Time has cast a shadow over Will Kemp’s origin, formative years, and early career. He was born William Kemp, probably in the early to mid 1550’s. We know nothing about his parentage. There were numerous Kemps in the London parish registers at the time. Perhaps he was a Londoner. But since Kemp was as well known for his morris dance as for his clowning, a better guess might be found in Old Meg of Herefordshire (1609):
“The courts of kings for stately measures: the city for light heels, and nimble footing: the country for shuffling dances: western men for gambols: Middlesex men for tricks above ground: Essex men for the hay: Lancashire for hornpipes: Worcestershire for bagpipes: but Herefordshire for a morris dance, puts down, not only all Kent, but very near (if one had line enough to measure it) three-quarters of Christendom.”  It may be that Herefordshire can claim Will Kemp.
Nine Days’ Wonder reveals that Kemp had at least a grammar school education and that he had gained considerable knowledge from the theatre. He certainly knew that the historians Stowe, Hall, Froisart, Grafton and Holinshed had been ransacked for the chronicle plays. He also demonstrates familiarity with Thomas Deloney, William Elderton, Anthony Munday and other contemporary writers. While his prose lacks the erudition of the University Wits, he was not the illiterate that eighteenth century scholar George Chalmers made him out to be.
Kemp is first heard of as a member of the Earl of Leicester’s men. This cannot have been in 1580, however, as David Wiles (Shakespeare’s Clown) believes. Citing a record that Leicester’s players were in that year paid for a performance at Ipswich, Wiles also “notes the additional payment of 6d [six pence] for carrying a letter to Mr. Kempe.”  Will Kemp’s status would not have entitled him to the honorific “Mr.” The recipient of the letter was probably the Catholic priest with the same name referred to by Thomas Doyley in a letter to Leicester, as shown by Mithal.  It is more likely that our man comes to light in 1585. How he came to be associated with Leicester’s men is not clear. While we know nothing of Will Kemp’s early career, we do have information about the Earl of Leicester’s men, and it is to them that we must turn for the first knowledge of our subject.
The Earl of Leicester’s men began as players of Robert Dudley no later than 1559. Dudley, a favorite of and sometime suitor to Queen Elizabeth, held the titles of Master of the Horse and High Steward of Cambridge. Dudley’s players assumed the name by which they would be better known upon his ennoblement in 1564. In the same year he also became Chancellor of Oxford. Leicester’s players toured far and wide and played at court during the Christmas seasons of 1560-1 and 1562-3. While continuing to tour the provinces, however, they did not reappear at court for a decade. 
Information about the company in 1572 is derived from a letter from Leicester’s players asking their patron for an appointment, not only as liveried retainers but as household servants. The letter, in reality a request for a license, was prompted by a proclamation reviving a statute of 1559. That document imposed upon mayors of towns, and justices of the peace elsewhere, the duty of licensing plays. In over-zealous hands this regulatory instrument could become a vehicle for suppression. 
Leicester’s men needed the license in order to tour free from the interference of local authorities. The letter was signed by James Burbage, John Perkin, John Laneham, William Johnson, Thomas Clarke, and the actor/dramatist Robert Wilson. On May 10, 1574, Leicester’s men enjoyed a unique favor. They became protected against Puritan opposition in the city by obtaining from the Queen the grant of a patent of incorporation under the Privy seal.  This warrant permitted the company to perform anywhere in London or the realm and would supercede the license from the Earl. Possession of this document would give the company even greater freedom, especially on tour, when players were subject to arrest under the ever-tightening laws of vagabondage. Since Kemp’s name is not on either document, he must have joined after 1574.
The leader of Leicester’s men was James Burbage. Burbage, described in contemporary documents as a joiner by trade, built the first playhouse in England, the Theatre, in 1576.  The Theatre and the plays of Leicester’s men proved to be such a success that Burbage eventually became a principal in a second theatre, the Curtain, built the following year by Henry Lanman. He was also the father of Richard Burbage, the creator of Shakespeare’s greatest roles. Kemp’s theatrical connections to Shakespeare, then, span a considerable period of time.
In 1583 Edmund Tilney, Master of the Revels, was instructed to select a company of actors for the direct service of the Queen as a replacement for the defunct Queen’s interlude players. The Queen’s actors were conscripted from the most important of the existing companies. The Earl of Leicester’s men lost three of their top members, Laneham, Johnson and Wilson.  It is possible that Kemp joined at this time. Laneham was Leicester’s clown. Kemp may have taken his place.
At this juncture, Leicester’s men lost their priority on the London theatre scene. The Queen’s men appear to have taken over the Theatre. James Burbage is thought to have retired from acting to concentrate on theatrical real estate investments, although in 1584 he refers to himself as “my L[ord] of Hunsdon’s man.” But Leicester’s players continued operations. In 1584 Leicester was raised to Lord Steward. His players toured Coventry, Leicester, Gloucester and Norwich. They were at Dover in June 1585, and at Bath in August.  At this time the company was evidently split, or doubled, for the Earl would be taking a full complement of actors to the continent while another group continued to act under his name at home.
Leicester was appointed to the command of the English forces on August 28, 1585, in order to lead an expedition to the Low Countries. For some time the Dutch had been offering Elizabeth sovereignty of the United Provinces in exchange for protection against Spain, which was moving to crush them. This was an invitation the Queen was loath to accept, for to do so was tantamount to declaring war on Spain. And while relations with Spain were hostile, in 1585 England did not have the navy it would have in 1588, the year of the Armada. At the same time, the Queen did not want the Low Countries to fall to Philip II. To make matters worse, the Prince of Parma had just taken Antwerp, the center of England’s continental cloth market. Virtually trapped, the Queen decided to decline the title but to assist with men and weapons. 
Leicester left Harwich on December 8 and arrived at the port of Flushing on the 10th with one-hundred ships. He was greeted by Sir Philip Sidney who was acting governor of Flushing. It is reported that Leicester’s landing was spectacular with a deafening roar of ordnance in the harbor. The Earl was a man of great wealth and traveled with a retinue to rival the Queen’s. Lady Dudley incurred Elizabeth’s wrath for touting the superiority of her train. Her punishment was to remain in England. Leicester’s enormous entourage included twelve musicians, well-equipped with trumpets and drums, and fifteen players.  Such a troupe would be more than sufficient for full-scale dramatic activity.
From records of London court performances, we know that Leicester’s repertoire included such titles as Telomo, Delight, A Greek Maid, The May Lady, The Collier and Panecia , possibly, as some have thought, an early version of Much Ado About Nothing. There is no evidence, however, that public performances were given in the Netherlands during Leicester’s tenure. We must conclude that the company performed only for Leicester and his hosts.
The historian Stowe records sumptuous banquets and lavish entertainments given in Leicester’s honor as he made his progress from Flushing to Rotterdam, Delft, The Hague, Amsterdam and finally Utrecht.  It is against this backdrop that Will Kemp makes his certain debut on the world’s stage. He was one of the fifteen players. But he was more than that, since Leicester also employed him for quasi-diplomatic purposes, as we shall see, as a messenger and ambassador of good will. Kemp, it appears, could be trusted, and trust is a commodity developed over time. This weighs in favor of his joining Leicester’s players in 1583 as a replacement for Laneham.
- C. Bald published records of payments to the players, records extracted by Halliwell-Phillipps from Leicester’s household account book before it was destroyed in the fire that consumed the Shakespeare Memorial Library at Birmingham in 1879. On December 29, the players were paid ten pounds. On January 1, 1586, they were paid an additional forty shillings for their passage “back into England.”
The personal relationship between Leicester and Kemp is stated in an entry made the following day: “Your Lordship gave William Kemp the player thirty shillings the same night in your bed chamber out of the ten pounds which I gave your Lordship for play with Count Morris and my Lord of Essex at double hand lodam, which thirty shillings your Lordship said was in exchange of a rose noble which was given him by Count Hollocke [?Hohenlo].” On January 4, there is a payment of twenty shillings “to William Kemp the player for his charges into England.”  The separate payments for travelling expenses suggest that Kemp enjoyed a special status.
Most of the players left for England immediately following the Christmas festivities, which culminated with Leicester’s grand entry into The Hague on January 6. One who remained behind, however, was the former Leicester’s man Robert Wilson—now apparently on leave from the Queen’s. For on March 4 we have the record of a payment of forty shillings to Wilson for his passage back to England.  The temporary employment of Wilson provides additional evidence that Leicester had increased the number of his players (hence the split company) for the trip to the Low Countries. Wilson was no doubt released from his duties because Leicester knew that some of his players were returning.
In April 1586 the Danish chancellor Henrik Ramel sailed for England with the prospect of a Danish mediation between England and Spain. He too traveled with a considerable retinue which included nine trumpeters and eight other instrumentalists. Among them were the Englishmen Thomas Warrin and Thomas Bull. On the return voyage were two new groups of English performers who must have come from England in one of Ramel’s three ships. From later records of the Elsinore payroll we know that one group consisted of Will Kemp and his apprentice, Daniel Jones. In the other group were Thomas Stevens, Thomas King, Robert Percy, George Bryan and Thomas Pope.  Of the first three men we know next to nothing, but Bryan and Pope were to share a long professional relationship with both Kemp and Shakespeare.
