Six Lyrics That Show Why ‘Hamilton’ Is Tough to Translate
A direct transfer of words was never going to work for such a complex show. So the team involved got creative.
How does one translate “Hamilton” into another language? That was the challenge facing Sera Finale, a rapper-turned-songwriter, and Kevin Schroeder, a seasoned musical theater translator, when they were asked to collaborate on a German version of the show — the first in a language other than English.
The project turned out to be just as complicated as they had feared: complex rhyme schemes, elaborate wordplay and so many songs. There were drafts and demos and revisions; a member of the “Hamilton” music team, Kurt Crowley, learned German to help coordinate the process, and ultimately Lin-Manuel Miranda, the show’s creator, had to approve or reject each line.
Here are six lyrics that demonstrate some of the challenges the team faced as they sought to preserve the meaning and melody of the original, but in a language with different sounds and syntax. The first line is the original English lyric; the second is the German lyric; and the third is the so-called back translation, which is what the German words literally mean in English.
Burr: How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a/Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten/Spot in the Caribbean by providence, impoverished, in squalor/Grow up to be a hero and a scholar?