Skip to main content

Ira's Shakespeare Dream

Review

Ira's Shakespeare Dream

written by Glenda Armand with illustrations by Floyd Cooper

You might say that Ira Aldridge is having his moment --- just 200 or so years late. A recent play that made waves in London and on Broadway tells his story, and now Glenda Armand and Floyd Cooper are also telling Ira's story for younger readers in the beautiful new picture book IRA’S SHAKESPEARE DREAM. 

IRA'S SHAKESPEARE DREAM tells the story of a young boy in the early 1800s who loved reading Shakespeare plays aloud in class and watching them from the balcony of a local theater. But as a free African American boy, Ira's options were limited --- he encountered discouragement at every turn when he told his teacher and his father about his dreams of becoming a Shakespearean actor.

Armand brings vividly to life the emotional and artistic development of a groundbreaking actor… Cooper's sepia-hued oil paintings… give Ira's story the grandeur and beauty it deserves.

Ira was encouraged by some English actors to accompany them to London, where, they assured him, it might be easier for him to find work as a Shakespearean actor than it would be in the United States, divided as it is between slave and free states. Although Ira's dreams were still hard won in England, he did find some Shakespearean companies willing to give him a chance, and he used his newly public role to inform English audiences about the horrors of slavery that he had witnessed firsthand.  

Ira's greatest triumph was being able to play Othello, a role that previously had been played solely by white actors wearing blackface makeup. This was a role, Armand suggests, that held special resonance for Ira: "Ira did not need this makeup. And the emotions he expressed as Othello were as real as the color of his skin. Like Othello, Ira knew despair. He had seen it in the eyes of enslaved people."

Armand brings vividly to life the emotional and artistic development of a groundbreaking actor that most readers have probably never heard of. Cooper's sepia-hued oil paintings evoke the decorations that grace the interiors of majestic old theatres and give Ira's story the grandeur and beauty it deserves. Cooper effectively depicts Ira's maturation from an eager young boy to a mature and somber professional who was more than capable of portraying one of Shakespeare's great tragic heroes. A brief Afterword shows readers a photograph of the real-life Ira Aldridge and also tells them a bit more about his life.

Readers may be inspired to read more about this courageous and accomplished actor, and Armand offers several suggested sources if they should choose to do so. What's more, Ira's story may inspire readers to learn more about Shakespeare or to follow their own dreams, no matter how unlikely or far-fetched they may seem to others.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on August 11, 2015

Ira's Shakespeare Dream
written by Glenda Armand with illustrations by Floyd Cooper

  • Publication Date: June 15, 2015
  • Genres: Inspirational, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 40 pages
  • Publisher: Lee & Low Books
  • ISBN-10: 1620141558
  • ISBN-13: 9781620141557