Kemp was thus at Utrecht on April 23, St. George’s Day. Stowe records the festivities, which included an after-dinner performance of “dancing, vaulting and tumbling, with The Forces of Hercules, which gave great delight to the strangers, for they had not seen it before.”  This proves that the performers were English and not, as some have thought, Dutchmen. I was once of the opinion, as others may be, that The Forces of Hercules, was a play. After all, Stowe distinguishes it from dancing, vaulting, and tumbling with a title. But there can be little doubt that it was an acrobatic performance.
- M. Lea informs us that ‘Forze d’Erco‘ was part of the repertory of traveling Italian comedians who applied for a license in Geneva in 1546. Among other performances, says Lea, a still earlier mention of the ‘Forze d’Ercole’ as a momaria given in Venice on Maundy Thursday 1528 may refer to a spectacular entertainment: after Neptune, Mars, Mercury, and other deities had gone by on sea-horses, Hercules entered with lion-skin, ‘che faceva le sue forze con vari balletti et sacrifizii e morte de Cacho, Zerbeo ed altri.’  E. K. Chambers found an “entremectz mouvans” of the Labors of Hercules in France in 1468. 
David Wiles speculates that Kemp may have participated in the tilting at barriers which followed in the evening: “We learn from an account of 1584 that at such events knights would appear in role, and one of their servants, also in role, would deliver an appropriate speech, commmonly designed to evoke laughter. In a miniature of Essex dressed for tilting, we have an illustration of such a comic servant. At events such as these, a retained clown proved his value.” 
On May 6th, ever eager to please, Kemp was rewarded with five shillings for “leaping into a ditch” as Leicester was reviewing the troops at Amerford.  What was Kemp, a clown, doing at Amersford on an obviously military occasion? He can only have been there at the invitation of Leicester. Therefore, it was part of Kemp’s particular service to accompany Leicester about, entertaining him with quips and spontaneous antics. The leap into the ditch sounds like something done on a dare or wager.
Kemp may have pleased his master but he cannot have pleased Sir Philip Sidney. On March 24 Sidney, writing from Utrecht to his father-in-law, Sir Francis Walsingham, says: “I wrote a letter to you by Will, my Lord of Leicester’s jesting player, enclosed in a letter to my wife, and I never had answer thereof. It contained something to my lord of Leicester and council, that some way might be taken to stay my lady there. I since diverse times have writ to know whether you had received them, but you never answered me that point. I since find that the knave delivered the letters to my lady of Leicester.  Kemp, then, served as a messenger on the return trip to England after Leicester’s entry in The Hague in January.
Ramel’s embassy was back in Denmark by June 16 and so were the players he had brought from England. From the 17th wages were paid to “William Kemp, instrumentalist” and Daniel Jones who stayed two months and received an extra month’s wages as a gift.  The payment to Kemp and his boy provides us with the only clue we have to the date of Kemp’s birth. According to T. W. Baldwin, Daniel Jones may have been the predecessor of the apprentice William Ecclestone. If so, Kemp was above twenty-one years probably no later than 1576. He must therefore have been born about 1554. 
This date seems to square with what we know about his career. If Kemp took Laneham’s place with Leicester’s men in 1583, he would have been about twenty-nine, an appropriate age to become a leading player in the company. The fact that Kemp had an assistant gives more than a suggestion as to what type of entertainment he was providing. Daniel Jones must have been playing the pipe and tabor as accompaniment to Kemp’s morris dance. After all, Kemp was in a foreign land and would have to rely chiefly on his non-verbal skills.
King Frederick II of Denmark must have been highly entertained by Kemp’s performances at Elsinore. The wages paid to Bryan, Pope and their brethren were not recorded, so it appears that they were paid separately, possibly out of the King’s “pocket,” not an unusual occurrence. This is another indication that Kemp’s main act was a solo affair.
While in Denmark, tragedy befell the players’ colleague Thomas Bull. In a fit of jealousy involving a woman, Bull killed a compatriot named Thomas Bolton. Bull was beheaded at Kronborg for the murder. In September, probably because of notoriety surrounding the murder, Frederick passed the English players on to the Elector of Saxony.  It has not been established whether Kemp rejoined Leicester or went on to Dresden with the others who remained until July 17, 1587. But there is a reason, as we shall see, to believe that he did go to Dresden. (There is a third possiblility, one I find highly unlikely, that Kemp returned to England directly from Denmark.)
The Dutch asked Leicester to assume the title of Absolute Governor of the United Provinces. This Leicester was reluctant to do, knowing the Queen’s mind vis-a-vis Spain. She had, in fact, warned him against doing so. At the urging of William Davison, Leicester’s confidante and the English agent resident at Antwerp, Leicester did accept the title. This event sent Elizabeth into a frenzy. Her immediate response was to require Leicester’s recall, replacing him with Thomas Heneage. The Queen was said to have suffered weeks of insomnia and wild rages fearing war with Spain.
Leicester determined to return for the opening of Parliament at the end of October. The Parliament’s first business was to decide the fate of Mary Stuart, known in history as Mary Queen of Scots. But it was not until the end of November that Sir Francis Drake was sent with eights ships to fetch Leicester and his huge entourage.  If Kemp had rejoined Leicester after his two months in Denmark, which I do not think is the case, he would have returned to England at this time.
Leicester’s men were at court on December 26, 1586, and in London as of late January 1587, further evidence of the split company. They toured throughout 1587 during which time the company must have finally reunited upon the return of Bryan, Pope and the others in July. On September 4, 1588, Leicester’s men were at Norwich and here William Stonage, a cobbler, was committed to prison at their suit “for lewd words uttered against the ragged staff” (Leicester’s badge). Ten days later they were performing at Ipswich and evidently did not yet know that Leicester had died the same day that the cobbler was imprisoned. 
Kemp created a reputation for himself in Europe. The playwright and pamphleteer Thomas Nashe confirms this in An Almond for a Parrot (1590): “For coming from Venice the last summer, and taking Bergamo in my way homeward to England, it was my hap sojourning there some four or five days, to light in fellowship with the famous Francatrip Harlequin, who, perceiving me to be an Englishman by my habit and speech, asked me many particulars of the order and manner of our plays, which he termed by the name of representations: amongst other talk he inquired of me if I knew any such parabolano [storyteller, i.e., actor] here in London as Signior Chiarlatano Kempino. Very well (quoth I), and have been oft in his company. He hearing me say so, began to embrace me a new, and offered me all courtesies he could for his sake, saying, although he knew him not, yet for report he had heard of his pleasure, he could not but be in love with his perfections being absent.”  “Chiarlatano [charlatan, i.e., impersonator] Kempino” can only have been Will Kemp.
Of those who have noted the above reference, David Wiles is the first to doubt the veracity of Nashe’s statement. It is clear that Nashe’s intentions are strictly satirical, for An Almond is a reply to Martin Mar-Prelate and the ‘Puritan Discipline Tracts.’ And Nashe, who published this item anonymously, hit upon a very funny idea in dedicating the pamphlet to a clown instead of some grandee as was usual. Yet there is no valid reason for repudiating Nashe’s account of his visit to Italy which appears to be based on a real experience. Wiles says in a footnote, “Nashe’s dedication…is fantasy. Although Arlecchino purported to be a Bergomask, no player of the part really came from Bergamo.”  Wiles cites Ducharte’s The Italian Comedy but evidently has not read it closely or even bothered to look at the illustrations. If he had, he would have discovered that the “Francatrip Harlequin” Nashe met at Bergamo was Gabriello Panzanini of the Gelosi company, the creator and only performer of the character Franca-Trippa. Panzanini was at Paris in 1577.  He was with the Uniti company in 1593, and later with the Constanti.  Since his companies travelled widely, he certainly could have been at Bergamo in 1589. Nashe, moreover, does not say that the actor came from Bergamo, but that he merely met him there.
Kemp derived his dance, called a “jig,” from the morris dance. The word “morris” applied to dance is derived from “Morisco,” which in Spanish signifies a Moor. The dance probably came to England by way of France. In France it was an upper class custom for a dancer to come into the hall, when supper was finished, his face blackened with soot so as to represent a Moor, his forehead bound with white or yellow taffeta, and bells tied to his legs. He then proceeded to dance the length of the hall, backwards and forwards. Initially the dance was performed by striking the ground with the forepart of the foot; as this was found to be too fatiguing, the motion was afterward confined to the heel, the toes being kept firm, ennabling the dancer to rattle his bells.  The Spanish morris was performed by dancers with blackened faces playing castanets.
The origin of the morris has also been sought in the Pyrrhic dance of Greece. This was a military dance in which the participants carried a sword and buckler, with which they made a clashing noise, and performed various quick revolutions. In some parts of England there was a Morisco dance which seems to have been a combination of the Pyrrhic and Moorish dances.  It was to one of these that Shakespeare alludes in 2 Henry VI (III, i, 364): “I have seen him / Caper upright like a wild Morisco, / Shaking his bloody darts, as he his bells.” It is more than likely that, in the French fashion, Kemp entertained the Dutch and Danish courts with an after-dinner morris, though, as part of his service to Leicester, he probably participated in the dramatic activities provided by the company of actors as well.
