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The appearance of Ira Aldridge as Othello on the Covent Garden stage on 10 April 1833 was an unprecedented event in British theatrical history. No other black performer had been seen on the boards of one of London's patent theatres in the early nineteenth century. London already had a significant black population numbering ten thousand or so (1), most of whom hailed from the New World rather than directly from Africa, but they tended to remain placed among the lowest of the working class and poor, never rising to positions of higher visibility in the middle-class culture of the metropolis. So Aldridge, billed as 'a native of Senegal', was a unique phenomenon in his day. Here was a young 'African', purportedly a veritable Moor, attempting to enact the major black role in the Shakespearean canon at one of England's national theatres. The announcement of his appearance there immediately stirred controversy. Aldridge was risking quite a lot, for Covent Garden was known as a theatre where a single performance could make or mar an unknown actor's reputation. It was a rigorous testing ground for provincial actors who had attracted attention outside London and had thereby earned an opportunity to display their talent before a large metropolitan audience. Being invited to perform at a patent theatre in the capital was a sign of professional recognition but it was no guarantee of success. The performer would have to please not only the manager who had hired him and the numerous critics whose job it was publicly to evaluate him but also the people from all walks of life who had paid to see what he was able to do on stage. For an actor this was a chance of a lifetime. Those who succeeded stood to gain a substantial boost in their career, leading possibly to riches or at least to regular employment in London or elsewhere. Those who failed might be quickly forgotten or ignored and might never have another opportunity to prove their competence on the boards of a patent theatre. So the stakes were quite high for any actor who took the stage at Covent Garden for the first time. The trial could materially affect his future.