unfortunately, I didn’t put together the materials for introducing literary terms; I’m brand new at my school, and we do a sort of group planning with all the grade level teachers (plus me, as the co-teacher for a couple of the regular ed folks).  It’s a cool way to build lessons and lean on one another for support and ideas, but being the newbie means that I’m mostly just going along with what’s already been assembled.

So when we got to the point in the first class when it was time to start explaining literary terms and provide examples, my mind immediately went to Hamilton.  Sadly, I was scatterbrained and not leading that portion of the lesson, so I alternated between having examples that were probably too complex (demonstrating multiple sound devices in the same line) or included cursing (the cursing in Hamilton is one of my favorite things because it always feels like censoring it would blunt the poetry of the lines), neither of which is really good for working with teenagers (the cursing would certainly be memorable, but not really appropriate, and the complex examples would too easily create confusion between different devices).

I never had a chance to really think through some really good examples over the course of the day, but the idea stuck with me on the way home, and now I want to see if I can isolate some specific lines to present to students sometime in the future.  So that’s what I’m going to do here.  We’ll see how successful I am.

Sound Devices

  • Alliteration – “Constantly confusing, confounding the British henchmen / Everyone give it up for America’s favorite fighting Frenchman!” (Burr, “Guns and Ships”)
  • Repetition – “Unimportant, / There’s a million things I haven’t done, / but just you wait, just you wait…” (Hamilton, “Satisfied”)
  • Assonance – “I’m in the Cabinet, I am complicit / in watching him grabbin’ at power / and kissin’ it. / Washington isn’t gonna listen / to disciplined dissidence / this is the difference / this kid is out!” (Jefferson, “Washington on Your Side”)
  • Consonance – “The conversation lasted two minutes, maybe three minutes / everything we said in total agreement. / It’s a dream and it’s a bit of a dance / a bit of a posture, it’s a bit of a stance.” (Angelica, “Satisfied”)
  • Onomatopoiea – “You walked in, and my heart went boom.” (Eliza, “Helpless”)

Figurative Language

  • Imagery – “It’s the feeling of freedom, / of seeing the light. / It’s Ben Franklin with the key and the kite! / You see it right?” (Angelica, “Satisfied”)
  • Metaphor – “I’m a diamond in the rough, a shining piece of coal” (Hamilton, “My Shot”)
  • Simile – “It’s like Ben Franklin with the key and the kite. / You see it, right?” (Angelica, “Satisfied”)
  • Personification – “-Who’s your defendant? / -The new US Constitution.” (Burr & Hamilton, “Nonstop”)
  • Hyperbole – “You are the worst, Burr.” (LaFayette, “Story of Tonight (Reprise)”)

I’m sure there are other examples.  It is a two and a half hour soundtrack after all.  If you think of any that strike you as potentially good examples (or even as potentially good sections to pull out for a practice activity in identification), feel free to note them in the comments.

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