The morris seems to have made its appearance in England in the late fifteenth century around the time of Henry VII. During the reign of Henry VIII the morris figured prominently in various parochial festivals. The May games, which seem to have been instituted for the encouragement of archery, were generally accompanied by morris dancers. In this recreation the principal characters were Robin Hood and Maid Marian (supplanting the earlier May King and May Queen), Little John, Friar Tuck, the fool, the piper (a necessary attendant on a morris), and a hobby-horse, a pasteboard-and-cloth construction containing a “rider” who exercised burlesque horsemanship. We also find the morris in the ceremonies of Holy Thursday, Whitsun or “White Sunday,” also known as Pentecost, bride-ales or weddings, and the raucous feast called the Lord of Misrule.
But there was nothing consistent about the dramatis personae of these celebrations, the casting accomplished as circumstances warranted. There might, for example, be simply a Maid Marian and a Friar accompanying the morris-dancers.  Parishes had established morris-dancing troupes and sometimes loaned costumes to neighboring parishes.  It is conceivable that Kemp first learned the morris in one of the parishes and later left its ranks to become a professional.
During the reign of Elizabeth the Puritans managed to reek havoc among the May games. Through their preachings and invectives certain characters were suppressed. Friar Tuck was deemed a remnant of Popery, and the hobby-horse an impious and pagan superstition. There are a number of allusions to the demise of the hobby-horse in contemporary plays, the best known being Hamlet’s “For O, for O, the hobby-horse is forgot” (III, ii, 142). Maid Marian lost her delicacy and importance becoming little more than a whore. Falstaff mentions her degraded state in 1 Henry IV (III, ii, 113). She was now impersonated by a clown. In Robert Laneham’s “Letter from Kenilworth,” a bride-ale is described, in which we see how the celebration was streamlined with “six dancers, Maid Marian, and the fool.”  When in Nine Days’ Wonder Kemp, the self-described fool, dances with a country lass he calls Maid Marian, we observe, as it were, only the vestige of a once complex performance.
The jig, eventually made its way onto the public stage, probably through the performances of Kemp’s predecessor, Richard Tarlton. The jig, always following a play in the public theatres, became increasingly complex in form. At last they were scripted. Very few jigs have survived, making it difficult to generalize about them. There seems to have been two types. One type of jig was romantic, treating characters sympathetically, the other was patently farcical and often satiric. Jigs were occasionally published.
Three that were entered into the Stationer’s Register were attributed to Kemp: 1) “28 December , Thomas Gosson, Entred for his copie under thand of Mr Watkins, the Thirde and last parte of Kempes Jigge” (implying that a first and second part had been published, though evidently not registered); 2) “2 May , William Blackwell, Enterd for his copie under Mr warden Binges hande, a ballad, of Mr Kempes Newe Jigge of the Kitchen stuffe woman”; 3) “21 October , Tho. Gosson, Entred for his copie under thande of the Wardenes, a Ballad called Kemps newe Jygge betwixt a souldior and a Miser and Sym the clown”. Ascribed to Kemp in the margin is “a pleasant newe Jigge of the broomeman,” but other than the title, nothing is known about this piece. Around this same time was entered a jig attributed to “Phillips,” no doubt Augustine Phillips, Kemp’s colleague. Among the few extant pieces one, ‘A Pretty New Jig between Francis the Gentleman, Richard the Farmer, and Their Wives” (otherwise known as Attowell’s Jig), is attributed to the actor George Attowell.
Some antiquarian writers thought that Kemp was the author of the jigs that bear his name. Dyce thought that the published jigs were written by regular dramatists and merely performed and made popular by the actors. In this, authority Charles Read Baskervill follows Dyce. Wiles does not address the problem.
But a biographer of Kemp wants to examine the question, for it is obviously a matter of importance to know whether the three jigs (five implied, possibly six) entered in the Stationers Register should be considered his compositions. Kemp tells us that Nine Days’ Wonder was his first pamphlet. This would weigh, though not conclusively, against his having written the jigs. But the published jigs were not pamphlets. They were published in the manner of a broadside ballad, a single, large sheet of foolscap. Numerous broadsides are extant. A broadside could not have been confused with a pamphlet which was usually published in the form of a quarto, sheets of paper folded into fourths. Kemp might well have said that Nine Days’ Wonder was his first pamphlet, yet still have been the author of some broadsides.
The surviving jigs do not suggest that great literary gifts were required of their authors. Though the jig had a rudimentary dramatic format, it was meant to be sung and danced. Basically, a jig was a collection of popular songs with new lyrics—parodies. I do not necessarily believe that writing jigs was beyond Kemp’s ability. We know he had great skill with the form in general. Tarlton wrote jigs, but then Tarlton is known to have written plays.
In The Return from Parnassus (1603?) in which Kemp figures as a character, Philomusus says, “Indeed, Mr. Kemp, you are very famous, but that is as well for works in print as your part in cue.”  I take this to be satirical as opposed to factual since Nine Days’ Wonder, and all the jigs combined, if Kemp wrote them, would not add up to much of an oeuvre.
In the final analysis, the authorship of the jigs is a difficult call considering the skimpy facts. Most telling seems to be Marston’s allusion in the Scourge of Villainy (1599):
Praise but Orchestra and the skipping Art,
You shall command him; faith, you have his heart
Even cap’ring in your fist. A hall, a hall,
Room for the spheres! the orbes celestial
Will dance Kemp’s jig. They’ll revel with great jumps,
“A worthy poet hath put on their pumps.” 
Considering the evidence, I am inclined to agree with Dyce and Baskervill. I do not think that Kemp wrote the jigs, but that he merely popularized them.
On December 16, 1591, Thomas Gosson entered “the Seconde parte of the gigge betwene Rowland and the Sexton.” Twelve days later he entered the third part previously cited. The probability, then, is that the third part (and therefore the first part), is one of a series of Rowland jigs preserved in German singspiele. In addition to Rowland and the Sexton, are Rowland and Rowlan’s Godson, possibly the other two parts. These were likely the three jigs in which Kemp was concerned. 
That the Rowland jigs were well-known in England there can be no doubt. In the Induction of Nashe’s Summers’ Last Will and Testament (c. 1592), Will Summers says: “Why he hath made a Prologue longer then his Play: nay, ‘tis no Play neyther, but a shewe. Ile be sworne, the Jigge of Rowlands God-sonne is a Gyant in comparison of it.” 
Two salient facts emerge from the study of these jigs: They were vehicles for the clown, and the subject matter was adultery. Their nature might be compared to the native farce of John Heywood, particularly Johan Johan, put to music. This in turn suggests that the jig may owe something to French farce for, as Ian Maxwell has argued (French Farce & John Heywood, 1946) Heywood was indebted to France. (An alternative to this theory, concieved by C. W. Wallace (The Evolution of the English Drama up to Shakespeare), is that some of the plays attributed to Heywood are actually the work of William Cornish, and that France is indebted to England. This matter should be investigated afresh.)
Singing Simpkin, appearing in Robert Cox’s Actaeon and Diana (1656), is unquestionably the Kemp jig of the soldier, miser, and Sym the clown. In this text, the miser is called “Old Man.” I do not believe that this departure from the nomenclature in the registered jig interferes with the identifcation of the piece. As Baskervill suggests, the loss or change of a stanza in the transmission of the text may have obscured the point. A hint of the miser in the husband of the jig is found in his threat to withhold Simpkin’s pence after purchasing wine if the latter abuses his wife. Moreover, it should be pointed out, the characters in the jigs were stock types. In the commedia dell’arte the “old man,” Pantalone, was invariably penurious. The commedia too may have left its mark on the jig.
In Singing Simpkin the wife hides one lover, Sim, at the approach of another, the soldier. When her husband appears, she makes the soldier leave, threatening an imaginary enemy, so that neither the soldier nor the hidden Sim, when he is disclosed, arouses the husband’s suspicion. The lecherous Sim is the “star” part and was certainly taken by Kemp. Hidden in the chest, he periodically pops out, like a jack-in-the-box, to deliver a punchline capping a series of quatrains. He sings of grafting horns on the husband’s head. In the end he is the victim of a beating. The chief features of the story come from Boccaccio’s Decameron, though its setting and tone is modified in Tarlton’s News out of Purgatory (1589). Since News is called in its title “Only such a jest as his jig,” Baskervill believes that the story had already appeared as a jig when News was published, and that it passed from Tarlton’s repertoire to Kemp’s.  It would be idle to argue with Baskervill’s conclusion.
Baskervill noted the appearance in the Low Countries and at Dresden of certain singspiele, German adaptations of Kemp’s jigs. This strengthens my theory that Kemp did not rejoin Leicester from Denmark, but continued on to Saxony with Pope, Bryan and the others. Kemp, then, was abroad for about two years.
The fall of 1588 proved to be a time of momentous theatrical import. A major reshuffling of personnel was brought about by two significant deaths. Will Kemp and many other players were impacted. On September 4, the Earl of Leicester died and, without a patron, the group seems to have dissolved. While Chambers is predictably conservative on this matter, I think that at this point Kemp, along with Bryan, Pope, and Richard Burbage, joined the company of Ferdinando Stanley, Lord Strange.
