Sunday, 27 December 2015
Black Victorians - Shakespearean Actor Ira Aldridge
Ira Aldridge was born in New York, but spent most of his career as an actor on stage in England and Europe, especially in Shakespearean roles. When he arrived in Liverpool in 1824, with another black actor, James Wallack, England had only recently outlawed the slave trade.
One of his early reviews, from the Times, was less than complimentary - the reporter said that he had "lips so shaped that it is utterly impossible for him to pronounce English". But he went on to play Othello - and also various white characters, for which he "whited up" with greasepaint and wigs, playing Shylock, Richard III and Macbeth and, later in his career, Lear.
He also toured Europe, with success in Germany, and performances in Russia, Serbia and Budapest.
Four of his children with his second wife went on to have musical careers. The two girls, Irene and Amanda, became opera singers. Amanda also gave elecution lessons to Paul Robeson in 1930 when he was preparing to play Othello in London.
Ira died in 1867, while visiting Poland, and is buried in Lodz, where he was given a state funeral. He was quickly forgotten in Britain, but remained a source of inspiration to African American actors. He is one of 33 actors honoured with a bronze plaque at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, and the only African American.