Daveed Digg’s Hamilton character, the Marquis de Lafayette, is “America’s favorite fighting Frenchman” and a close friend of Alexander Hamilton — but the real Lafayette was a much more complicated man. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical Hamilton condenses the American Revolution into a clear narrative with simple concepts about idealism and freedom, and focuses on Alexander Hamilton’s life before and after the Revolutionary War. After premiering on Broadway in 2015 at the Richard Rodgers Theatre to widespread critical acclaim, the groundbreaking musical became a mainstream success. Hamilton has returned to popularity after the filmed version of the musical was added to Disney+.
Daveed Diggs’ portrayal of French aristocrat and revolutionary Marquis de Lafayette made him a breakout star of Hamilton‘s original broadway cast. A major player in the American Revolution and a central figure in Hamilton, Marquis de Lafayette was a much more nuanced man than his character in the musical. Lafayette is a main character in the first act of Hamilton after becoming close friends with Alexander Hamilton and the Sons of Liberty in the standout song “My Shot,” and goes on to be a major player in the American Revolution. While Lafayette’s character in Hamilton is as a clear-cut idealist, the real Marquis de Lafayette was a much more complicated man.
Hamilton‘s Lafayette is a revolutionary who immigrated from France to America to defend freedom, and eventually returns to France to fight in the French Revolution. The fast-talking Daveed Diggs character appears in almost every scene in Hamilton‘s first act as a member of the Sons of Liberty along with Alexander Hamilton himself. However, Hamilton changed most of Lafayette’s complex backstory. The real Marquis de Lafayette was indeed a close friend of Alexander Hamilton, but was never a member of the Sons of Liberty, and arrived in America long after the men met in the events depicted in “My Shot.”
While Lafayette did join the American Revolution explicitly to fight for liberty, his future as a revolutionary hero in France is much more complicated than his ideals in Hamilton. Lafayette’s departure in Hamilton is explained by the line, “I go back to France, I bring freedom to my people if I’m given the chance,” and his character disappears in Act Two when he joins the French Revolution. However, the real Lafayette was nearly executed in the Reign of Terror for helping the monarchy. Despite his portrayal in the musical, Lafayette was hesitant to give up his status as an aristocrat in favor of democracy, and was sympathetic to the monarchy. It’s indisputable that the real Lafayette was much less motivated by the ideals of liberty and freedom than his character in Hamilton.
Hamilton simplified the backstories of most major characters to build a stronger and more cohesive narrative. While some of those changes were criticized for whitewashing the controversial history, changing Lafayette’s backstory makes Hamilton better. Lafayette’s character represents the ideals of liberty and revolution, and helps streamline Hamilton‘s narrative. Hamilton is not a musical that can reckon with the complicated histories of each character, just the nuances of Alexander Hamilton’s divisive life. Turning Lafayette into a symbol and giving him a more visible role lets his character share his perspective, but doesn’t distract from the primary story of Hamilton.
Hamilton was an overwhelming success on Broadway, and has returned to popularity since being added to Disney+. The musical was rightly criticized for whitewashing the problematic histories of the Founding Fathers, but correctly streamlined the backstories of most major characters in favor of a better story. Focusing the musical around Alexander Hamilton means that the rest of the characters, including Lafayette, are simplified to support the story Hamilton is trying to tell. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s decision to change the backstory of Daveed Diggs’ character Lafayette by turning him into a symbol of idealism and revolution makes Hamilton a better musical.