Henry Stanley, the fourth Earl of Derby, had maintained players for many years. They first appear in the record as performing at court on February 14, 1580. They also appeared there on January 1, 1581. After that the record is silent. The Earl’s son, Ferdinando, also kept players. They appeared at court during the Christmas holidays of 1580, 1581, 1585, 1586, and 1587. In each one of these instances, however, they are referred to as “Lord Strange’s tumblers,” and as performing “feats of activity.” John Symons appears to have been their leader.  The inference must be that the Earl kept a company of actors, while Ferdinando kept a troupe of acrobats. Strange’s tumblers next appear at court on February 16, 1591. Now their leader is George Attowell. This man no doubt took over Symons’s duties when Symons joined the Queen’s men. While Strange’s men continue to appear in court records, no further mention is made of tumbling. This, together with the fact that Derby’s actors seem to have vanished, suggests that Ferdinando had taken over the responsibility for his father’s actors while at the same time continuing the management of his acrobats.
On May 3 in the plague year of 1593, a special traveling warrant for Strange’s men which included Kemp, Bryan and Pope was issued by the Privy Council. Though the warrant follows the break-up of Leicester’s men by five years, these men must have been associated for quite some time. At any rate, they knew each other well. Common sense tells us that they had to have gone somewhere, and Strange’s men, where they are next found, is the logical place to look for them.
The gap can be narrowed to three years by the dating of Romeo and Juliet in which Kemp appeared. In the first Quarto (as in the Folio version of the play), the Nurse says, speaking of the time when Juliet was weaned: “Tis since the earthquake now eleven years” (line 259). There was a memorable earthquake in London on April 6, 1580, and “almost generally throughout England,” which according to Holinshed, “caused such an amazedness among the people as was wonderful for the time and caused them to make their prayers to Almighty God.” This puts the production in 1591. The argument for this date is best stated by Albert Feuillerat:
The critics who would have it that Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet in 1595 or 1596 refuse to admit the validity of the allusion; this, they say, is giving the accuracy of the Nurse an improbable value. But it is the author, not the Nurse, who, by recalling such an event, introduced a realistic note into the action and thus tried to awake in the audience a remembrance of their own experience. 
At the time of the earthquake, Shakespeare was not quite sixteen, but it certainly made a lasting impression on him.
Kemp was thus a member of Strange’s men prior to 1591. So were Shakespeare, Pope, Bryan and Burbage. Strange’s men performed at court on December 26 and 27, 1591. They were also there on January 9, February 6 and 8.  Did they perform their latest play, Romeo and Juliet on one of these occasions?
Given the need to be affiliated with a protector, actors were not as mobile as some have supposed. One could only move to another company if there was an opening. Part-time actors, known as “hired men,” knew a trade they could fall back on—exactly as today—if there was no acting work to be had. The tendency was to stay put unless a better opportunity came along. William Ecclestone, a boy actor in Shakespeare’s company in 1588, advanced to adult roles long before 1610, when he was still performing—twenty-two years later—with the same fellowship. 
The tendency to stay put also weighs in favor of a 1588 amalgamation. Named in the travelling warrant, additionally, were Edward Alleyn, Augustine Phillips and John Heminges. Heminges must have left the Queen’s just before that group splintered upon the second important death, that of Richard Tarlton, also in the fall of 1588. Heminges is not named in a list of the Queen’s players dated June 30, 1588. By that date, possibly, Tarlton was incapacitated; Heminges may have seen the writing on the wall and left.
This temporary company was an all-star group and Kemp was its main comic attraction. By 1590 Kemp had already been hailed in print and was viewed as the successor to Tarlton. Nashe dedicated An Almond for a Parrot “To that most comical and conceited [i.e., witty] Cavaliere Monsieur du Kemp, Jestmonger and Vice-Gerent [deputy] General to the Ghost of Dick Tarlton.”
Insertions in the Quarto and Folio texts of the names of the actors instead of the parts that they performed give us some information about the casting of Shakespeare’s plays. In this way we know that Kemp played the servant, Peter, in Romeo and Juliet.
We learn from Henslowe’s Diary that in June of 1592, Lord Strange’s men were acting in combination with Edward Alleyn and his company, the Lord Admiral’s men, at the Rose theatre. Strange’s men, in fact, seem to have been associated with the Admiral’s for two years or more. A major outbreak of the plague had necessitated another realignment of personnel. Since Kemp was involved with Henslowe for at least two periods in his career, something should be said about that interesting individual.
Phillip Henslowe (?-1616) was a producer who, unlike most theatre people of his time, was never an actor. He was by trade a dyer. Henslowe derives his importance in the history of the Elizabethan stage from being the owner of the Rose, Hope and Fortune playhouses. His stepdaughter Joan Woodward married Edward Alleyn, who on his father-in-law’s death inherited his property and papers, the latter housed at Dulwich College. Among them is Henslowe’s Diary in which he entered accounts for his various theatres, records of performances, loans made to actors, payments to dramatists, and various private memoranda. Since some of the actors in the companies which used his theatres were contracted to Henslowe personally, and not, as Kemp was to his fellow actors, and as he paid the dramatists for their work, it follows that he had a decisive say in the choice of play and method of presentation. That his relations with his actors were not always cordial is proved by Articles of Grievance and Articles of Oppression against Mr. Hinchlowe, drawn up in 1615. In these documents Henslowe is accused of embezzling their money and unlawfully retaining their property. We have no information as to how the controversy ended, but it is apparent that Henslowe kept actors and dramatists in his debt in order to retain his hold over them. This arrangement did not make for much stability. 
Henslowe’s Diary is the single most important document we possess for the study of Tudor theatre history. I had occasionally thought, given Henslowe’s bizarre spellings (albere galles for Archigallo), that the impressario was hard of hearing. I also thought it strange that a host of other individuals including Wilson, Dekker, Chapman, Day and Haughton, should write in his private book—perhaps his vision was none too good either. Some critics have gone so far as to suggest that he was illiterate. When I came to look up some facts in the Diary, my suspicions about Henslowe’s health were confirmed. In black and white are a number of pharmaceutical recipes, including cures for deafness, blindness, pleurisy and other maladies. Henslowe must have had multiple infirmities. It will be entertaining to look at one of his prescriptions for deafness: “ffrie earthwormes with goosegreasse then strain the same & drope a lytell therof into the deaf & payned eares warminge the same & so usse yt hallfe a dossen times at the least a trewe medison.” 
On June 19, 1592, Henslowe tells us, the combined forces of Strange’s and Admiral’s men presented the play A Knack to Know a Knave. Kemp, we know from the published version, essayed the role of the Cobbler.
On September 25, 1593, Ferdinando Stanley, Lord Strange, succeeded his father as the fifth Early of Derby, and Kemp’s company became known as Derby’s men. This monicker held for less than six months, for on April 16, 1594, Ferdinando died, possibly poisoned in a political assassination. His players came under the brief, one could confidently say emergency, protection of Strange’s widow, Alice, Countess of Derby. On May 16 there is a record at Winchester stating, “…there shall be given in reward by the Chamberlain of the City unto the players of the Countess of Derby vis viiid.”  But by June 5th Derby’s men had come under the patronage of Henry Carey, the Lord Chamberlain. The list of principals in this company included Kemp, Pope, Bryan, Heminges, Phillips, Burbage, and an actor/dramatist of some repute, William Shakespeare. 
From June 5 to June 15 Kemp brought his clowning to Newington Butts where the Chamberlain’s men were playing a repertory that included Titus Andronicus, The Taming of the Shrew and an early version of Hamlet.  In those plays, respectively, Kemp played the Clown, Grumio, and the First Gravedigger. The playhouse at Newington Butts in Surrey, it may be noted in passing, was the least desirable of all the public theatres because it was located more than a mile from the Thames. The actors certainly would not have used it during winter seasons.
During the Christmas festivities of 1594, Kemp, along with Burbage and Shakespeare, accepted payment on behalf of the Chamberlain’s men for performances given for the Queen at Greenwich on December 26 and 27.  They may have performed one of the plays shown at Newington Butts during the previous summer or a new play prepared in the fall. The big play of the year for the Chamberlain’s was The Merchant of Venice, in which Kemp played Shylock’s clownish servant Launcelot Gobbo. The production of the play had been inspired by the trial and execution of the Queen’s physician Roderigo Lopez. Lopez, a Jew, had been convicted on charges evidently trumped up by Essex. The Admiral’s men had immediately revived their old Marlowe success The Jew of Malta and performed it fifteen times throughout 1594. It is thought that the Chamberlain’s men, ever sensitive to competition, had Shakespeare revise another successful old play, The Jew of Venice. 
When Henry Carey died in 1596, his players came under the protection of his son, George Carey, Lord Hunsdon. For a time, Kemp’s company was known as Hunsdon’s men. Now was published the first Quarto of Romeo and Juliet, “As it hath been often with great applause plaid publiquely, by the right Honourable the L. of Hunsdon his Servants.” When on March 17, 1597, George Carey rose to the office of Lord Chamberlain, the company was again rechristened, after him, the Lord Chamberlain’s men.  For the balance of Kemp’s tenure, his company would know no other name, though after the accession of James I in 1603, it became the King’s men.
In 1600 the Quarto version of Much Ado About Nothing was published. There are good reasons for believing that the play was performed in 1598, so some scholars have placed the production of the play in that year. There is a German drama, Die Schone Phaenicia, by Jacob Ayrer, with a similiar plot and concerned with the King of Aragon, and Lionato, an old nobleman. The probability is that Ayrer’s play and Shakespeare’s both derive from a common source. A play Panecia was acted on New Year’s Day, 1574, by the Earl of Leicester’s men before the Queen. According to Dover Wilson, in the jumbled spelling of the offical account, “panecia” likely represents “Fenecia,” the Hero character of Bandello’s original story.  This play may very well be one of the manuscripts brought by the former Leicester’s men to the company of Lord Strange later revised by Shakespeare.
