Ira Aldridge as Othello, oil on canvas, 1826
James Northcote, 1746-1831, British. Manchester Art Gallery, UK, from whose website this photo
Ira Aldridge, 1807-1867, was the first African-American – in 1825 – to establish himself professionally abroad (at London’s Royal Coburg Theater).
In 1826 he played Othello.
The actor used his considerable fame to speak out against slavery.
Othello, act 5, scene 2, of William Shakespeare, 1564-1616, English
Othello, thinking that Desdemona has been unfaitfhul to him, kills her.
A little later, made aware of his error in regarding Desdemona as unfaithful, he stabs himself, falling dead on the bed beside her.
These are almost Othello’s last words:
…. I pray you in your letters,
When you shall these unlucky deeds relate,
Othello, marble and bronze, modeled c. 1868, executed 1873.
Pietro Calvi, 1833-1884, Italian. Walters Museum of Art, Baltimore, Maryland
The sculpture is thought to have been modeled on photographs and prints of the African-American actor, Ira Aldridge.
Speak of me as I am. Nothing extenuate,
Nor set down aught in malice.
Then must you speak
Of one that loved not wisely, but too well;
Of one not easily jealous, but being wrought,
Perplexed in the extreme,
of one whose hand,
Like the base Indian**, threw a pearl away
Richer than all his tribe;
of one whose subdued eyes
Albeit unused to the melting mood,
Drop tears as fast as the Arabian trees
Their medicinable gum.**
Set you down this……
*changed from ‘Judaean’ in some versions on the assumption that anti-semitism is more offensive than maligning Indians…
**frankincense and myrrh, resins of trees in the torchwood family; imported to Europe from the Arabian littoral from time immemorial.