A Data Designer Visualized All 20,520 Words In “Hamilton”

Shirley Wu distills the immensely popular (and immensely complex) musical into a single interactive.

A Data Designer Visualized All 20,520 Words In “Hamilton”
[Photo: Theo Wargo/WireImage/Getty Images]

Even though the hit musical Hamilton opened on Broadway a year and a half ago, its popularity shows no sign of diminishing, with productions opening in San Francisco and London later in 2017 and tickets for the Broadway show as impossible as ever to attain. That’s because the lyrics of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece remain endlessly dissectible.

A new visualization created by software engineer Shirley Wu makes analyzing the relationships between Hamilton and his compatriots easier than ever. Scrolling through her visualization reveals how much emphasis each character’s relationship receives in every song. For example, using colorful animated dots she highlights the evolving dynamic between Hamilton, his wife Eliza, and her sister Angelica. Then, she shows how Eliza’s lyrics develop through the show as she evolves from a supporting character to one who takes control of her narrative. You can play around yourself, too: Watch Hamilton’s rivalry with Thomas Jefferson intensify and then drop out of the story altogether, or see how his conflict with Burr surfaces in nearly every song, sometimes subtly, sometimes fiercely.

Explore the full graphic here. [Image: via Polygraph]

Wu combed through every line in the musical (twice!) and categorized each one by who sang it and to whom it was directed, and grouped together the show’s many recurring lyrics. She then took her source data and transformed it into a visual interactive where users can view the recurrence of themes like ambition, personality, and legacy, and how they inform the actions of Hamilton, Burr, Eliza, Angelica, Jefferson, Washington, and other characters.

Explore the full graphic here. [Image: via Polygraph]

Hamilton‘s rhymes in particular have inspired other visualizations over the past year, like this graphic from the Wall Street Journal, built from an algorithm that maps out Miranda’s wordplay. At FiveThirtyEight, one writer calculated the musical’s words-per-minute compared to several other popular Broadway musicals, and found that its actors are spitting twice as fast as the next fastest musical, Spring Awakening.

As history’s treatment of Alexander Hamilton has shown, someone is always controlling the narrative–even that of a hit Broadway musical. But through Wu’s data viz, fans and scholars alike have another way to understand Hamilton‘s story.

About the author

Katharine Schwab is a contributing writer at Co.Design based in New York who covers technology, design, and culture. Follow her on Twitter @kschwabable.