In the same way we know that Kemp played Peter in Romeo and Juliet, we know he played Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing— his name instead of the character’s appears in the Quarto text (IV, ii), a prompter’s note. Also in 1598 Kemp was in the cast of Ben Jonson’s Every Man in His Humour as we learn from the Jonson Folio of 1616. In the Quarto version, the play has an Italian setting. Jonson later revised it with an English setting, altering the characters’ names accordingly. Oliver Cob is the type of comic tradesman that was Kemp’s specialty. Jonson, as well as Shakespeare when he wrote, knew who was going to be playing the parts, and he designed Cob for Kemp.
The Theatre was built on land for which James Burbage had taken a twenty-one year lease. He had an option to renew this lease, but Giles Allen, owner of the land, ultimately reneged on the agreement. The Chamberlain’s men were forced to relocate. In a brilliant stroke, Burbage decided to create a permanent indoor theatre. For this purpose he purchased the three stories of the Parliament Chambers in one of the Blackfriars buildings. The purchase was executed on 4 February 1596 at a cost of six hundred pounds.  The plan was a bold one. For the first time a company of adult actors would have a playhouse within the city walls, in one of the most fashionable districts in London. They would also be able to charge high entrance fees thereby excluding the rabble.
In November of that year, however, certain residents of Blackfriars brought a petition to the Privy Council against the establishment of the theatre in their bailiwick. They cited “great annoyance and trouble…by reason…of all manner of vagrant and lewd persons that…will come thither and work all manner of mischief,” among other trepidations. A counter petition was presented by Kemp, Pope, Burbage, Heminges, Phillips, Shakespeare, William Sly, and Nicholas Tooley. This petition was not successful. It would be fourteen years before the Blackfriars dream was finally realized. The great cost of the property, added to an existing load of debt, and lawsuits, must have all but finished James Burbage. He died just two months before expiration of the Theatre’s ground lease. 
A solution to the problem with The Theatre, however, was finally arrived at. The Chamberlain’s men decided to build a new open-air playhouse. A location was found in Southwark across the Thames, a parcel of land owned by Nicholas Brend. Kemp was one of seven men, six of them Chamberlain’s actors, who formed a consortium for the construction of the Globe. We learn from the lease on this property, that the Globe was financed by a syndicate comprised of Richard Burbage, his brother, Cuthbert, Shakespeare, Heminges, Phillips, Pope and Kemp—a unique concept in the annals of the English theatre.  The Burbages would hold a half-interest in the new building, inasmuch as they were providing materials—the framework and whatever else could be salvaged—from the dismantled Theatre. The other five actors would hold the remaining half-interest, making Kemp’s share one-tenth of the total. The cost of erecting the Globe was about four hundred pounds.  If the Burbages paid two hundred, the other five actors must have contributed forty pounds each.
The ground lease was drawn up on Christmas Day, 1598, and signed on February 21, 1599. No copy of the original lease has come to light. But a certified transcript, entered in the course of litigation in 1616 between Thomasine Ostler and her father, John Heminges, was discovered by C. W. Wallace in 1909. In this document we find surprising information: “the said defendents do say that about time of the building of the said playhouse…[the] part of the said William Kemp, did come unto the said Augustine Phillips [et al.] by grant or assignment.”  For some reason, many have thought artistic differences, Kemp left the Chamberlain’s men not long after the syndicate was formed. Kemp’s share in the Globe was distributed in four equal parts, raising his former associates’ share to one-eighth each.
It is well known that Kemp’s successor was Robert Armin, though it is not so well known that Armin was trained as a clown (we learn from Tarlton’s Jests), by Tarlton himself. With the departure of Kemp, the development of the Shakespearean clown would be forever altered. Kemp’s bawdy lout would be replaced by a new, soft-edged clown, Shakespeare capitalizing on Armin’s subtlety, intellectualism, and vein of melancholy. Armin would create Touchstone, Feste, and Lear’s Fool. Kemp would never have been cast in those parts.
Now the record temporarily fails us: we do not know how Kemp occupied himself during the following year. While many have doubted that Kemp ever appeared on the stage of the Globe, some, Chambers for one, think that he did after his return to London following the morris. A scrap of evidence seems to support this.
James Nielson has drawn our attention to a unique copy of an 8-leaf pamphlet called A pil to purge melancholie, a collection of mock correspondence published anonymously and without a printer’s name or date. (To those with familiarity with Nashe’s work, the title may suggest our young Juvenal.) A pil has the reference, “…Monsieur de Kempe on Monday next at the Globe.” While this appears conclusive, it does not seem to square with what we know about Kemp as Nielson admits.  The puzzle thus awaits another piece.
In any case, if Kemp had the forty pounds from his share of the Globe, he would not have been hard pressed for ready cash. Jigmaking, his old stand-by, would likely be in demand. It is clear, however, that by autumn he had teamed up with the company of Lord Chandos.
On September 21, 1599, Thomas Platter, a Swiss traveller, witnessed a performance of Julius Caesar at the Globe and noted it in his diary. He also noted:
On another occasion not far from our inn, in the suburb of Bishopsgate, if I remember, also after lunch, I beheld a play in which they presented diverse nations and an Englishman struggling together for a maiden; he overcame them all except the German who won the girl in a tussle, and then sat down by her side, when he and his servant drank themselves tipsy, so that they were both befuddled and the servant proceeded to hurl his shoe at his master’s head, whereupon they both fell asleep. 
We may forgive Platter a slight error, for Shoreditch was but a continuation of Bishopsgate street. Yet the theatre he attended was undoubtedly the Curtain, the Theatre having been torn down the previous year. Lord Chandos’s men occupied the premises when Shakespeare’s company moved to the Globe. Robert Armin was a member of this troupe.  But would it be surprising to learn that the servant character who hurled his shoe at his master’s head was none other than our old friend Will Kemp? There can be no doubt about this.
Word of Kemp’s latest outrageous stage antic (an improvisation then known as a ‘merriment’), must have spread like wildfire, for Ben Jonson inserted a record of the event into Everyman Out of His Humour, now on the boards at the Globe. In this play, Carlo Buffone exclaims to Puntarvolo, “Would I had one of Kemp’s shoes to throw after you” (IV, V). So Kemp, in the fall of 1599, was appearing at the Curtain with Chandos’s men, in the same plays with Robert Armin.
Records of performances during this period allow us to make certain generalizations about the movements of the players. In winter, when travel was inconvenient, performances were held in the city at innyards such as the Cross Keys and the Bull. During summers the outlying theatres, the Theatre and Curtain in Shoreditch and the Rose and (though rarely) Newington Butts across the Thames, were utilized. The autumn months were reserved for provincial and, ocasionally, continental touring. The players would be back in London, ready to show a new but tested work to the Queen during the Christmas and New Year’s festivities. There were exceptions to this schedule due to outbreaks of plague and prohibitions against playing. The players usually responded to these difficulties by touring, a wearying and not very profitable operation. Touring would bring increased work, fewer receipts, and higher expenses. Still, touring was essential to the players’ survival.
Kemp and Chandos’s men may have embarked on a European tour after a short season at the Curtain. A Chronicle of the city of Munster gives the following information: “On the 26th of November 1599 there arrived here eleven Englishmen, all young and lively fellows, with the exception of one, a rather elderly man, who had everything under his management. They acted on five successive days five different comedies in their own English Tongue. They carried with them various musical instruments, such as lutes, cithern, fiddles, fifes, and such like; they danced many new and foreign dances (not usual in this country) at the beginning and at the end of their comedies. They were accompanied by a clown, who, when a new act had to commence and when they had to change their costume, made many antics and pranks in German during the performance, by which he amused the audience.” 
Professor Wiles plays fast and loose with this record. First, he omits the date and places the event in 1601 which is plainly innacurate. Second, in a non-sequitur, he says since the clown entertained in German, “This would seem to confirm that the clown was the organizer of the tour.”  The “elderly” actor, not the clown, was the obvious organizer of the tour. Rochell, the writer of the record, consistently uses the word “they” to refer to the eleven players. He notes that “they” were accompanied by a clown, a twelfth player, showing that the clown was a new addition and therefore not a regular member of the company. These facts build a case for Kemp’s involvement. As we have seen, his was often a solo act, and he no doubt picked up some German on his earlier tour of Saxony.
In February-March 1600, Kemp attracted nationwide attention by dancing a morris from London to Norwich, a distance of 114 miles. This was a remarkable feat for a man at least forty-five years old, especially in a time when people aged more rapidly than today. Kemp conceived the event as a profit-making venture and accepted numerous wagers on the outcome. The morris would become the object of broadside satire, for in April 1600 Kemp published an account of the exploit “to satisfy his friends the truth against all lying ballad-makers.” Kemp”s Nine Days’ Wonder reveals him first and foremost as the center of his universe.
There are many contemporary allusions to Kemp’s morris. Dudley Carleton wrote to John Chamberlain on October 13, 1600, that on his way from Witham to Englefield: “…we met a company of mad wenches, whereof Mrs. Mary Wroughton and young Stafford were ringleaders, who travelled from house to house, and to some places where they were little known, attended with a concert of musicians, as if they had undertaken the like adventure as Kemp did from London to Norwich.”
