Will Kemp's Nine Days Wonder, 1600


There is evidence that Shakespeare wrote some roles to suit particular members of his company, including the popular clown, Will Kemp (d. 1603).

In several early quarto editions of the plays – Romeo and Juliet and Much Ado About Nothing – Kemp’s name appears in speech prefixes or stage directions: ‘Enter Will Kemp’. Experts have conjectured that Kemp was a scene-stealer who always played himself. Shakespeare was possibly mocking Kemp’s tendency to improvise when he had Hamlet declare ‘let those that play your clowns speak no more than is set down for them’.

What did Kemp do in nine days?

In 1599 there was some kind of disagreement within Shakespeare’s company, and Will Kemp resigned his shares and left. He went on to perform a morris dance from London to Norwich over the course of nine days, as a sort of publicity stunt and a way of raising money by betting on himself.

In this pamphlet, Kemp describes the journey of around 100 miles. Although an odd thing to do, it was fitting – Kemp was very famous for performing jigs, physical comedy incorporating dance, which were performed after plays. Several dramatists had complained that these ruined the mood at the end of a tragic play.

Full title:
Kemps nine daies wonder Performed in a daunce from London to Norwich … written by himselfe
1600, London
Book / Quarto / Woodcut / Illustration / Image
Will Kemp
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