An Elizabethan Publicity Stunt

In today’s world, publicity stunts are such a common occurrence, they oftentimes accomplish little, except to annoy.  Sometimes they’re entertaining, sometimes enlightening, sometimes brilliant, but they can also wind up getting lost in the amazing amount of noise being made by those vying for our attention and our dollars.

One such stunt, which was designed to help bolster a flagging career, involved dance and music.  William Kempe, described as a comic actor, felt he needed to do something to bolster his career and help boost the take at the box office.  He decided dancing would do it.  Dancing for nine days.  All the way from London to Norwich. Nighty Nine miles, as the crow flies.

Kempe did not take the easy way out by, say, dancing on a train while it rumbled through the countryside. There were no trains, planes or automobiles. In fact, he was fortunate there were roads.  The stunt came about because Kempe had apparently done a little too much improvising for his boss’ taste and had been fired. The year was 1600 and his boss was William Shakespeare.

His journey, which was sponsored, was known as the Nine Daies Wonder in the press. He apparently drew quite a crowd. Though he needed the publicity, he loathed journalists, many of whom had nothing good to say about much of anything.  A problem arose when journalists covering the story began to hint that he was hitching rides on wagons when no one was looking.  It was because of this that his attempts to collect his money at the end were unsuccessful.

You can learn more about Will Kempe’s journey, hear some great music, and see what it might have been like.  Clare Salaman, “a stringed-instrument player and explorer of ancient music,” has teamed with a writer and dancer to recreate the spirit of Kempe’s Nine Daies Wonder.  Salaman talks about the project above.

Read More: Setting Out on Nine Daies Wonder (London Telegraph)

Watch Clare Salaman teach a Baroque Hurdy Gurdy class below

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