In Jack Drum’s Entertainment (1601), a character remarks: “I had rather that Kemp’s Morris were their chat” (I, 45).  Kemp’s long-distance dance created so much notoriety that it was still fresh in people’s minds years later. In Webster’s, Westward Ho (1607), Linstock says: “S’foot, we’ll dance to Norwich” (V, I).  In 1609 William Rowley wrote in his tract A Search for Money, “Ye have been either ear or eye-witnesses or both to many mad voyages made of late years, both by sea and land, as the travel to Rome with the return in certain days, the wild Morris to Norwich…”  Jonson could not forget it, for in his Epigrams, 1616, he has, “Did dance the famous Morris unto Norwich.” 
It is doubtful that Kemp raised any money from the morris. In Fair Maid of the Inn, Fletcher implies that he lost money: “He did measure the stars with a false yard, and may now travel to Rome with a mortar on’s head to see if he can recover his money that way.”  This is a direct reference to Kemp’s Nine Days’ Wonder dedication in which he says: “I could fly to Rome (at least hop to Rome, as the old proverb is) with a mortar on my head.”
In a reprimand to the ballad-makers, Kemp announced a morris even more audacious than the one to Norwich, requesting them: “…to pity his pains in the great journey he pretends [intends], and not fill the country with lies of his never done acts, as they did in his late Morris to Norwich….I would wish ye, employ not your little wits in certifying the world that I am gone to Rome, Jerusalem, Venice, or any other place at your idle appoint.”
Kemp undertook this journey sometime after the publication of Nine Days’ Wonder in the spring of 1600. His hope for profit is recorded in a popular song (T. Weelkes, Ayres or Fantasticke Spirites 1608):
Since Robin Hood, Maid Marian,
And Little John are gone-a,
The hobby-horse was quite forgot,
When Kemp did dance alone-a.
He did labor after the tabor
For to dance: then into France
He took pains
To skip it;
In hope of gains
He will trip it,
On the toe,
Diddle, diddle, doe. 
Another popular song found in Roxburghe Ballads (1873), anticipated a triumphant return:
Diana and her darlings dear,
The Dutchman, ply the double beer,
Boys rings the bells and make good cheer–
When Kemp returns from Rome! 
Kemp visited Germany and Italy and had returned to England by September 2, 1601, as evidenced by an entry in the diary of a certain William Smith of Abingdon:
Sep. 2. Kemp, mimus quidam, qui peregrinationem quandam in Germaniam at Italiam instituerat, post multos errores, et infortunia sua, reversus: multa refert de Anthonio Sherley, equite aurato, quem Romae (legatum Persicum agentem) convenerat. 
There is no evidence that the journey added any cubits to Kemp’s reputation or brought him financial reward. The escapade, it must be concluded, was a failure.
Kemp’s meeting in Italy with Sir Anthony Shirley (transposed toVenice), was dramatized some years later, probably after his death, in The Travels of The Three English Brothers.  This work was the joint production of John Day, William Rowley and George Wilkins. The play was performed by the new Queen’s men and published in 1607. Since the authors were undoubtedly familiar with Kemp’s clowning, the scene of the meeting with Shirley is valuable for its point of view. Sir Anthony is on stage:
Enter a servant
Servant. Sir, here’s an Englishman desires to see you.
Sir Anthony. An Englishman? What’s his name?
Servant. He calls himself Kemp.
Sir Anthony. Kemp! bid him come in.
Exit Servant, enter Kemp
Sir Anthony Welcome, honest Will!; and how doth all thy fellows in England?
Kemp. Why, like good fellows, when they have no money, live upon credit.
Sir Anthony. And what good new plays have you?
Kemp. Many idle toys; but the old play that Adam and Eve acted in bare action under the fig tree draws most of the gentlemen.
Sir Anthony. Jesting, Will!
Kemp. In good earnest it doth, sir.
Sir Anthony. I partly credit thee; but what play of note have you?
Kemp. Many of name, some of note; especially one, the name was called England’s Joy; Marry, he was no poet that wrote it, he drew more conies in a purse-net, than ever were taken at any draught about London.
Servant. Sir, here’s an Italian Harelquin come to offer a play to your Lordship.
Sir Anthony. We willingly accept it.
Sir Anthony. Hark, Kemp: because I like thy gesture and thy mirth, let me request thee play a part with them.
Enter Harlequin and Wife
Kemp. I am somewhat hard of study, and like your honor, but if they well invent any extemporal merriment, I’ll put out the small sack of wit I ha’ left in venture with them.
Sir Anthony. They shall not deny’t. Signior Harlequin, he is content. I pray thee question him.
Harlequin and Kemp whisper
Kemp. Now, Signior, how many are you in company?
Harlequin. None but my wife and myself, sir.
Kemp. Your wife! why, hark you; will your wife do tricks in public?
Harlequin. My wife can play.
Kemp. The honest woman, I make no question; but how if we cast a whore’s part or a courtesan?
Harlequin. Oh, my wife is excellent at that; she’s practiced it ever since I married her, ‘tis her only practice.
Kemp. But, by your leave, and she were my wife, I had rather keep her out of practice a great deal.
Sir Anthony. Yet since ‘tis the custom of the country, prithee make one, conclude upon the project: we neither look for scholarship nor art, but harmless mirth, for that’s thy usual part.
Kemp. You shall find me no turn-coat.
Exit Sir Anthony
Kemp But the project, come; and then to the casting of the parts.
Harlequin. Marry, sir, first we will have an old Pantaloon.
Kemp. Some jealous coxcomb.
Harlequin. Right, and that part will I play.
Kemp. The jealous coxcomb?
Harlequin. I ha’ played that part—
Kemp. Since your wife played the courtesan.
Harlequin. True, and a great while afore: then I must have a peasant to my man, and he must keep my wife.
Kemp. Your man, and a peasant, keep your wife! I have known a gentleman keep a peasant’s wife, but ’tis not usual for a peasant to keep his master’s wife.
Harlequin. Oh, ‘tis common in our country.
Kemp. And I’ll maintain the custom of the country.
Kemp offers to kiss Wife
Harlequin. What do you mean, sir?
Kemp. Why, to rehearse my part on your wife’s lips: we are fellows, and amongst friends and fellows, you know, all things are common.
Harlequin. But she shall be no common thing, if I can keep her several: then, sir, we must have an Amorado that must make me cornuto.
Kemp. Oh, for love sake let me play that part!
Harlequin. No, ye must play my man’s part, and keep my wife.
Kemp. Right; and who so fit to make a man a cuckold, as he that keeps his wife?
Harlequin. You shall not play that part.
Kemp. What say you to my boy?
Harlequin. Aye, he may play it, and you will.
Kemp. But he cannot make you jealous enough?
Harlequin. Tush, I warrant you, I can be jealous for nothing.
Kemp. You should not be a true Italian else.
Harlequin. Then we must have a Magnifico that must take up the matter betwixt me and my wife.
Kemp. Any thing of yours, but I’ll take up nothing of your wife’s.
Harlequin. I wish not you should: but come, now am I your master.
Kemp. Right, and I your servant.
Harlequin. Lead the way then.
Kemp. No, I ha’ more manners than so: in our country ‘tis the custom of the master to go in before his wife, and the man to follow the master.
Kemp. To his mistress.
Harlequin. Ye are in the right—
Kemp. Way to cuckolds-haven; Saint Luke be your speed!
Of particular note, “Kemp” tells Sir Anthony that he is “hard of study.” Evidently, Kemp had trouble learning and, possibly, remembering lines.
Kemp’s European excursion is also mentioned in the Cambridge University play The Return from Parnassus: Or the Scourge of Simony, the third part of the trilogy. The play was performed, and possibly written, by students of St. John’s College. The play was published in 1606. It give us a little more information about Kemp’s artistic mannerisms and style. Two students come to audition for the Chamberlain’s company.
Enter Burbage and Kemp
Burbage. Now, Will Kemp, if we can entertain these scholars at a low rate, it will be well; they have oftentimes a good conceit in a part.
Kemp. It’s true, indeed, honest Dick; but the slaves are somewhat proud, and, besides, it is a good sport, in a part to see them never speak in their walk but at the end of the stage, just as though in walking with a fellow we should never speak but at a stile, a gate, or a ditch, where a man can go no further. I was once at a comedy in Cambridge, and there I saw a parasite make faces and mouths of all sorts on this fashion.
Burbage. A little teaching will mend these faults, and it may be, besides, they will be able to pen a part.
Kemp. Few of the university pen plays well; they smell to much of that writer Ovid, and that writer Metamorphosis, and talk too much of Proserpina and Jupiter. Why, here’s our fellow Shakespeare puts them all down, aye, and Ben Jonson too. O that Ben Jonson is a pestilent fellow! he brought up Horace giving the Poets a pill; but our fellow Shakespeare hath given him a purge that made him bewray [betray] his credit.
Burbage. It’s a shrewd fellow indeed. I wonder these scholars stay so long; they appointed to be here presently that we might try [audition] them: oh, here they come.
Enter Philomusus and Studioso
Studioso. Take heart, these lets our clouded thoughts refine;
The sun shines brightest when it gins decline.
Burbage. Master Philomusus and Master Studioso, God save you.
Kemp. Master Pill and Master Otioso, well met.
