Apr 20, 2017
The beginning of "My Shot" is where LMM and Alex both really let loose for the first time -- and this is where we feel the contrast between insecure!Alex and confident!Alex. After the simplicity of language that he first uses with Burr, Alex launches into a rhetorical rampage.
So I'm'a take this one stanza at a time:
Here we first encounter one of the key phrases that will repeat not only through this song, but throughout the musical: "I am not throwing away my shot". That line, alone, has a lot wrapped up in it - it's a metaphor, it's a pun (paronomasia ), and it becomes antanaclasis, the same word repeated with a different meaning in the subsequent iterations. "Shot" here carries at least three connotations: "chance", "shot of alcohol", and, in the ultimate irony, "gunshot" -- which the audience knows will be the ultimate end of Hamilton, when he does throw away his shot. With this singular refrain, LMM manages to call upon the audience's awareness of imminent tragedy, but he does so during a moment of energy, excitement, and optimism.
What a brilliant jerk, right?
I've already discussed epizeuxis, immediate repetition, ecphonesis, the outburst, and auxesis, the arrangement of a series often in increasing force. Now, we also get to meet two other figures of repetition: anaphora , repetition at the beginning of a phrase, and epanalepsis, repetition of the same word or phrase at the beginning and end of the same line, sentence, or passage -- here, the same verse. (One of my favorite examples is from Macbeth: "blood will have blood"). Used individually, these devices don't make a strong statement about character, but the piling-on begins to tell us something about who Hamilton is and how he thinks: in complex patterns and at the speed of light.
It amps up in the next stanza:
The anaphora continues, with successive clauses all beginning with "I"; Hamilton has become assertive. But now we start to mix in some interesting omissions as well -- the ellipsis when "I'm going to" becomes "I'm'a" and the minced oath of "dag". Ellipses like these don't necessary serve a pointed purpose the way some can (ask me about paralipsis sometime); what it shows us is speed. Little omissions tend to speed up speech; in Shakespeare, it means getting more words into a single line of iambic pentameter. In Hamilton, it happens when Alex's brain is running even faster than his tongue can.
Ellipses also make speech sound less formal, more colloquial, and so they're moving the audience out of the first mode LMM established, that of structured storytelling, and into something more immediate. In performance, at least to me, this is the point where you start to feel like things are happening "real-time" rather than retrospectively. Hamilton's increased speed and the rhetorical devices of omission that go along with it catapult us into a world of his making, not one we're being told about.
The tempo picks up even further in this next stanza -- and you'll notice more omissions! Zeugma is a fun one: a structure where one part of speech (most often the main verb, but sometimes a noun) governs two or more other parts of a sentence (often in a series). Here, it's the full subject and verb: "I'm" governs 1) a diamond in the rough, 2) a shiny piece of coal, 3) trying to reach my goal, and 4) only nineteen. It doesn't directly govern "my power of speech: unimpeachable", but that fits into the overall pattern he's working with, as he leaves out a conjunction to connect the thoughts and the operative verb in that clause("is" between "speech" and "unimpeachable").
We also get a hint at one of my favorite rhetorical devices, chiasmus , the crossing of ideas in an A-B-B-A pattern. We'll see more of this later on, but here we get diamond-rough-shiny-coal (item-quality-quality-item), and he's making a metaphor while he does it. And, I'm just now seeing and so it isn't marked, "a shiny piece of coal" could also be considered epanorthosis, addition by correction.
Still with me, readers? I know. It's a lot. In performance, it all goes by so fast that the audience can hardly hear it all -- but it does its job anyway, because we now meet the Hamilton we'll see for most of the show and we start to see what it's like inside his brain. The layering of all of those devices clues your brain in that something complex and wild is happening, even if you're not tracking each one individually as it occurs.
Okay. That's enough crazy Greek terms for one night. Next week: I make myself laugh in a joke about parentheses.
Questions? Please feel free to ask!