Note: This article is part of a bigger project honoring strong females, fictional and real, in theatre as part of Women’s History Month.
by Celeste Montaño
First, there were the Fates of mythology, then the witches of Macbeth, and now there are the Schuyler sisters of Hamilton. Female trios that wield influence over a hero’s destiny have been popping up in literature for centuries but it’s clear from the outset that Hamilton’s version is truly unique. While literary tradition is fond of cryptic crones with supernatural powers, Hamilton instead introduces us to a group of rebellious young women that sneak out to have some fun. Much has been said about the girl power anthem that the Schuylers perform in Act 1, but the best part isn’t the witty lines or perfect harmonies; it’s the giddy youthful spirit that the sisters exude, the passion for life and adventure that you’d expect from a group of rule-breaking BFFs, but not necessarily from the Founding Mothers.
Unlike Fates or witches, who tend to crop up only when the main character needs a push, the Schuyler sisters don’t stand apart from the story. In fact, they go to great lengths to be in the midst of the action, elbowing their way into the city. Angelica is particularly bold as she rushes headlong into the male-dominated corners of New York without hesitation or self-consciousness.
Even Peggy gets swept along in Angelica’s enthusiasm. Peggy trails behind her older sisters as she waivers between her instinct to follow the rules and her desire to take part in her sisters’ mischief. It’s easy to forget, especially with the popularity of Internet memes, that Peggy is still a teenage girl and understandably alarmed about walking into the epicenter of political unrest, or into a situation where she’s going to be a young woman surrounded by strange men.
And yes, heads turn – especially in Angelica’s direction. But it’s not so much that the men are ogling the sisters: it’s that the men are desperate for the sisters to notice them, even going as far as to proclaim hopefully “she’s looking for me!” Considering how often female characters appear in stories just to be looked at, it’s a nice change that the sisters get to be the ones looking around in this show.
Still, it’s not very far-fetched to compare the Schuylers to literary archetypes that shape the direction of a story. After all, Eliza pulls together the threads of her husband’s story and spins the narrative that becomes his legacy. Not to mention that she carefully controls her own legacy as well: she decides what parts of her story remain visible and what parts get burned forever. But the sisters play an active part in the story, thereby transcending literary tradition, and constantly garner comparisons to the likes of Destiny’s Child and the Kardashians. Their powers might recall ancient storytelling traditions and they might be living in the 1700’s, but if the Schuyler sisters are anything, it’s thoroughly modern and entirely relevant.