Ira Aldridge: Theatrical Trailblazer

Ira Aldridge
photograph; date and location unknown
In this photograph, one of the few taken of Aldridge out of theatrical costume, he wears two of his medals. Here, as often elsewhere, he is referred to as “the African Roscius,” a title he started using early in his career. Roscius was the name of a famous Roman actor whose talent helped him earn freedom from slavery; he died in 62 BCE. Celebrity (and “wanna-be” celebrity) actors often adopted the title of “Roscius”: child actors were sometimes labeled “Young Roscius” or “Infant Roscius” and there was at least one actress referred to as “the Female Roscius.” By calling himself the “African Roscius,” Aldridge also helped to reinforce his invented family history as Senegalese royalty.

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