Monday, May 4, 2020


George Calderon (1868-1915) was born in London, but his father’s family was descended from one of Spain’s foremost dramatist Calderon de la Barca (1600-1681). George’s father was an artist. George was a capable visual artist, talented as a theatre director and playwright as well as an expert on Slavonic languages. George Calderon was the first person to translate Anton Chekhov’s plays into English. It was his translations of The Cherry Orchard (first published in 1912 with its London premier performance in 1925) and The Seagull that introduced the English-speaking world to this Russian master.

                                                               GEORGE CALDERON 

When Great Britain entered World War I, Calderon was 45 years old. He was too old to join the military, but he was determined to become a soldier. As a result, he worked diligently to fill every requirement to become a military interpreter. He succeeded in qualifying for this position with the Royal Horse Guards and was sent to Flanders in October 1914.  His desire to be a soldier was fulfilled in January 1915, when he transferred to the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry and was promoted to Temporary Second Lieutenant. (This battalion was commonly referred to as the Ox and Bucks.) In May 1915, Calderon was reassigned to the King’s Own Scottish Borderers (K.O.S.B.) Infantry. His battalion landed in Gallipoli on June 4,1915. Many British, American, and Canadian newspapers reported during the second week of July,1915 that Calderon had been seen severely wounded during the first assault on Gallipoli and he was listed as missing in action. On May17,1919 the London Times officially reported George Calderon was presumed dead following a long investigation on whether “he might prove to be a prisoner in Turkey.”

PEACE, A Farce in One Act, was written prior to Calderon’s departure for the battlefields of World War One. The scene takes place in the evening at the residence of Sir Blennerhassett Postlethwaite, who is a Member of Parliament. Sir Postlethwaite is at home preparing his speech for the following day when he expects to be “called upon to take the chair at the Meeting of the Peace Society.” Postlethwaite is widely recognized for his preaching about universal peace.

Burglar enters Postlethwaite’s room by the window and pulls up his ladder which he leans against the bookcase. He is surprised to see Postlethwaite there. Postlethwaite immediately tells  Burglar to “Get away from here or I’ll shoot you.” When Burglar recognizes who he is confronting, their antagonistic political relationship commences. After Burglar gains control of Postlethwaite’s pistol, these two men engage in a debate about war and peace from each man’s point of view.  While Burglar intends to escape with some of Postlethwaite’s treasures, he also obtains a check from the politician for The Navy League. Still not satisfied, Burglar also pushes Postlethwaite to admit “that violence will beget violence,” a position that the politician opposes. Eventually a Policeman arrives, but Postlethwaite decides not to expose the real intensions of  Burglar. As Burglar is about to leave with his loot, Postlethwaite demands to know his name so he may curse him. Burglar: “Oh, my name’s Peace. Charlie Peace.”

Obviously, this play is character centered and it creates an exaggerated, humorous situation   with deliberate absurdity. While this play is meant to be entertaining, it clearly illustrates an immediate clash of the two different positions regarding how England should be preparing for the possibility of war with Germany. Unfortunately, there is little of the comedic essence of this play in my short recount of the plot. PEACE is worth reading. The script is included in “Eight One-Act Plays” by George Calderon. It was originally published by Grant Richards LTD. London:1922. This book is currently available as a Scholar SELECT reprint through Amazon.

I have not found any information regarding a staged production of PEACE; however, there was a radio production aired on May 7,1925 presented by The London Radio Repertory.  Ashton Pearse played SIR BLENNERHASSETT POSTLETHWAITE and Raymond Trafford was BURGLAR. George Skillan (1893-1975) was POLICEMAN.

Calderon was a prolific author/playwright but many of his works remained unpublished during his lifetime. Throughout the 1920s many of his unpublished plays and books were published. Starting in 1921 his book titled Tahiti was published. It related to Calderon’s 1906 trip to the island and contains his observations about the culture he encountered. Percy Lubbock in his book titled: George Calderon: a sketch from memory, published in London 1921, claims that Calderon was affected very deeply by his days in Tahiti. “They gave him perhaps the most penetrating experience he ever had till the war.”  Tahiti was highly praised in the Pall Mall Gazette on August 5, 1921 as “the best story of a Polynesian people that has been given us.”
Two volumes of Calderon’s one-acts and full-length plays were published in 1922 followed in 1924 by his translations of Two Plays by Anton Chekhov and One by Alfred de Musset. This publication led to the London productions of the two Russian plays. Calderon’s translations were credited with introducing Chekhov as a new force to English theatre. During George Calderon’s forty-six years of life, he demonstrated his amazing versatility and accomplishment. His plays were frequently produced in England throughout the 1920s.

Percy Lubbock states in George Calderon: a sketch from memory:
     He seemed to be just as much of a poet, a maker, a creator, whether he was
     championing a political cause or writing a comedy or learning the songs of a
     South sea islander—and not less so, it was very clear to see, when he fought
     and fell in the war.

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