Since luck's a nine days' wonder, wait their end.
    Euripides (c. 480 BC - 406 BC) Athens playwright

There are the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and the hyperbolic eighth wonder so would the nine days wonder be an uber-hyperbole? Not really. A nine days wonder describes “something or someone that creates a short-lived sensation -- called also nine day wonder." Other allusions might be a flash in the pan and the fifteen minutes of fame phenomena.

While Euripides has been quoted as using the phrase the Oxford English Dictionary attributes the phrase as Middle English and initially used in the Harley lyrics sometime around 1325 AD. A half century later Chaucer’s tragic poem Troilus and Criseyde when he wrote, “Ek wonder last but nyne nyght nevere in towne.” By 1450 French prince and poet Charles d'Orleans observed in his poems written in English during his captivity in England, after the Battle of Agincourt, “ For this a wondir last but dayes nyne, An oold proverbe is seid. “ By 1623 the Bard of Avon borrowed it for his play As You Like It where Shakespeare’s most delightful heroine Rosalind declares in Act III. Scene ii:

    I was seven of the nine days out of the wonder before you came;
    for look here what I found on a
    palm-tree: I was never so berhymed since
    Pythagoras' time, that I was an Irish rat, which
    I can hardly remember.

Mad with love Orlando has run through the Forest of Ardenne where he hangs poems that he has composed in Rosalind’s honor on every tree. Even though Rosalind thinks the poems are terrible she is eager to learn the identity of their author. As You Like written during the last years of Elizabeth’s reign. It’s a pastoral play was handed down to us from ancient Greece, was well established in Roman antiquity with Virgil’s Eclogues, and continued as a central literary tradition through Shakespeare’s era and long after.

The phrase hit its hey day in 1600 when an Elizabethan clown actor William Kemp, (also spelled Kempe) danced a morris dance in 1599 between London and Norwich. After accepting a bet he covered the distance of about a hundred miles in nine days. This feat took several weeks and many were skeptical about his accomplishment so he composed Kemps nine daies vvonder which was first appeared in print the following year. In an excerpt Kemp notes:

    "Wherein euery dayes iourney is pleasantly set downe, to satisfie his friends the truth, against all lying Ballad-makers; what he did, how hee was welcome, and by whome entertained."
“Will Kempe was the original 'Nine Days Wonder',” writes Andrew Clarke at The Hysterical Historian. “In 1599 he danced from London to Norwich, in a route that took him to Sudbury, Melford, Cavendish and Clare. He was an actor who played in the Lord Chamberlin's Players at the Globe Theatre, acting in plays by Will Shakespeare and Ben Johnson. He was probably Europe's most famous comic actor at the time, and an expert morris dancer. Probably, several of Shakespeare's clown roles were written specifically for Kemp, but in 1599, the two quarrelled. Shakespeare's plays were losing their comic edge and Kemp insisted to Shakespeare that no production of Hamlet would be complete without a dog on wheels!

”He set off from Whitechapel on the first Sunday in Lent, accompanied by a small entourage that included Thomas Sly on the pipe and tabor. He danced his way through Essex, being showered with sixpences in Whitechapel, seeing a bearfight in Stratford, resting in Romford, and being crowded in Chelmsford. Between Chelmsford and Brantree his companion fell into a muddy pothole up to his waist. After Braintree, he headed for Sudbury."

Clarke includes a snippet from Kemp's pamphlet:

    The fift dayes iourney being Wednesday of the second weeke. TAKING aduantage of my 3. miles that I had daunst ye day before, this wednesday morning I tript it to Sudbury, whether came to see a very kinde Gentleman Master Foskew, that had before trauailed a foote from London to Barwick: who, giuing me good counsaile to obserue temperate dyet for my health, and other aduise to bee carefull of my company, besides his liberall entertainement, departed leauing me much indebted to his loue. In this towne of Sudbury, there came a lusty tall fellow, a butcher by his profession, that would in a Morrice keepe mee company to Bury: I being glad of his friendly offer, gaue him thankes, and forward wwe did set: but ere wee had measur'd halfe a mile of our way, he gaue me ouer in the plain field, protesting, that if he might get a 100. pound, he would not hold out with me; for indeed my pace in dauncing is not ordinary.
    As he and I were parting, a lusty Country lasse being among the people, cal'd him faint hearted lout: saying, if I had begun to daunce, I would haue held out one myle though it had cost my life. At which wordes many laughed. Nay saith she, if the Dauncer will lend me a leash of his belles, Ile venter to treade one mile with him my selfe. I lookt vpon her, saw mirth in her eyes, heard boldnes in her words, and beheld her ready to tucke vp her russet petticoate, I fitted her with bels: which she merrily taking, garnisht her thicke short legs, and with a smooth brow bad the Tabrer begin. The Drum strucke, forward marcht I with my merry Maydemarian: who shooke her fat sides: and footed it merrily to Melfoord, being a long myle. There parting with her, I gaue her (besides her skinfull of drinke) an English crowne to buy more drinke, for good wench she was in a pittious heate: my kindnes she requited with dropping some dozen of short courtsies, and bidding God blesse the Dauncer, I bad her adieu: and to giue her her due, she had a good eare, daunst truely, and wee parted friendly.

It was on a Saturday when he arrived victoriously at Norwich, where he was hailed by crowds and the mayor, Master Roger Wiler. According to the Norwich Town Council records from that year Kemp was granted the freedom of the city, and a 40s annuity for the rest of his life for his accomplishments. And for a while the phrase meant something wonderful that took nine days to achieve instead of something that became boring after nine days.

Some interesting trivia about William Kemp is that he originally played Juliet's nurse in Shakespeare’s play. More recently several rock bands have adopted the phrase as a name that’s more of an allusion to the phrase one hit wonder than it is homage to the dancing Kemp. Some of them have lasted quite a few years.


The Hysterical Historian:
Accessed July 2, 2006.

Nine daies vvonder
Accessed July 2, 2006.

The Phrase Finder, Nine day’s wonder :
Accessed July 2, 2006.

Merriam_Webster Online Dictionary:'+wonder Accessed July 2, 2006.

Oxford English Dictionary:
Accessed July 2, 2006.

Accessed July 4, 2006.

Take Our Word For It:
Accessed July 2, 2006.

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