Ira's Shakespeare Dream
Most students are likely unfamiliar with the story of Ira Aldridge, the nineteenth-century black American actor who rose to fame on the English stage. At the time, a free black man was unlikely to win speaking parts in mainstream theater in the U.S. But for Ira, the lure of the stage, and especially the works of Shakespeare, was strong. Ira’s father wanted him to use his oratory skills to become a preacher, but Ira defied his father’s wishes, spending his time gaining acclaim as a performer at a black theater. When two British actors offer him passage to England, he leaves New York and makes a name for himself in Europe, notably becoming the first black actor to play Othello on stage. Cooper’s realistic, warm oil paintings have a grainy appearance, which imparts the haze of age without reducing the vitality of the figures. Meanwhile, Armand’s engaging paragraphs, peppered with Shakespearean lines, artfully relay Ira’s passion, trepidation, and eventual boldness as he follows his dreams. A valuable addition to any biography collection.