Ira Aldridge: Theatrical Trailblazer

Playbill, Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, April 10, 1833
A nineteenth-century playbill such as this one announced which shows would be performed each night, which actors were involved, and some of the highlights the audience could expect. In 1833, Ira Aldridge was offered the chance to play the title role of Shakespeare’s Othello at Covent Garden, one of London’s most prestigious theatres, when Edmund Kean, who had been scheduled to perform the role, suddenly fell ill. (Kean, who was perhaps the most celebrated British actor of his day, died shortly thereafter.) This playbill announces Aldridge’s first performance. Aldridge had played Othello in smaller theatres and in other cities around England, but neither he nor any Black actor had played a lead role on one of London’s premier stages before.

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