Ira Aldridge

Ira Aldridge

The Early Years, 1807-1833

Bernth Lindfors

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The first widely available biography of this important black Victorian-age actor, Ira Aldridge: The Early Years, 1807-1833 details the early life and career of this New York-born thespian as he began to act on the British stage.
Ira Aldridge: The Early Years, 1807-1833 chronicles the rise of one of the modern world's first black classical actors, as he ascended from an impoverished childhood in New York City to a career as a celebrated thespian on the British stage.
After a successful debut in London in 1825, Aldridge began touring the British provinces, billing himself grandiloquently as the "African Roscius," and attracting crowds with his powerful presence and style. He received accolades not only as a tragedian in classic roles such as Othello and Oroonoko but also as a comic actor in popular farces and musicals. In 1833, when a bill to abolish slavery was being debated in Parliament, he was called back to London to perform at one of the city's most prestigious theaters, where his appearance, now under his own name but also billed as "a native of Senegal," created a great deal of controversy.
In dealing with Aldridge's emergence as a professional actor in the United Kingdom, Lindfors here records in detail the ups and downs of his itinerant existence in a world where no theatergoer had ever seen anyone like him on stage before. Aldridge was genuinely a unique phenomenon in Britain at a pivotal point in history.

Bernth Lindfors is Professor Emeritus of English and African Literatures, University of Texas at Austin, and editor of Ira Aldridge: The African Roscius (University of Rochester Press, 2007).

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Table of Contents

The Lives of Ira Aldridge
Family Matters
Life in New York City
Charles Mathews and James Hewlett
A Gentleman of Colour
The African Tragedian
The African Roscius on Tour
A Fresh Start
A New Venture
Expanding the Repertoire
London Again
Playing New Roles
Pale Experiments
Racial Compliments and Abuse
Shakespeare Burlesques
A Satirical Battering Ram
Covent Garden
Other London Engagements
Moving On


Winner of the Theatre Library Association's 2015 George Freedley Award Special Jury Prize

Winner of the 2012 Errol Hill Award, given by the American Society for Theatre Research for outstanding scholarship in African American theater, drama, and/or performance studies.

Impressive. . . will be welcomed by scholars of theater, race, and African American studies. CHOICE

A work of monumental scholarship. AFRICAN THEATRE

A meticulously researched and exhaustively detailed biography. E3W REVIEW OF BOOKS

A meticulously researched account. . . handsomely produced. TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT

Author Bio

Bernth Lindfors is professor emeritus of English and African literatures, University of Texas at Austin.

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