Ira Aldridge

Ira Aldridge

The African Roscius

Edited by Bernth Lindfors


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Diverse essays on the life and career of one of the greatest tragic actors of the nineteenth century.
Ira Aldridge -- a black New Yorker -- was one of nineteenth-century Europe's greatest actors. He performed abroad for forty-three years, winning more awards, honors, and official decorations than any of his professional peers. Billed as the "African Roscius," Aldridge developed a repertoire initially consisting of Shakespeare's Othello, melodramas about slavery, and farces that drew on his ability to sing and dance. By the time he began touring in Europe he was principally a Shakespearean actor, playing such classic characters as Shylock, Macbeth, Richard III, and King Lear.
Although his frequent public appearances made him the most visible black man in the world by mid-nineteenth century, today Aldridge tends to be a forgotten figure, seldom mentioned in histories of British and European theater. This collection restores the luster to Aldridge's reputation by examining his extraordinary achievements against all odds. The early essays offer biographical information, while later essays examine his critical and popular reception throughout the world. Taken together, these diverse approaches to Aldridge offer a fuller understanding and heightened appreciation of a remarkable man who had an exceptionally interesting life and a spectacular career.
Contributors: Cyril Bruyn Andrews, Nikola Batusic, Philip A. Bell, Keith Byerman, Ruth M. Cowhig, Nicholas M. Evans, Joost Groeneboer, Ann Marie Koller, Joyce Green MacDonald, Herbert Marshall, James J. Napier, Krzysztof Sawala, Gunner Sjögren, James McCune Smith, Hazel Waters, and Stanley B. Winters.

Bernth Lindfors is Professor Emeritus of English and African literatures at The University of Texas at Austin.

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Table of Contents

Memoir and the Theatrical Career of Ira Aldridge, the African Roscius - London: Onwhyn
Ira Aldridge (1860) - James McCune Smith
Men We Have Known: Ira Aldridge (1867) - Philip A. Bell
"Nothing extenuate, nor set down aught in malice": New Biographical Information on Ira Aldridge - Bernth Lindfors
Ira Aldridge's Swedish Wife - Gunner Sjögren
"African Tragedian" in a Golden Prague: Some Unpublished Correspondence - James J Napier and Stanley B Winters
A Garland of Love Letters - Cyril Bruyn Andrews
Ira Aldridge's Fight for Equality - Hazel Waters
Ira Aldridge in Manchester - Ruth M. Cowhig
Acting Black: Othello, Othello Burlesques, and the Performance of Blackness - Joyce Green MacDonald
Ira Aldridge: Shakespeare and Minstrelsy - Nicholas M. Evans
"Mislike me not for my complexion...": Ira Aldridge in Whiteface - Bernth Lindfors
Ira Aldridge as Macbeth and King Lear - Herbert Marshall
Creating the Black Hero: Ira Aldridge's The Black Doctor - Keith Byerman
The First American on the Zagreb Stage - Nikola Batusic
A Heartwarming, Radiant Othello in the Netherlands, 1855 - Joost Groeneboer
Ira Aldridge's Performances in Meiningen - Ann Marie Koller
"Othello's Occupation's Gone!" The African Roscius in Poland, 1853-67 - Krzysztof Sawala


Succeeds at portraying Aldridge admirably. [.] Essential to scholars and researchers of theater and cultural history. It is a rewarding book, shedding light not only on the theater but also on race relations during a century fraught with issues of slavery and the attempt to eliminate human bondage. AFRICAN AMERICAN REVIEW

Of particular interest for anyone interested in the local history of Manchester are Aldridge's appearances at antislavery events there. ETHNICITY AND RACE IN A CHANGING WORLD: A REVIEW JOURNAL

The value of this volume is not only in the detailed and fascinating study of Aldridge's life and work. . . a detailed, informative, and often original history of European nineteenth-century theater. RESEARCH IN AFRICAN LITERATURES [Martin Banham]

This is a truly comprehensive coverage of the life and career of Ira Aldridge, a true pioneer who blazed a trail for African American artists to seek in Europe the fame and acceptance that eluded them in their own country. It deserves to be widely read, especially by anyone interested in African American transatlantic migrations and the history of race relations in Europe. --Oyekan Owomoyela, Ryan Professor of African Literature, University of Nebraska

I will value this book most for its inclusion of three very scarce nineteenth-century memoirs of Aldridge, and for its newly translated versions of twentieth century critical articles. Scholars of mid-nineteenth-century British and European social history will also value this collection, for the story of Aldridge's acceptance -- and the limitations on that acceptance -- in England and Europe, is very revealing. --George A. Thompson, author of A Documentary History of the African Theatre

Simply remarkable. An extraordinary conjunction of contemporary accounts and recent reflections that brings Aldridge alive for his time and ours. --James Gibbs, University of the West of England, Bristol

Overall, the book presents a diverse range of essays that inform scholars and general readers in a manner both erudite and compelling. THEATRE JOURNAL [Baron Kelly]

. . . Lindfors [brings] new sources and perspectives to [his] incisive and timely examination of Ira Aldrige's career as well as the larger cultural political issues surrounding the textual and physical representations of blackness in the nineteenth century. THEATRE SURVEY, November 2009

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