Ira Aldridge

Ira Aldridge: Performing Shakespeare in Europe, 1852-1855

Bernth Lindfors
Volume: 59
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 330
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt3fgn44
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  • Book Info
    Ira Aldridge
    Book Description:

    The third volume of Bernth Lindfors's award-winning biography, Ira Aldridge: Performing Shakespeare in Europe, 1852-1855 traces the American-born black classical actor's itinerary on his first Continental tour, recounting his performances and analyzing audience responses to them. He initially toured with an experienced British troupe he recruited, but eventually he started performing with local actors and actresses who spoke their parts in their ownlanguage while he continued to deliver his lines in English. This bilingual collaboration worked well in Western Europe and introduced him to audiences in Hungary, Poland, and other East European territories he might not otherwise have reached. This venture abroad changed Aldridge as a performer. Audiences in Europe wanted to see him in Shakespearean roles rather than in the racial melodramas and farces that were popular in the British Isles. As a consequence, Aldridge concentrated almost exclusively on performing as Othello, Shylock, Macbeth, and Richard III. In the course of his travels he won more major international awards and honors, often conferred by royalty, than anyother actor of his day. These were his glory years. Bernth Lindfors, Professor Emeritus of English and African Literatures, University of Texas at Austin, is the author of Ira Aldridge: The Early Years, 1807-1833and Ira Aldridge: The Vagabond Years, 1833-1852, both published by the University of Rochester Press in 2011.

    eISBN: 978-1-58046-827-5
    Subjects: Performing Arts, Sociology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xi)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xii-xii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    This book is a sequel toIra Aldridge: The Early Years, 1807–1833andIra Aldridge: The Vagabond Years, 1833–1852,both published in 2011. The first volume dealt with Aldridge’s formative experiences as a youth growing up in New York City, attending an African Free School, and occasionally witnessing plays produced at the Park Theatre and at William Brown’s African Theatre, the first professional black theater in the United States. Aldridge’s exposure to stage performances led him to aspire to become an actor, and, finding no opportunity to do so in America, he immigrated to England as a teenager...

  7. 1 Making Up a Company
    (pp. 7-19)

    On June 27, 1852, almost three months after Aldridge’s appearances at the Britannia Saloon in London and a month after he concluded a two-week run at Edinburgh’s Adelphi Theatre,Reynolds’s Newspaperin London reported that “Mr. Ira Aldridge, the African Roscius, is making up a company, with which he is about proceeding to Paris, where he will give a series of Shaksperian [sic] and other representations. The Porte St. Martin is the arena fixed upon, and the time of opening July 12th.” This was not the first time such a notice had appeared. More than a year earlier, Aldridge, on...

  8. 2 Brussels
    (pp. 20-31)

    Aldridge’s troupe never performed in Paris. The arrangements that he purportedly had made with the theater at Porte-Saint-Martin simply did not materialize. This may have been because a new melodrama,Les nuits de la Seineby Marc Fournier, director of that theater,¹ had opened there on June 12 with such success that Fornier had decided to extend its run through the rest of the summer and part of the fall.² This must have been a great disappointment for Aldridge, for the theater at Porte-Saint-Martin, located at the site of the former Opera House, was reputed to be “le premier des...

  9. 3 Navigating up the Rhine
    (pp. 32-54)

    Upon leaving Brussels, Aldridge, instead of heading south to Paris, took his troupe east to Aachen, a small Prussian spa and industrial center in North Rhine–Westphalia that shared a border with both France and the Netherlands. They had been invited to play there by Theodor Eberhard L’Arronge, a popular actor-manager, who in the course of running a successful German-language theater must have kept an alert eye on what was happening in the wider theater world nearby. He certainly must have read the enthusiastic reviews of Aldridge’s performances in Brussels in theDeutsche Theater-ZeitungandAllgemeine Theater-Chronikbefore offering him...

  10. 4 Moving into the Interior
    (pp. 55-65)

    Five days after finishing their engagement in Karlsruhe, Aldridge and his company opened inOthelloabout a hundred miles northeast at Würzburg. The day before they took the stage, a local paper published an excerpt from a review in theAugsburger Allgemeine Zeitunggiving information on Aldridge’s unusual background and extolling his performance as the fiery Moor. The reviewer was quoted as saying, “I do not believe that Shakespeare’s intentions regarding the character of Othello have ever found a better interpreter, nor that they ever will.”¹ This kind of publicity drew a large crowd to the theater, and they were...

  11. 5 Berlin
    (pp. 66-83)

    Aldridge and his troupe began the new year in Berlin, opening in Othello at the Royal Court Theater (Königliche Schauspiele) on January 3. With a population approaching half a million,¹ Berlin was far larger than any other city they had visited,² and the Royal Court Theater, which seated 2,078,³ provided them with the largest audience they had ever had. Clearly, after half a year of touring, they had finally reached the top rank of the German theatrical world.

    Berlin had a number of influential newspapers, two of them—theKöniglich privilegirte Berlinische Zeitung von Staats- und gelehrten Sachen(popularly known...

  12. 6 On to Vienna
    (pp. 84-104)

    On leaving Berlin, Aldridge and his troupe spent a month en route to Vienna making a series of brief stops at smaller towns—Stettin, Posen (now Poznań), Frankfurt (Oder), Breslau (now Wroclaw)—at each of which they played their usual repertoire before large audiences who had read the Berlin reviews and were eager to see Aldridge perform. In Stettin “crowds from all corners of the intellectual world [came]. Their desire to see ‘the Moor’ performed by a real Moor was immense.”¹Othellohad to be repeated the following evening in order to satisfy those who were unable to get a...

