Ira's Shakespeare Dream

by Glenda Armand and Floyd Cooper

Ira Alridge’s dream of performing Shakespeare was difficult for a young African... read more

Ira Alridge’s dream of performing Shakespeare was difficult for a young African American man to achieve in early 19th-century America. Despite his obvious talent, his father urged him to forgo acting and put his vocal skills to use as a minister. Instead, Ira became a cabin boy on a cargo ship heading to South Carolina, where he narrowly escaped being sold into slavery. Ira signed on as a valet to British actors James and Henry Wallack for their voyage home. Once in England, he worked in theaters running errands and as an understudy, all while studying acting. His perseverance paid off, and by the 1840s he was considered “one of the most celebrated Shakespearean actors in Europe.” He spoke out against slavery in the U.S. and encouraged audience members to financially support abolitionists. Oil wash illustrations employ warm earth tones and soft edges to follow the evolution of Alridge’s career from eager school boy to mature professional, a welcome account. (Ages 7–10)

© Cooperative Children's Book Center, Univ. of Wisconsin - Madison, 2016

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