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Will Kemp (Flourished 1600)

In 1599 Will Kemp morris-danced from London to Norwich. Kemp was an actor, a jester and a friend of William Shakespeare.  It is suggested that he undertook the journey when Shakespeare turned him down for the role of the clown in Hamlet.

Will Kemp

The following year he wrote an account of his journey entitled: Kemp's Nine Daies Wonder. However, the journey actually took him 23 days.

'Satterday no sooner came but I returned without the citty through Saint Giles his gate, and beganne my Morrice where I left at that gate, but I entred in at Saint Stephens gate, where one Thomas Gilbert in name of all the rest of the cittizens gave me a friendly and exceeding kind welcome'.

He wrote the following poem of welcome for Norwich:

Master Kemp his welcome to Norwich.

W  With hart, and hand, among the rest,
E   Especially you welcome are:
L   Long looked for as welcome guest,
C   Come now at last you be from farre.
O   Of most within the citty, sure,
M   Many good wishes you haue had;
E   Each one did pray you might indure,
W  With courage good the match you made.
I    Intend they did with gladsome hearts,
L   Like your well willers, you to meete:
K   Know you also they'l doe their parts,
E   Eyther in field or house to greete
M   More you then any with you came,
P   Procur'd thereto with rump and fame.

your well-willer,

On the wall of the Maddermarket Theatre in St. John's Alley there is a plaque marking the spot where Kemp ended his morris dance and where, to celebrate, he jumped over the wall of the St. John Maddermarket Church.

Will Kemp Plaque

Plaque on Wall of Maddermarket Theatre

The Wall Today

St. John Maddermarket churchyard wall

Kemp is also commemorated in a new walkway connecting Bethel Street to Theatre Street. The walkway lies at the back of the Forum and is called the 'Will Kemp Way'.

Will Kemp Way

In Chapelfield Gardens there is a wooden carving by Mark Goldsworthy which commemorates Kemp's journey.

Woodcarving dedicated to Will Kemp

Will Kemp Wood Carving

The actor and dramatist William Rowley famously described Kemp's adventure as: 'a wild morrige to Norridge'. Tim FitzHigham, a modern-day comedian, has recreated some of Kemp's feats including rowing the length of the River Thames in a paper boat.





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