A drum! A drum! – MACBETH, I iii

I hear from a friend (and drummer) that Clyde Stubblefield is dead.

Clyde Stubblefield was one of THE drummers, particularly known for his work with James Brown in the mid-1960s-early 1970s and for being one of if not the most sampled drummers in hip-hop. But here’s just a tiny taste that serves my purposes.

(This is the spot where I’d imbed THIS ONE MINUTE VIDEO of Stubblefield performing but the vagaries of the Internet are being vagarier than usual this morning so I suppose I’ll just let you click the link. It rewards clicking, I assure you.)

This is primarily a blog about Shakespeare, so perhaps I should explain. Stubblefield (along with great Bernard “Pretty” Purdie, who also did/kept time with Brown, among hundreds of others you know) is my go-to example for how I firmly believe speaking verse ought to work. To wit (and I promise not to get utterly crazy here, but I feel I owe Messrs. Stubblefield and Shakespeare some specificity):

Hamlet. Act Four, Scene Three. I chose this at random and only went digging into Hamlet because it has plenty of long chunks to dig into. Claudius soliloquizes (relatively) briefly and tells us

          I have sent to seeke him, and to find the bodie:

          How dangerous is it that this man goes loose:

          Yet must not we put the strong Law on him:

          Hee’s loved of the distracted multitude,

          Who like not in their judgement, but their eyes:

          And where ’tis so, th’Offenders scourge is weigh’d

          But neerer the offence: to beare all smooth, and even,

          This sodaine sending him away, must seeme

          Deliberate pause, diseases desperate growne,

          By desperate appliance are releeved,

          Or not at all.         (Enter Rosincrantz.)

                                   How now? What hath befalne?

 

So take the basic rules of the verse as our kick drum – ba BUM ba BUM ba BUM ba BUM ba BUM. Ideally four acts into a play that spends the majority of its time in this basic heartbeat rhythm, you can rest your leg and kick no longer because the audience is hearing it without it even being there. You lock back into it now and again, but you don’t need to hammer it every time. They’ve got it.

That said, we’re not in a free jazz place here. It’s funk/soul. It plays around with the beat, but we’re not allowed to just run off on our own, here. People came to dance.

          I have sent to seeke him, and to find the bodie:  

Or rather: “I have SENT to SEEK him, AND to FIND the BODY,” and pretty quick out of the gate on the not-quite-I’ve “I have”. But then, you also, without beating it to death, must manage to play “find” off of “seek” and therefore “body” off of “him”, which, this being a line full of monosyllables, isn’t impossible, but is a skilled but of rhythm-futzing to enter a scene with. Plus you’ve got that comma/caesura/pickup breath in the middle, which is a breath you-the-actor don’t need yet, having just started the scene/sentence, but there it is, some kind of hiccup, and it’s not grammatically necessary, so better to assume it’s a rhythmic notation. I’m guessing this whole line is handled in about three seconds. Uh-oh – then a colon – we’re drifting into another facet of the thought…

          How dangerous is it that this man goes loose:

I love that two-syllable DAIN-jruss. The brain is moving along. But right back to staccato. Is. It. That. This. Man. Goes. Loose. I defy you not to hear the hi-hat in “is it that this”. (Also: “this man”? Pretty cold words. And I don’t mean Claudius chose them to be cold. I mean as he’s thinking (aloud, alone), them’s the words that pop out.) But then, though still monosyllables, “goes loose” kind of stretches out. No comma – I mean, let’s not be barbarians –but still. Rounder and less spitty. This is one of the most James Brown lines of pentameter in the speech. Try it.

          Yet must not we put the strong Law on him:

What?! Wait. So it can’t be straight rhythm – Yet MUST not WE put THE strong LAW on HIM – because that’s not how humans speak English, unless you believe the lyrics of Tim Rice, which, again, we’re not barbarians. So…Yet MUST not WE (I think you can play with how hard to smack that Royal “We”, if you want to throw weight to getting someone else to do the dirty work, which is in fact what happens) put the STRONG LAW on HIM. But not hitting the “him” that hard but not letting the “on” off that easy. Feel it out. And “put the” almost inevitably becomes just two plosives, a syllable each but with hardly any vowels when spoken, almost an unspellable “PT”. So double word score lands on “strong law” because it’s a weird phrase anyway and it’s what they’ll hear. But this colon begs the question, “Why not, exactly?”

          Hee’s loved of the distracted multitude,

LOVED…TRAC…MUL and the rest sort of just bitterly simmers. Real hardcore Folio types would even insist that extra long “Hee” has to be given it’s due, and certainly in this spot I can hear the argument for some extra sneer (snare?) in it, to lead you into some snark in “loved”. And you can hear impatience with the idiot mob (who buy their US Weekly with Hamlet on the cover (again!)) in the even-spittier “disTraCTed mulTiTude”. Comma…

          Who like not in their judgement, but their eyes:

Back to mostly solid backbeat for the first half. Who-like-not-in-their-JUDG-ment- (oh, but comma – nice chance to really bite off that “t”)-but-their-EYES.

