What do you do when your main character is ridiculously prideful, a workaholic, and cheats on his wife? How do you get audiences to root for him? Is that even possible?
We’re talking about Hamilton, if you couldn’t tell. He’s
a bit of quite the jerk, but audiences still cheer for him. Why? Well, there’s several reasons, but a big one is that they hate the antagonist even more.
How do you know that people will hate your antagonist enough to make up for your antihero? There’s a foolproof way to guarantee hatred in an audience. People loathe hypocrites. And Thomas Jefferson is one giant hypocrite.
This may be hard to pick up on in a casual listen to the cast recording, but after devoting many years to studying early American history and purchasing several Broadway tickets for extensive analysis of the play, you will begin to pick up on the nuances. Or you could read this post, whichever’s easiest.
There are several places where Jefferson’s hypocrisy is blatant.
When “Thomas Jefferson’s coming home,” he sings, “Lookin’ at the rolling fields/I can’t believe that we are free.” Seems genuine enough, right? Wrong. He sings this while sitting on a rolling staircase pushed around by several slaves. This highlights the terrible irony of celebrating a ‘free country’ that’s supported by slavery.
During the second cabinet battle, Jefferson claims Hamilton “dresses like fake royalty.” Someone pointed out on Tumblr that it’s funny Jefferson says that while wearing… well, you can see what he’s wearing. And there’s a deeper issue here that the Broadway show highlights through this.
In real life, Jefferson often accused Hamilton of being obsessed with money and riches. Jefferson professed to long for simplicity, dressing in casual country clothes and believing that the future of America was in farming (Hamilton’s focus was on the cities, which is why they clashed so often). In reality, though, he lived magnificently, buying “two thousand books and sixty-three paintings” while residing in France as the U.S. minister (according to Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton). His lifestyle plunged him deep in debt, but he refused to sell any of his extensive property to repay it.
Meanwhile, Hamilton lived, perhaps not modestly, but much less majestically than Jefferson. When Hamilton worked as a lawyer after leaving the government, he ‘earned three or four times his Treasury salary, but he did not aim to maximize his income.’ One person teased him, saying, “I hear that… you will not even pick up money when it lies at your feet…. You were made for… politics…” (Chernow)
In these examples, Jefferson’s not contradicting his words with words. Instead, he says one thing and does another, which is a much stronger form of hypocrisy.
If your antagonist just isn’t hateable enough, try making him a hypocrite. It’s a great way to make an audience more invested in the outcome, especially if your good guy isn’t exactly a great guy.