IRA ALDRIDGE Celebrated 19th Century ActorProduct no.: HP096
Ira Aldridge was one of the most celebrated actors of the nineteenth century. He performed in all the major towns in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and won international fame when he toured Europe, earning a dozen honours and awards, including a knighthood in Germany. He was idolised in Russia. He was most famous for his portrayal of Othello, but he also acted in many other roles in a career spanning more than forty years. He was the first Black actor to play white roles, including Shylock, Richard III, King Lear and Macbeth.
After three years of amateur dramatics in New York, Ira realised that there was no future for him as an actor in America, so in 1824, at the age of seventeen, he left for England. He worked his passage to Liverpool as a ship’s steward. Amazingly, in May 1825, he played Othello at the Royalty Theatre in the east end of London and in October took the main role in the Royal Coburg Theatre (now the Old Vic). He played the part of the African prince Oroonoko in The Revolt of Surinam, a story which challenged the evils of slavery. The production was a remarkable success, despite a review in The Times which said that “owing to the shape of his lips it is utterly impossible for him to pronounce English”!
Despite being “the world’s most celebrated interpreter of Shakespeare” during his lifetime, Ira Aldridge was largely forgotten in Britain and America after his death in 1867. With 2007 marking the 200th anniversary of his birth, it is time to celebrate his achievements, not only as a brilliant realistic actor, but also as a valiant campaigner against slavery.