Ira Aldridge (1807 – 1867)
Ira Aldridge is a fascinating character and it is particularly exciting that he performed in Stratford, spending eight days in the town he visited Shakespeare’s Birthplace twice and performed in seven plays at the Royals Shakespearean Theatre on Chapel Lane. The evidence we have of his time in Stratford highlights some of the interesting parts of his character: the way he managed his career to find success, the prejudice he battled against, and the myths he built up around his background, mainly that he was born a prince in Senegal.
The truth of Ira Aldridge’s background is that he was born in New York in 1807 to poor parents, his father, the Reverend Daniel Aldridge, was a straw-seller who was also a lay preacher. Ira was drawn to the theatre from an early age and started by working backstage at the Chatham Theatre in New York where he began to gain experience in acting too. Finding that it was impossible to pursue a career acting in America, he came to England in 1824 at the age of 17 to make his name and in 1825 he made his debut playing Othello at the Royalty Theatre. Aldridge continued to battle prejudice, particularly in the reviews he received, but he was popular with audiences. He found further success by moving out of London to the provinces, and later in life found the greatest success touring Europe.