Narrative Satisfactions

I need to talk about narrative structure in Hamilton‘s “Satisfied.” That song is an entire Jane Austen novel squished into five minutes and twenty-nine seconds. It undoes me. I must understand why.


Some reasons are obvious. Renée Elise Goldsberry’s voice is heart-shattering, and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s lyrics dramatize a next-level mind at work.

(© Josh Lehrer)

Daveed Diggs (who plays both Lafayette and Jefferson) explains that “each character rhymes differently. The way that they are rapping contributes to their story. George Washington raps in a very on-beat, metronomic way because he is focused and driven and always moving forward.” 

The relentless momentum and precision of Angelica’s rhymes in “Satisfied” simultaneously communicate inner turmoil, external control, and Sherlock-like insight. This delights and astonishes me. But it doesn’t undo me. Not yet.

Renée Elise Goldsberry as Angelica Schuyler (© Josh Lehrer)

The song unpacks subtext from a single moment: Angelica’s toast at her sister’s wedding. The toast serves as bookends to an embedded flashback. When she sings out “To the groom! To the bride!” for the second time we understand that we’ve returned to the present. The meaning of that moment has shifted, and it hurts, but we also think we’re safe now. Our guard drops, fooled by a satisfying narrative structure.

We’re not safe.

After the toast she drops her voice right back down to the whisper of her private thoughts and delivers an afterglow knife-twist. It stabs us, because that voice. But it also stabs us because we thought we were safe. We passed that second bookend. We traveled there and back again. Wardrobe doors closed behind us. We were done. We were supposed to be done. But the song isn’t done with us. Angelica isn’t done with us. And in that knife-twist she tells us what she knows.

That moment undoes me.

Listen for yourself. 

Now I’ve gotta go write. Here’s a closing quote from Christopher Jackson (George Washington) about Lin-Manuel Miranda: “Being around him makes you want to write more, do more. Same kind of effect people have when they come see the show: ‘I gotta go write, I gotta go write.'”

Go write.

(Cast Portraits by Josh Lehrer)

(Production Photos by Joseph Marzullo/WENN)