Nine Days' Wonder
On the BBC's QI recently, we were told the derivation of the phrase 'a nine days' wonder'. It was most famously used originally in connection with William Kempe, a late 16th-century comic actor who starred in Shakespeare's plays. Kempe was particularly associated with the role of Dogberry in Much Ado about Nothing, and possibly with the more complex and challenging role of Falstaff. Kempe was one of five actor-shareholders in the Lord Chamberlain's Men, a theatre group for whom Shakespeare wrote plays, along with Shakespeare himself and the actor and theatre owner Richard Burbage.
In 1599, Kempe left the company in circumstances that are not clear, and continued his performing career elsewhere. In 1600, he made a journey from London to Norwich which took several weeks. For nine days of this period, he progressed along the way by means of Morris dancing, accompanied by enthusiastic spectators. To prove that he did really complete this feat, undertaken for a wager, Kempe wrote a journal of the event, and the 17th-century records of Norwich Town Council list the payment of his prize money. This journey became known as the Nine Days' Wonder: so we have Kempe to thank for popularising this expression, which had already existed for some time. Its meaning, of something that is of interest to people only for a short time, was sadly appropriate in Kempe's case, as he died in penury in 1603.