Ira Aldridge: Theatrical Trailblazer

Ira Aldridge as Shylock
photograph by I. Asanova (?)
Saint Petersburg, 1858
Ira Aldridge lived as a sophisticated expatriate, never returning to the United States but meeting numerous poets, authors, and artists during his many years abroad. In 1858 Aldridge’s European tour took him to Russia, where his performances in such roles as Othello, Shylock, and Lear were enthusiastically received. As with his revision of the character of Aaron in Titus Andronicus, Aldridge substantially re-wrote sections of The Merchant of Venice to make Shylock more a victim than a villain. On other occasions he even wore “white-face” makeup to play such parts as Lear and Richard III.

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