#HamiltonPotter: The Dark Side of Ambition
This weekend, I participated in a live tweet of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 with Bayana and BGNO favorite, Constance Gibbs. We are all also big fans of the brilliant cast recording of Broadway’s current hit musical, Hamilton, so shortly after the movie finished a brilliant hashtag was born: #HamiltonPotter. This piece is coming off of a thought I had linking the characterization of Aaron Burr in Hamilton to the Malfoy family in the Harry Potter series. While admittedly not the perfect analogy; both Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr share characteristics similar to that of the Potters and the Malfoys, respectively.
The characterization of Aaron Burr in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton is one of someone who is very ambitious and willing to denounce or walk away from his core beliefs in order to get ahead in society and politics. Alexander Hamilton, on the other hand, is very eager to prove himself and, though not polished, wants everyone to know how smart and capable he is. Hamilton, who looks up to Burr, bonds with him as a fellow orphan, though Burr comes from a much more affluent family and background. Hamilton is disappointed as Burr makes it known that his ambitions supercede his values. Thus, the friendship between Hamilton and Burr starts off contentiously, especially after Burr tells an eager Hamilton to “talk less, smile more. Don’t let them know what you’re against or what you’re for.” (Hamilton, “Aaron Burr, Sir”). Once introduced into Burr’s circle — finding others similar in their desire to prove themselves by joining in the Revolution — Hamilton’s opinion of Burr is lessened by his reluctance to make any revolutionary declarations as to not harm his image.
Similar to the characterization of Aaron Burr in Hamilton, the Malfoy family in Harry Potter has a reputation for being ambitious with little regard for the principles that lie behind that ambition. In the profile of the family written by JK Rowling on Pottermore it is stated that no one in the family has run for Minister of Magic or had any designs to hold office. However, the Malfoys always made sure to position themselves with whom they thought to be the winning side. While they have long held familial beliefs about the superiority of pureblood wizards over everyone else, this did not stop them from ingratiating themselves with non-magical influencers (for example Queen Elizabeth I) until after the International Statute of Secrecy, when they began to quickly refuse to admit ever socializing with Muggles. This pattern continues when their belief in pureblood superiority leads Lucius to join the Death Eaters. However, once Voldemort disappears they are among the first to come back to society, claiming to have been bewitched. Again, this reluctance to own up to their actions and beliefs is purely in an effort to salvage the Malfoy image in Wizarding society.
A defining moment in Hamilton is when Aaron Burr switches parties from Hamilton’s Federalist party to the Democratic-Republicans in order to win Hamilton’s father-in-law Philip Schuyler’s Senate seat. Hamilton challenges Burr’s friendship and morals while Burr sees this not as a personal slight but as an opportunity to be in a position of power and influence. For Aaron Burr, the importance is in being on the winning side, while for Hamilton the importance is fighting for your beliefs and holding onto your values. Hamilton hopes that his positions will bring him acclaim and influence, but he is not above alienating powerful people to argue for his beliefs. Hamilton has a reputation for being hot-headed and undiplomatic while squaring off against opponents. Aaron Burr is the opposite in that he is not above changing his positions in order to align himself with people in power. For Burr, power and influence are the real prizes. However, these different approaches to life lead Hamilton and Burr to vigorously oppose each other to the point of leading them to the fateful duel that ends Hamilton’s life.
Draco Malfoy very much looks up to his father and willingly falls in line with the familial belief that some people are superior to others based solely on their (Wizard) blood status. While Harry is “half-blood” and the Potters are a wealthy wizarding family, he does not grow up in the Wizarding World and has none of the prejudices that Malfoy carries. He actually sees himself as more of a Muggle-born because of his background. In Pottermore, Rowling writes that after defeating Voldemort as a baby, many Death Eaters hold the belief that Harry may be a very powerful Dark Wizard and that that is what gave him the ability to defeat Voldemort. Knowing this, Draco fulfills the expectations of his family by seeking a friendship with Harry early in their acquaintance. However, like Burr, as soon as Draco betrays his belief that status and popularity are the most important things in life, a cordial relationship with Harry becomes impossible. This is one moment when the analogy breaks down since for Draco, it’s never clear how much of this is a genuine belief and how much of it is from is unwavering loyalty to his father and his familial value system.
While this comparison of Alexander Burr and the Malfoy family is not perfect, it is interesting to explore in a myriad of ways. Not only does Burr resemble the Malfoys, but his opponent Alexander Hamilton shares traits with the Potters as well. Aaron Burr ends up killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel, living out the remainder of his life in public disdain, and dying in relative obscurity -- a terrible fate for a man as ambitious as he. Similarly, the Malfoys -- though they ultimately turn against the Dark Lord in the end -- receive the type of notoriety they always shunned once they are exposed as Death Eaters. After the initial fall of Voldemort, the Malfoy family claims they were bewitched. After Voldemort's final defeat, Lucius is only able to stay out of prison by turning in fellow Death Eaters and providing evidence that helps capture those in hiding. This ambition to achieve influence and power without having a noble cause behind them ultimately leads to the destruction of their name. The reason that Hamilton and the Potters are the heroes of their stories is because they are devoted to their cause and not to themselves.
In numerous situations, the Potters (namely Harry and James) show willingness to die in order to uphold their beliefs just as Hamilton risks his career, and ultimately his life, for his. James, Harry and Hamilton are ambitious indeed, but their ambitions come with a caveat: their refusal to turn their backs on their core beliefs and values in order to reach these heights. For Burr and the Malfoys this refusal does not exist. Though not without redeeming qualities, Burr and the Malfoys care deeply for their families. Narcissa goes to great lengths to save Draco, who is placed in a terrible position because of this loyalty to Lucius. Before he shoots Hamilton, Burr resolves to not leave his daughter an orphan. However, these characters are not defined by their redeeming qualities, they will forever be remembered for the actions they took in pursuit of personal glory. The dark side of their ambition leads to their fate as some of the most famous antagonists in history.