Ira Aldridge: Theatrical Trailblazer

Mr. Ira Aldridge as Aaron
engraving from a daguerreotype by Paine of Islington
ca. 1852/53
10 × 614 in.

London: London Printing and Publishing Company
In addition to Othello, Aldridge famously played another “black” Shakespeare character, Aaron the Moor from Titus Andronicus. In Shakespeare’s original text, Aaron is a villain: one of Titus’s enemies, the secret lover of Queen Tamora, and a liar directly responsible for several deaths in the play. Aldridge re-wrote large sections of Titus Andronicus to make Aaron a heroic, noble character. Famous eighteenth- and nineteenth-century actors and directors frequently adapted Shakespeare’s work. (White British actor/manager David Garrick re-wrote The Taming of the Shrew to assign all Kate’s best lines to himself, and Nahum Tate gave the tragedy of King Lear a happy ending.) None of these, however, tried to reclaim and humanize the character of the outsider, the minority, or the “exotic other” the way Aldridge’s adaptation choices did.

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