It’s hard to talk about Hamilton’s Angelica without thinking about Eponine, that other figure of unrequited love in a smash hit musical. But once you’ve noted that they both sing a song about the guy they don’t end up with, the similarities pretty much end. Eponine, for all her iconicness, is the prototypical waif. She sadly wanders the streets, dreaming of love from the guy who doesn’t love her back, before dying tragically in a futile attempt to help him.
Angelica is not having any of that nonsense. Her story isn’t so much one of unrequited love than one of regret. She chooses to step aside and introduce Alexander to Eliza, partly because she overthinks the situation and judges things wrong, and partly because she values her sister’s happiness over her own. Her song is one of agency, of decision making and complex emotions, rather than just wistful sadness.
Even the song titles show how different they are. Eponine is on her own, lamenting her helplessness. Angelica has created this situation herself, because of ambition and overthinking, because she can never be satisfied.
And, of course, there’s Angelica’s moment in The Reynolds Pamphlet: “I’m not here for you.” Yes, Eliza has a connection to Alexander, and yes, he’s important to her, but her priority is Eliza. She’s a Schuyler sister first and always.
But although Angelica is a fantastic reinvention of the Eponine trope, is this the best thing that Hamilton could have done with her character? The musical clearly presents Angelica as a strongminded badass with political opinions and a lot to say, but (understandably) her actions in the musical are mostly focussed around Alexander. But Angelica was also close to Jefferson and was a fabulous urbane influencer for most of her life. Like she hopes in The Schuyler Sisters, she befriended Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and Lafayette while in France, and even introduced Jefferson to the Federalist Papers. She was so politically-minded that she took the dangerous journey back to the US in 1789 to see Washington’s inauguration, and she took many political actions herself, including helping victims of the French Revolution, and writing to Washington for help when Lafayette was sent to an Austrian prison. Her letters to and from various revolutionary leaders are important documents about the period.
She was also something of a rebel, eloping with John Church in 1777 because her father didn’t approve of the marriage. This isn’t all to say that she was some modern-day feminist, misplanted in time, not least because there’s evidence that her husband was a slave-owner himself. But she is a fascinating figure, with a much bigger role to play in the story of the founding of America than as the sister in love with Alexander Hamilton.
To be honest, I kind of want a musical about her. A Hamilton sequel, maybe? Please, Lin-Manuel Miranda?