          And where ’tis so, th’Offenders scourge is weigh’d

More pops and crackles, a breath, and that lovely “th’Of-fenders” where he hurries over “the” so he can say the most frustrated letter of all, “FF”*.

          But ne’er the offence: to beare all smooth, and even,

Now, a slight edit here – Folio says “neerer”, but most agree that “never” makes more sense, though the Elizabethans often elided their “v” in the middle, so we get “e’en”, “se’n”, and of course “ne’er” (which inevitably sounds all fancified when Great Actors do it, despite the fact that in my own Kentucky stomping grounds, this is still a perfectly normal thing offstage). In a hurry again. BUT. But. The “the” is fully written out. BUT. But. There are still too many syllables. It’s not “th’offense” or “e’en”. Now, we can cheat a spare weak syllable dangling off the end there by the Rules of Pentameter, because Quiller-Couch or whoever says so, but maybe one could describe “theeyuh-FENCE” as having a cheated grace beat in there. Which ends the pre-colon section, where we grind a new facet of our shiny thought – stop philosophizing and focus, Claude. (Still bearing in mind that each these lines takes really three to five seconds to speak, tops.)

          This sodaine sending him away, must seeme

“Sodaine” is of course “sudden”**. This one’s pretty clear, comma and all.

          Deliberate pause, diseases desperate growne,

(I like to think of the start of this one as a Bluebottle/Ted Baxter/Ron Burgundy stage-direction-accidentally-read-aloud. I know it isn’t but I like it anyway. Sidenote Within Parenthetical: I watched the 1942 To Be Or Not To Be yesterday afternoon with the nephews and enjoyed again the delicious pause before and after the prompter unnecessarily feeds Jack Benny the title line. Every actor I know is in that pause. “I know the line – I was acting!!” Anyway.)

This is also a good microcosm of the “play the verse” argument: you can’t just say “must seem deliberate pause”. What the hell fun is that? “…must seem (inhale) (must seem what? Uh…)/ DeLIB’rate pause…”) The mid-line comma here is usually turned into a period in modern editions, which is grammatical, but also implies a full stop instead of the move-it-along pace of a guy who doesn’t get too many moments alone. So pickup breath, but don’t overdo it. You do this when you’re thinking, this hopping forward to the next part of the thought; no reason not to do it aloud. The two-syllable “DES-pr’t” is nice particularly because…

          By desperate appliance are releeved,

…it has to be a drawn-out three syllables immediately after. And again with the spit-spit-spit-spit-releeeeeeeved action. Let off the hi-hat pedal and let it ring.

          Or not at all.         (Enter Rosincrantz.)

                                   How now? What hath befalne?

Shut up! There’s some one here! Stop plotting out loud and get the info! Why hasn’t he answered you in the no-time you’ve given him to do so? “Hath befall’n” is a clumsy Sylvester mouthful which could either slow you usefully down, or make you sound like you’re clumsily changing direction. Both have their advantages.

Now, that is ridiculous. That’s eleven lines that take maybe forty-five seconds to speak and in a standard two-hour version of Hamlet are likely to be cut anyway and I’ve wasted a lot of your time and mine on it. But the late Mr. Stubblefield would I hope agree with me that once it’s in you, it comes out easy. You sweat, but it’s no sweat. Ride the beat and feel around the edges of it until it snaps you back in line. When you’ve put the proper, as his boss occasionally said, glide in your stride and gut in your strut.

I imagine Funky16Corners will be putting up a tribute mix of some kind soon, which I will preemptively recommend. I pray you. Give the drummer some.

 

 

*mileage may vary in Wales

**I used to find charm in spellings like “sodaine” for “sudden” until I worked with a director who so hated audiences and actors that in the midst of a flat, Midwestern accent (and, ahem, production) he’d insist on actors pronouncing them like they were spelled, which succeeded as entertainment only in that it made me sing the word to Clapton’s “Cocaine” under my breath in rehearsal. He did this with about five cherry-picked words he had probably heard about when he woke up in the middle of some lecture he missed the point of – upon consideration, he could have been giving the lecture and this would still be true – and regarding which most sane people would just opt for audience clarity. Again, these weren’t Original Pronunciaption productions, just by a goof who wanted to talk (and talk and talk) in rehearsal about how a “divell” and a “devill” were two utterly different supernatural entities and only the most callous and sloppy actor wouldn’t play the difference. Then he’d doze back off and we’d get some rehearsal done. I seem to have let all the bitterness about it go, right? The moral is never let Bottom believe he’s Prospero.

2 thoughts on “A drum! A drum! – MACBETH, I iii

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