Philomusus. The same to you, good Master Burbage. What, Master Kemp, how doth the Emperor of Germany?
Studioso. God save you, Master Kemp; welcome Master Kemp, from dancing the Morris over the Alps.
Kemp. Well, you merry knaves, you may come to the honor of it one day: is it not better to make a fool of the world as I have done, than to be fooled of the world as you scholars are? But be merry, my lads: you have happened upon the most excellent vocation in the world for money; they come north and south to bring it to our playhouse; and for honors, who of more report than Dick Burbage and Will Kemp? he is not counted a gentleman that knows not Dick Burbage and Will Kemp; there’s not a country wench that can dance Sellenger’s Round but can talk of Dick Burbage and Will Kemp.
Philomusus. Indeed, Master Kemp, you are very famous, but that is as well for works in print as your part in cue.
Kemp. You are at Cambridge still with size cue, and be lusty humorous poets; you must untrusle: I rode this my last circuit purposely, because I would be judge of your actions.
Burbage. Master Studioso, I pray you take some part in this book, and act it, that I may see what will fit you best. I think your voice would serve for Hieronimo: observe how I act it, and then imitate me.
Studioso. “Who call[s] Hieronimo from his naked bed, And,” etc.
Burbage. You will do well after a while.
Kemp. Now for you, me thinks you should belong to my tuition, and your face me thinks would be good for a foolish mayor or a foolish justice of peace. Mark me. “Forasmuch as there be two states of a commonwealth, the one peace, the other tranquility; two states of war, the one of discord, the other of dissention; two states of incorporation, the one of Aldermen, the other of Brethren; two states of magistrates, the one of governing, the other of bearing rule; now, as I said even now, for a good thing cannot be said too often, Virtue is the shoeing-horn of justice, that is, virtue is the shoeing-horn of doing justly, it behooveth me and is my part to commend this shoeing-horn unto you. I hope this word shoeing-horn doth not offend any of you, my worshipful brethren, for you, being the worshipful headsmen of the town, know well what the horn meaneth. Now therefore I am determined not only to teach but also to instruct, not only the ignorant but also the simple, not only what is their duty towards their betters, but also what is their duty towards their superiors”. Come, let me see how you can do; sit down in the chair.
Philomusus. “Forasmuch as there be,” etc.
Kemp. Thou wilt do well in time, if thou wilt be ruled by thy betters, that is by myself, and such grave Aldermen of the playhouse as I am.
Burbage. I like your face and the proportion of your body for Richard the Third; I pray, Master Philomusus, let me see you act a little of it.
“Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by the sun of York.”
Burbage. Very well, I assure you. Well, Master Philomusus and Master Studioso, we see what ability you are of: I pray walk with us to our fellows, and we’ll agree presently.
Kemp. It’s good manners to follow us, Master Pill and Master Otioso. (IV, v)
Kemp is no doubt satirized as well as represented in this piece. He must be the actor who is accused of making faces—what is known as mugging.
In The Pilgrimage to Parnassus, the first play of the trilogy, Kemp’s portrait is painted more obliquely. Still, it gives us another account of his method of amusing.
Enter Dromo, drawing a clown with a rope
Clown. What now? thrust a man into the commonwealth whether he will or no? what the devil should I do here?
Dromo. Why, what an ass art thou! dost thou not know a play cannot be without a clown? Clowns have been thrust into plays by head and shoulders ever since Kemp could make a scurvy face; and therefore reason thou shouldst be drawn in with a cart-rope.
Clown. But what must I do now?
Dromo. Why, if thou canst but draw thy mouth awry, lay thy leg over thy staff, saw a piece of cheese asunder with thy dagger, lap up drink on the earth, I warrant thee they’ll laugh mightily. Well, I’ll turn thee loose to them; either say somewhat for thyself, or hang and be non plus.
Clown. This is fine i’faith! now, when they have nobody to leave on the stage, they bring me up, and, which is worse, tell me not what I should say! Gentles, I dare say you look for a fit of mirth. I’ll therefore present unto you a proper new love-letter of mine to the tune of Put on the smock o’ Monday, which in the heat of my charity I penned; and thus it begins: “O my lovely Nigra, pity the pain of my liver! That little gallows Cupid hath lately pricked me in the breech with his great pin, and almost killed me, thy woodcock, with his birdbolt. Thou hast a pretty furrowed forhead, a fine lecherous eye; methinks I see the bawd Venus keeping a bawdy house in thy looks, Cupid standing like a pandar at the door of thy lips.” How like you, masters? has any young man a desire to copy this, that he may have formam epistolae conscribendae? Now if I could but make a fine scurvy face, I were a king! O nature, why didst thou give me so good a look?
Dromo. Give us a voider here for the fool! Sirrah, you must begone; here are other men that will supply the room.
Clown. Why, shall I not whistle out my whistle? Then farewell, gentle auditors, and the next time you see me I’ll make you better sport. 
Dromo drags a clown on stage be means of a rope. There cannot be a play without a clown, he tells us. The audience no doubt felt the same way. At a play, the patrons must have always had the expectation of savoring the antics of the low comedian. Dromo also suggests that a clown could be “thrust into plays by head and shoulders.” In a serious play, even if no clown part was scripted, the company still had to cater to the demand of the audience. In this situation, the actors would decide beforehand at what point the clown would go out to perform. Secondly, a clown could always be depended on to cover a backstage emergency. If, for example, a key prop were misplaced, the clown could take over while the prop was hunted.
Dromo says that clowns were thrust on “ever since Kemp could make a scurvy face.” Here we have another reference to Kemp’s mugging. The Kemp character also refers to making a scurvy face. Kemp himself must have done it frequently, never hesitating to get an easy laugh whenever possible.
Dromo refers to three of Kemp’s non-verbal lazzi, or sight gags: laying his leg over his staff; sawing a piece of cheese with a dagger, and lapping up water from the earth. Shortly after Dromo has left the stage, the clown decides he will entertain with the lazzo of the Love Letter, standard Harlequin fare. The letter contains some Latin, another feature of Kemp’s verbal clowning.
While Kemp’s morris to Rome appears to have brought him few if any benefits, the dance may have served as an inspiration to one of his fellow countrymen. Thomas Coryat, son of a Somerset clergyman, was a thirty-year-old without a career. A contemporary description of him testified that he had a head shaped like an inverted “sugar-loaf,” and that he “carried folly in his very face.” In 1610 Coryat set off on a walk to Venice. In five months he covered—all on foot—nineteen hundred and seventy-five miles, and had seen forty-five cities. Like Kemp, Coryat wrote and published an account of his travels in Crudities, 1611. He was assisted in this by none other than Ben Jonson. The eight-hundred-page tome, remarkable for its detail of observation, brought Coryat instant fame. He later announced that he would trek to the Far East and, like Odysseus, return after ten years. Unfortunately, he died about mid-way through his campaign. Coryat is also remembered for introducing the fork in England. He brought one of these Italian implements with him on his return from Venice. 
A John Kemp was in charge of a touring company that had been in Holland and had reached Munster by November 1601.  Chambers thinks that this man was a relative of Will Kemp. David Wiles is convinced that “John” was Will Kemp himself, invoking Baskervill, that an “English John” was a common name for a clown.  But there is a difficulty with this conjecture. Kemp had returned from Rome by September 2nd. This means that there would be only two months to assemble and rehearse a company, cross the channel, perform in Holland, reach Munster by November, and return by January 3, 1602. For on that date, Kemp is a member of the Earl of Worcester’s men, and he receives with Thomas Heywood a payment for a performance at court.  All of this would only have been possible if, immediately upon his return from Rome, Kemp joined Worcester’s men, and that it was this company that traveled to Germany. I would not discount this possibility. Indeed, the evidence suggests that this is exactly what transpired.
The Earl of Worcester’s men were on the rise for in that year they absorbed Oxford’s men who were playing with them at the Boar’s Head. A few months later they were acting for Philip Henslowe at the Rose. Among their number were John Duke and John Lowin, past and future associates, respectively, of Shakespeare’s fellowship. In this venture Kemp was associated, as mentioned, with Thomas Heywood. 
Thomas Heywood was not only a noted dramatist and author of non-dramatic works in prose and verse, but also an actor. He first appears on March 25, 1598, when he bound himself to Henslowe for two years to act with the Admiral’s men at the Rose. He reappears in the Diary as a shareholder in Worcester’s company in the fall of 1602, and on September 1 borrowed 2s. 6d. [two shillings, six pence] from Henslowe to buy silk garters. From October 21, 1602 to May 9, 1603, he appears as authorizing payments on behalf of Worcester’s men. 
Early in the reign of James I the Earl of Worcester’s men were taken into the patronage of Queen Anne. It is known that Heywood was a member at the formation of this company, for his name appears on the undated license. He is traceable through numerous documents to 1640, when he still seems to be acting though advanced in years.  Heywood’s claim that he was sole author or had “a main finger” in two hundred and twenty plays sounds like a gross exageration. About forty, a more credible number, are known, but of these nine are lost.
