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Shakespeare & Beyond

Ira Aldridge takes the stage

Ira Aldridge

Ira Aldridge as Aaron in Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus.

Since their revival by David Garrick in the early eighteenth century, Shakespeare and his plays have always generated a certain aura of celebrity, sometimes referred to as “Bardolatry.” Following in the footsteps of Garrick, stage actors regularly rose to stardom on the strength of their Shakespearean performances, and would continue to play their “signature” roles throughout their careers.

In the mid-19th century, one of these actors was Ira Aldridge, who gained fame for his portrayals of Othello and Aaron the Moor. Born in New York City in 1807, he was educated at the African Free School, and was able to see Shakespeare plays at the Park Theatre and the African Grove Theatre. He later acted with the African Grove Theatre, where his roles included Romeo in a production of Romeo and Juliet. However, New York was generally not a welcoming space for black actors. Roles were limited, and some white theatergoers even attempted to prevent black companies from performing Shakespeare at all. By 1824, Aldridge left for London, travelling with James Wallack, a New York impresario who had supported his early career.


Most informative and a joy to read. Keep up the good work. Thank you.

Kelly Aldridge — January 2, 2018

Very informative. Actually, Masterpiece PBS brought me here.

Steve McDaniel — January 15, 2018

Though I knew of Ira Aldridge’s career in general, this was both informative and entertaining.

Al Rossi — February 27, 2018

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