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Character Analysis through Hamilton Song Lyrics

There's a reason it's easier to remember song lyrics than detailed information; songs present detailed information in a memorable way. Use music that is current with students or can at least resonate with them. Musicals are one of the best tools as they combine literature, music, characters, story, and, if you're lucky, America's history. Let's look at teaching character analysis through Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hamilton.


At the end of this lesson, students will be able to:

  1. Identify characters in the song lyrics
  2. Determine the character roles
  3. Evaluate character behavior with regards to their background
  4. Analyze motivations and actions
  5. Craft a thesis


For this lesson, you won't need anything other than your computer, projector system, and maybe some rocking speakers because you'll want to turn these songs up to an 11.


Opening (10 minutes)

Begin the lesson with an explanation of key concepts for character analysis. This is typically a combination of external and internal qualities. Below is only a handful of examples and is by no means an exhaustive list:

  • External Character Qualities
    • Name
    • Gender
    • Age
    • Birthplace
    • Living Location
    • Education
  • Internal Character Qualities
    • Strengths
    • Weaknesses
    • Motivation
    • Fears
    • Loves

By knowing these qualities, students can begin analyzing characters. And there's no better way to learn analysis than by putting it into action.

Work Time (30 minutes)

Hamilton has been around for several years and is available in various formats. With a wide cast of characters, it may be beneficial to watch a scene and one of the songs from the film version of the musical, which is available on Disney+.

After watching the scene and being able to differentiate different people and their voices, project the lyrics onto the board and listen only to the audio. The song "Aaron Burr, Sir" presents Alexander Hamilton's first conversation with Aaron Burr, the protagonist, and anti-hero, respectively. An exchange from the lyrics is as follows:

Hamilton: I wanted to do what you did/ Graduate in two, then join the revolution/ He looked at me like I was stupid, I'm not stupid/ So how'd you do it? How'd you graduate so fast?

Burr: It was my parents' dying wish before they passed

Hamilton: You're an orphan. Of course! I'm an orphan/ God, I wish there was a war/ Then we could prove that we're worth more than anyone bargained for

Burr: Can I buy you a drink?

Hamilton: That would be nice

Burr: While we're talking/ Let me offer you some free advice/ Talk less

Hamilton: What?

Burr: Smile more

Hamilton: Ha

Burr: Don't let them know what you're against or what you're for

Hamilton: You can't be serious

Burr: You wanna get ahead?

Hamilton: Yes

Burr: Fools who run their mouths off wind up dead

Once your students have watched and listened to the exchange a few times, group students in collections of four or five and have them discuss the following set of questions:

  1. What is Hamilton's motivation? Why does he feel this way?
  2. How does Hamilton make Burr feel? What do you think influenced this response?
  3. How do you see Hamilton and Burr's relationship developing? Does it?

Each group should assign a scribe to write down their thoughts on each question, and students should engage in a thorough discussion that enables them to delve into the characters and their traits in the song lyrics. They can go further to examine the internal and external traits of the characters.

After a set amount of time, about three minutes, have each group give a short presentation of their thoughts. After each group, summarize their thoughts and explore the possibilities of their analysis.

Closing and Assessment (5 minutes)

After discussing with each group, ask the students to summarize the main character's traits in one to two sentences. 

For example, Alexander is a student eager to learn and employ his knowledge for his country. Aaron provides advice contrary to what Alexander believes, thus placing them at odds against each other.

This quick assignment would be a great ticket out the door. 


Ask students to listen to the next song, "My Shot," and respond to the following questions at home:

  1. How does the additional information about Hamilton's past outlined in "My Shot" further inform the listener of his feelings toward Burr?
  2. What principles does Hamilton have? What qualities does he lack?
  3. Compare Alexander's approach to life with the young people of your generation.

The students are expected to do the homework and present their findings the following day in class.

Written by Herman Kayima
Education World Contributor
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