Heywood’s A Woman Killed with Kindness , still viewed as a very fine work, was Worcester’s most noteworthy play. According to Henslowe, it was presented in March of 1603. This work is one of those rare Elizabethan plays, like Arden of Faversham, a domestic drama. It depicts English country home life and treats the relationships of ordinary people rather than the great. The chief servant Jenkin provides the main comic interest, and he leads his minions in some dancing. When we hear Jenkin correct Dogberry, “Do you not know that comparisions are odious?” (I, ii, 21) , we suspect that Kemp may have taken the role. There are, however, no other obvious signs of his presence. It may be that, just as some Shakespearean parts were remodeled for Armin, Jenkin was revised for Thomas Greene, Kemp’s successor with Worcester’s men. Jenkin must have been one of the last new parts, if not the very last, Kemp created.
A William Kemp is recorded in token-books of St. Saviour’s, Southwark, a theatrical district, as living in Samson’s Rents in 1595, 1596, 1598 and 1599, and in Langley’s New Rents in 1602.  These records corroborate the assumption that Kemp spent much of 1600-1601 in Europe.
A “William Kempe, a Man” was buried at St. Saviour’s on November 2 in the plague year of 1603. He was probably the clown who had left the Chamberlain’s men four years earlier, since there is no further record of his career. Kemp would have been about forty-nine years old. The St. Saviour’s register also names the sepulture, on December 29th following, of “Mary Kempe, a Woman,” and on the 13th of February, 1604, of “Cicelye Kempe, a child.” These were possibly Kemp’s wife and daughter, though Kemp is not known to have been married. Since the three deaths follow so closely upon one another, it may be that man, woman and child (related or not) were all carried off by the plague.
According to Chalmers who searched the Prerogative Office, Kemp left neither a will nor any administration of his effects. In 1602 he appears as a debtor in Henslowe’s Diary, borrowing 20/- “for his necessary uses.”  Will Kemp probably died penniless.
In 1618 Dekker published his Owles Almanacke, “A memorial of the time sithence some strange and remarkable accidents until this year 1617.” Contained therein is Brathwait’s Remains after Death, which must have been penned years earlier, since it has the following epitaph:
Upon Kemp and His Morris, with His Epitaph
Welcome from Norwich, Kemp! all joy to see
Thy safe return morriscoed lustily.
But out, alas, how soon’s thy morris done!
When pipe and tabor, all thy friends be gone,
And leave thee now to dance the second part
With feeble nature, not with nimble art;
Then all thy triumphs fraught with strains of mirth
Shall be caged up within a chest of earth:
Shall be? they are: th’ast danced thee out of breath,
And now must make thy parting dance with death. 
- W. Hone, “Dissertation Upon the Morris Dance and Maid Marian,” in J. M. Gutch, ed., The Robin Hood Garlands and Ballads (London, 1850), 304.
- David Wiles, Shakespeare’s Clown, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 31. Prior to this book, there had been nothing approaching a thorough study of Kemp. Professor Wiles has sniffed out the facts with the tenacity of a bloodhound, and in this respect he has left little for a successor to uncover. Still, I have managed to locate a few items that eluded him. But although Wiles is an indefatigable fact-finder, I seldom agree with his conclusions.
- H. S. D. Mithal, “Mr. Kemp called Don Gulielmo,” Notes and Queries (1960), 6-8.
- E. K. Chambers, The Elizabethan Stage (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1923), II, 85.
- E. K. Chambers, William Shakespeare (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1930), II, 28-9.
- Chambers, The Elizabethan Stage, op. cit, II, 86.
- While Janet S. Loengard has capably and confidently argued that the Red Lion, not the Theatre, was the first public playhouse (Shakespeare Quarterly, 1983, no. 34, 298-310), any conclusion drawn from the available facts remains open to debate. The Red Lion may well have been exactly the same sort of enterprise as the Boar’s Head, wherein a theatre was built as an attachment to the existing building (cf. Herbert Berry, The Boa’s Head Playhouse).
- E. K. Chambers, The Elizabethan Stage (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1923), II, 89.
- S. T. Bindoff, Tudor England (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1950), 264-5.
- R. C. Strong, and J. A. Van Dorsten, Leicester’s Triumph (London: Oxford University Press, 1964), 84-85.
- Chambers, Elizabethan Stage, op. cit., II, 88-89.
- R. C. Bald, “Leicester’s Men in the Low Countries,” Review of English Studies, 1943, 395-397.
- Ibid., 396.
- Gunnar Sjogren, “Thomas Bull and Other ‘English Instrumentalists’ in Denmark in the 1580s,” Shakespeare Survey 22, 1969, 119-123.
- Chambers, William Shakespeare, op. cit., II, 90.
- K. M. Lea, Italian Popular Comedy (New York: Russell & Russell, 1962), II, 406-7.
- Chambers, The Elizabethan Stage, op. cit., I, 246.
- Wiles, op. cit., 32.
- Bald, op. cit., 396.
- John Bruce, “Who was ‘’Will, my lord of Leycester’s jesting player’,” Shakespeare Society Papers, 1844, 89-90.
- Sjogren, op. cit., 121.
- T. W. Baldwin, The Organization and Personnel of the Shakespearean Company (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1927), 244.
- Sjogren, op. cit., 121.
- Elizabeth Jenkins, Elizabeth and Leicester (New York: Coward-McCann, 1962).
- Chambers, Elizabethan Stage, op. cit., II, 91.
- Thomas Nashe, Works, ed. R. B. McKerrow (London: A. H. Bullen, 1904), III, 341.
- Wiles, op. cit., 95.
- P. L. Ducharte, The Italian Comedy, (New York: Dover, 1966), 177.
- Lea, op. cit., 489.
- Francis Douce, “A Dissertation on the Ancient English Morris Dance”, in J. M. Gutch, ed., The Robin Hood Garlands and Ballads, London, 1850, 329-65.
- Hone, op. cit., 314.
- Hone, op. cit., 334.
- The Return From Parnassus (Anon.), Part II, IV, v, in Macray, ed., The Pilgrimage to Parnassus (Oxford, 1886).
- John Marston, The Scourge of Villainy, 1599.
- C. R. Baskervill, The Elizabethan Jig and Related Song Drama (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1929), 219-235.
- C. W. Wallace, The Evolution of the English Drama up to Shakespeare (Berlin: Georg Reimer, 1912), 200-209.
- Albert Feuillerat, The Composition of Shakespeare’s Plays (Freeport: Books for Libraries Press, 1970), 300.
- Chambers, William Shakespeare, op. cit., II, 307.
- Chambers, William Shakespeare, op. cit., II, 74-75.
- Oscar Campbell, The Reader’s Encyclopedia of Shakespeare, (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, Inc., 1966), 356-359.
- Phillip Henslowe, Diary, ed. W. W. Greg (London: A. H. Bullen, 1904-08), II.
- Chambers, William Shakespeare, op. cit., I, 47.
- Henslowe, op. cit., I, p. 17.
- E. K. Chambers, William Shakespeare, op. cit., 319.
- William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, in The New Shakespere, ed. J. D. Wilson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1936), 116-117.
- Chambers, William Shakespeare, op. cit., 63-64.
- William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing, in The New Shakespere, ed. J. D. Wilson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1936), 103-103.
- Irwin Smith, Shakespeare’s Blackfriar’s Playhouse (New York, New York University Press, 1964), 161-164.
- Ibid., 172-173.
- John Cranford Adams, The Globe Playhouse: Its Design and Equipment (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1942), 12.
- Irwin Smith, Shakespeare’s Globe Playhouse (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1956), 40.
- Adams, op. cit., 12.
- David Nielson, “William Kemp at the Globe,” Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 44, No. 4, 1993, 466-468.
- Thomas Platter, Platter’s Travels in England, 1599, translated by Clare Williams, (London: Jonathan Cape, 1937), 166.
- T. W. Baldwin, “Shakespeare’s Jester,” Modern Language Notes, December, 1924, 447-55.
- Albert Cohn, Shakespeare in Germany (London, 1865), cxxxiv.
- Wiles, op. cit., 38.
- Edwin Nungezer, A Dictionary of Actors (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1929), 220.
- William Kemp, Kemps Nine Daies Wonder, ed. Alexander Dyce, (London: The Camden Society, 180), viii.
- Nungezer, op. cit., 222.
- Dyce, op. cit., 25.
- J. O. Halliwell, Ludus Coventrie (London: Shakespeare Society), 1841, 410.
- Wiles, op. cit., 37.
- Halliwell, op. cit., p. 410: “Kemp, a certain mime, who had undertaken a trip to Germany and Italy, after many mistakes and reversals in his fortune: refers at length to Anthony Shirley, a knight bestowed with a gold medal, whom he met in Rome through the aegis of the Persian ambassador.”
- John Day, The Works of John Day, ed. A. H. Bullen, (London, 1881).
- The Pilgrimage to Parnassus, op. cit.,22-3.
- Theodore Spencer, “Thomas Coryat, An Elizabethan Crudity,” The Harvard Graduate’ Magazine, March, 1932, 241-49.
- Chambers, Elizabethan Stage, op. cit., IV, 326.
- Wiles, op. cit., 38.
- Nungezer, op. cit., 220.
- W. Bridges-Adams, The Irresistible Theatre: Growth of the English Stage (New York: Collier Books, 1961), 165.
- Henslowe, op. cit.
- Nungezer, op. cit., 190.
- Thomas Heywood, A Woman Killed with Kindness, in J. P. Collier, Two Plays by Heywood, London, 1850.
- Chambers, Elizabethan Stage, op. cit., II, 327.
- Henslowe, op. cit., 179.
- Dyce, op. cit., 179.