Ira Aldridge: Theatrical Trailblazer

Playbill, Theatre Royal, Newcastle, February 1857
Returning from a European tour to play the Theatre Royal in Newcastle (in northern England) in 1857, Aldridge’s playbill featured three of his signature roles. On Monday, he played Othello, his most famous part. On Tuesday, he played the part of “Gambia” in The Slave, and on Wednesday night, he played Shylock in The Merchant of Venice. The Slave was a popular melodrama of its day, centering on the brotherly bond between the fictional characters of an enslaved African named Gambia and his white friend Clifton. In many of his non-Shakespearean roles, Aldridge played a slave or servant character whose humanity, nobility, and intelligence is exhibited throughout the play, and served as a direct challenge to concepts of white “superiority.”

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