Ever since Hamilton arrived on Disney Plus last week, fans of the show have been puzzled about one crucial detail: what does Eliza’s gasp at the end of the show really mean? Warning: this article contains spoilers for the end of Hamilton.
Hamilton may have only landed on Disney Plus just under a week ago, but it’s already become the subject of numerous discussions online. In fact, since Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Pulitzer prize-winning musical first arrived on the streaming platform last Friday, it’s trended on Twitter plenty of times.
Whether you’re a long-time fan of the show or have only just got the chance to watch Hamilton for the first time, the film’s ability to get up close and personal with the actors has given viewers a new perspective of the show. Add to that the fact that having the film on Disney Plus has allowed fans to watch their favourite moments over and over again, and it’s no surprise that people are noticing moments that might have been missed during a live performance.
Among discussions of Jonathan Groff’s spit during his performance as King George and the power of Eliza’s solo Burn in raising awareness of female erasure from history, one of the most talked about moments is, of course, the show’s ending.
At the end of the show’s final song Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story, we learn about how Eliza Hamilton dedicated her life to promoting Alexander’s legacy. In an extended monologue, we learn how Eliza raised funds for the Washington Monument, established the “first private orphanage in New York City”, spoke out against slavery and collated Alexander’s “thousands of pages of writings” for his biography.
But this monologue isn’t what has left fans confused. After Eliza (played by Phillipa Soo) sings the show’s final line “I can’t wait to see you again, it’s only a matter of time” Lin-Manuel Miranda (who plays Hamilton) takes her hand and guides her to the front of the stage.
And then something puzzling happens – as Eliza looks out to the audience and the music comes to a conclusion, she appears to see something shocking and gasps audibly as tears start to run down her face.
Besides the fact that this is a particularly tear-jerking moment, fans of the show have been pondering one important question: what does Eliza’s gasp really mean?
1. She sees Alexander again
This has to be the most popular theory – after all, she’s just sung the lyric “I can’t wait to see you again,” right? Plus, Lin-Manuel Miranda returns on stage to walk her towards the front, as if he’s Hamilton guiding her towards “the light”.
2. She sees the audience
If you love a good fourth wall break, then you’re going to be obsessed with this theory. Essentially, people believe that Eliza is looking beyond her time period and seeing the audience in 2020 – her gasp demonstrates her disbelief/relief/amazement that her dedication to telling Hamilton’s story has actually worked.
“I’ve been thinking about the ending of #HamiltonFilm for a while now and I’ve seen people discussing on Twitter if the gasp at the end was Eliza seeing #Hamilton in the afterlife or if it was her seeing the audience and breaking the fourth wall,” reads one theory posted on Twitter. “I believe it was the latter.”
“I think #Hamilton led her to the edge of the stage to show her that she was successful in telling his story when she was alive and then someone told their story and now everyone knows their story.”
“Eliza’s gasp at the very end will always get me,” another person added. “‘And when my time is up, have I done enough? Will they tell your story?’ – she gasps because she sees the audience. She did it. They told his story #HamiltonFilm”
3. Lin-Manuel Miranda shows her the audience
In an addition to the second theory, some fans have suggested that, when Lin-Manuel Miranda returns to the stage, he isn’t appearing as Hamilton – in fact, he’s returned as himself.
However, this was debunked by Miranda himself in a recent Twitter exchange.
“It’s a lovely notion, (thank you @malloryannellis),” he wrote. “But it breaks down the moment I’m not playing the role (how I wish you could see @JMunozActor or @JonRua, who also played Ham that first year!) The Gasp is The Gasp is The Gasp. I love all the interpretations.”
4. She’s taking her final breath
It may be the most boring interpretation, but it makes sense, right?
“I took Eliza’s gasp as her last breath,” one person suggested. “She sings of all she’s done; Hamilton comes to her to let her know he’s waiting for her now; she takes some steps, looks up to the ‘heavens’, gasps, and dies. She goes to her beloved husband. She’s home.”
What have the cast said?
For the most part, the original Broadway cast have maintained that they want to leave the ending up to interpretation – but they have given a few hints about how they personally interpret the moment.
Speaking in a previous interview with AOL Build, Phillipa Soo said: “People are like, ‘Is it Eliza going into heaven? Is she seeing Alexander? Is she seeing God? What is it?’ And it’s kind of all of those things. Sometimes, it’s literally, I look out and I see the audience, and that’s what it is, but I think, that idea of ‘transcendence’ is present in all of that. Whether it’s in Eliza’s mind, or in Phillipa’s mind, they’re both one and the same, which is beautiful about that moment.”
In a recent Wired interview, Miranda echoed Soo’s words, saying he thinks “it’s different for each Eliza”.
“I do think that it traverses time, in some way, whether that thing she’s seeing is Hamilton, whether that thing she’s seeing is heaven, whether that thing she’s seeing is the world now. I think those are all valid and all fair. I do think she is seeing across a span of time.”
It seems we’ll never get a definite answer over who or what Eliza is seeing at the end of the musical, but that’s kind of what makes it so fun to discuss, right?
As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and work. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time. You can find her on Twitter at @laurenjanegeall.