So at this point, I believe we’re all familiar with the whole Pence attends Hamilton, Hamilton cast addresses him directly about their concerns, everyone (read: mostly right-wing, including Trump himself) attacks the Hamilton cast for bringing their politics to the stage and “harassing” Pence.
Mike Rowe, former host of the tv show Dirty Jobs, also had something to say when asked.
While I was pretending to be asleep in the back of the car, I heard my mother read that post word for word to my father and praise Rowe’s reasoning. To sum up what he declared: the cast of Hamilton undermined the message of diversity of Hamilton by directly addressing Pence. By stepping out of character and bringing their concerns to the forefront of everyone’s attention, Rowe believes the message was made “smaller” and therefore less powerful.
I respectfully and wholeheartedly disagree.
Now, Rowe stands on Hamlet and the use of “the play” to “catch the conscience of the king.” Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2.
Rowe also states:
When Shakespeare wrote, “The play’s the thing,” Hamlet was telling us the most effective way for him to make his point was to keep his personal feelings out of the conversation.
First off, Hamlet is not using the play to make a point. He asks the players to perform so that he may truly be certain of his uncles guilt. As written in the same soliloquy that Rowe references:
I’ll have these Players
Play something like the murder of my father
Before mine uncle. I’ll observe his looks;
I’ll tent him to the quick. If he but blench,
I know my course.
So misuse of Hamlet text aside, I would like to address something that Mike Rowe missed entirely.
The history of theatre is filled with examples of actors and writers using the form to poke fun, ridicule and address those of higher classes. One doesn’t have to look farther than the plays of Oscar Wilde, Moliere, Beaumarchais, Shaw and Shakespeare to see these trends. When studying theatre it is likely for one to ask, how did they (the higher classes being ridiculed) not know? How after seeing these plays, that were written about them and for them, did they not realize they were the subject?! For the sake of this argument, and because Rowe used him as an example, let’s look at Shakespeare.
Ask any expert or scholar of Shakespeare and they will tell you one method Shakespeare used was to place his plays somewhere else. By placing Hamlet in Denmark, Shakespeare was absolving himself of any connections that Hamlet might have to current English affairs or corruptions. This was the case for many of his tragedies as Shakespeare would not have been able to “get away with” criticizing the current rulers.
And it worked. But wait, isn’t Hamilton placed in America? Doesn’t its title include the phrase “An American Musical”? Why yes. Yes it does. So if it’s placed in our country, doesn’t that mean audience members can’t escape that it’s about our history? Our diversity? Our foundation on immigration?
You’d think that. And yet like those watching the plays of Wilde and Moliere, people still miss the point. Because at the heart of the issue, people do not hear what they do not want to.
I believe that what the cast of Hamilton did in addressing Pence was the best possible thing they could do. By directly speaking to him, there could be no escape or ignoring of their concerns and anxieties about the upcoming presidency. They did not make the message “smaller” like Rowe believes. They made it stronger. By making it inescapable.
To close, I’d like to share a more personal story as evidence.
On November 10th, I posted this status addressing my mostly conservative home community. Included in the community I hoped would take it to heart, were my high school classmates and teachers, churches I had attended and my parents.
This past thanksgiving break, which was filled with avoiding any topic even closely related to politics, my mom spoke to me about the post a single time. In which she said, “You were talking about [your high school] right? That’s who I thought you were addressing.”
My stomach dropped but I was not surprised. Because like many, my mother is a person uncomfortable with being told that her actions are wrong or even reprehensible. After hearing her response, I could not help but think of Rowe’s post that she had so passionately and gladly shared with my dad. It merely furthered my belief that people are frightening capable of ignoring what’s right in front of them.
And they will not listen, unless you grab them by the shoulders, look them straight in the eye, and say, “It’s you.”