  13. 7 Hungarian Rhapsodies
    (pp. 105-120)

    While waiting for arrangements for his engagement in Pest to be settled, Aldridge accepted an invitation to perform in Pressburg (now Bratislava) on the fifteenth and seventeenth of March. He led off withOthelloon the first night and followed with bothMacbethandThe Padlockon the second evening. Aldridge’s Shakespearean roles were received with acclamation, even though he performed them in English: “The foreign words that he spoke communicated their full meaning through the universally comprehensible language of the soul.”¹ However, the “natural crudity of the Negro slave Mungo, who clowned around wildly,” was deemed to be aesthetically...

  14. 8 Comparisons and Contrasts
    (pp. 121-135)

    So far, we have been following Aldridge from place to place in a chronological fashion in order to show how his reputation grew as he made his rounds and how he was regarded by the different national audiences he faced. We have seen him in a number of German towns and in four major cities—Brussels, Berlin, Vienna, and Pest—where he performed mostly with his own troupe but increasingly with local acting companies, especially in productions ofMerchant of Venice. In all of these places he had been viewed as a theatrical phenomenon not only because of his race...

  15. 9 Personal and Personnel Matters
    (pp. 136-154)

    In June 1852, while assembling a company of actors to accompany him on his Continental tour, Aldridge seduced a young married woman, Emma Stothard, who was living in the same London boarding house at 22 Judd Place, New Road, where he and his wife were staying. He had known Emma for three or more years and had been present at her wedding on August 15, 1849, when, functioning in lieu of her father, he had given her away to William Stothard, an eighteen-year-old dentist. Four months earlier Stothard had hired Aldridge for a fee of £50 to train him as...

  16. 10 Hungarian Rap Sheet
    (pp. 155-174)

    In Karlsbad Aldridge, supported by the local German-speaking acting company, opened inOthelloon July 27 and followed withMerchant of Veniceon July 30.¹ A press report stated that he would also be enacting the role of Muley Hassan, a treacherous Moor assassin, in Friedrich Schiller’s popular German historical melodramaFiesko, an English translation of which he had appeared in Dublin twenty years earlier.² One of the Karlsbad actors, who also served the company as stage manager, was Karl Rémay, afterward described in the press as “the darling of the entire local public [who] especially distinguished himself as: Iago,...

  17. 11 Prussia, Germany, Switzerland
    (pp. 175-198)

    Aldridge evidently wanted to escape further scrutiny by the Austro- Hungarian secret police, for in January 1854 he moved several hundred miles north and started appearing on stage in West Prussian towns near the Baltic Sea such as Danzig, Elbing (now Ebląg), Marienburg (now Malbork), and Marienwerder (now Kwidzyn), all of which are today in northern Poland. Press reports suggest that he stopped in Dresden,¹ Görlitz,² and possibly Berlin³ along the way but was not invited to perform in these places. London’sSunday Timesnoted that “at Dantsig [sic] and Elbing, where he has been recently playing, the theatres have...

  18. 12 Homeward Bound
    (pp. 199-224)

    Aldridge appears to have left Switzerland with the hope of securing employment at Munich’s Court Theater, which was run by Dr. Franz von Dingelstedt, with whom he had sought an engagement two years earlier, but again nothing was offered to him there. On August 20, theMünchener Punschreported that “the African actor, the Othello au naturel, the Esslair of Senegal, the tropical Grunnert [sic], the Dahn of the wilderness—has departed our city again after a long stay to return to London. Since Mr. Aldridge did not have an English troupe with him, and since, given the local conditions,...

  19. 13 Interpreting Shakespeare
    (pp. 225-247)

    Othello was Aldridge’s most important role. In the thirty-three months he toured the Continent, he played this character more than 150 times. Othello was the means by which he introduced himself to each new community he entered, not only impressing them with his skills as an actor but also fascinating them with his claim to be a native-born African. In truth, he was playing a role by playing a role, giving his color and ethnicity a more exotic tint. This charade paid off by drawing crowds to the theater, but, more important, it gave Aldridge an opportunity to portray Othello...

  20. 14 Further Travels
    (pp. 248-252)

    Aldridge returned to London early in April 1855. He fell ill and rested for four months before resuming his career as an itinerant performer in the British Isles for the next twenty-one months. A rumor that he had been engaged for six months at Drury Lane Theater in London proved to be untrue.¹ Instead, he began his new campaign in Plymouth, where playbills and newspaper advertisements heralded his reappearance in England after three remarkable years abroad

    during which period he had the distinguished honour of appearing before Frederick William, King of Prussia; the Queen, Prince, and Princess Royal, of Prussia,...

  21. Appendix A Place Names Old and New
    (pp. 253-254)
  22. Appendix B Itinerary
    (pp. 255-258)
  23. Appendix C Plays Performed
    (pp. 259-261)
  24. Appendix D Performers and Managers
    (pp. 262-278)
  25. Notes
    (pp. 279-328)
  26. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 329-332)
  27. Index
    (pp. 333-350)
  28. Back Matter
    (pp. 351-353)