Václav Havel was born October 5, 1936, the son of a wealthy restaurateur and entrepreneur, Václav M. Havel, himself the author of a voluminous autobiography. Some of Prague’s architectural landmarks were built by Havel’s father, and an uncle was the owner of Barrandov Studios, the center of Czech filmmaking. Such illustrious connections, decidedly nonproletarian, were held against the young Havel in communist Czechoslovakia, making him ineligible for any higher formal education well into the 1960’s. On the other hand, as he was to note later, this very handicap forced him to view the world “from below,” as an outsider—a boon to any artist.
After finishing laboratory assistant training, Havel began working in a chemical laboratory, attending high school at night; he was graduated in 1954. Between 1955 and 1957, Havel attended courses at the Faculty of Economy of the Prague Technical College. This was followed by military service and, finally, his work in the theater in Prague: first at the Theater Na Zábradlí and, from 1960, at the Balustrade.
His knowledge of the theater is truly intimate: He entered it as a stagehand, gradually moving to lighting, then to an assistant directorship, and finally becoming the dramaturg—that is, the literary manager—of the theater at the Balustrade. When, in the changed atmosphere of political liberalization, he was allowed to study dramaturgy, he took advantage of the opportunity, although he was already a full-fledged playwright and a literary manager, graduating in 1967.
Between 1967 and 1969, Havel became active as the chairman of the Circle of Independent Writers....
(The entire section is 681 words.)
Václav Havel (HAH-vehl) was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia (now in the Czech Republic), on October 5, 1936, into a wealthy patrician family. Sharing the fate of their entire class, the Havels lost their property to collectivization when the Communist government came to power in 1948, nationalizing all private enterprises and assets. Because of the bourgeois background of his father, Václav Havel, and mother, Bozena Vavreckova, young Havel was barred from institutions of higher learning.
He nevertheless attained schooling in night classes while working in a chemical laboratory. After completing his secondary education, he became a stage technician at the ABC Theatre in Prague in 1959. Between 1960 and 1969, he worked in various positions with several playhouses, including the Theater on the Balustrade, beginning as a menial worker and advancing to become a dramaturge and playwright; concurrently, he studied dramaturgy at the Academy of Dramatic Arts in Prague.
During the years that led up to the political liberalization and reforms of the Prague Spring in 1968, the Theater on the Balustrade became the most influential theater company in Prague. Havel coauthored three plays before his first independent effort, Zahradní slavnost (pr., pb. 1963; The Garden Party, 1969), which immediately brought him critical acclaim and wider audiences. Yet all hopes for democratization, evident, for example, in a greater freedom of the press, were crushed in August, 1968, when the invasion of the Warsaw Pact armies headed by the Soviet Union restored a hard-line Communist regime under Gustáv Husák and established rigid control of the political and economic life.
During the brief period of reform, Havel had his previously confiscated passport returned to him and was permitted to travel to New York in mid-1968 to witness the first American production of his play Vyrozumní (pr. 1965, pb. 1966; The Memorandum, 1967) under Joseph Papp, a production that won an Obie Award. Two years later, Ztíená monost soustední (pr., pb. 1968; The Increased Difficulty of Concentration, 1969) met with similar success in another New York production. Immediately after the Soviet invasion, Havel, like other artists and representatives of public life, made radio broadcasts from the underground to appeal to the West for support and to call for continued protest among his compatriots against repression of civil liberties. As a result of his unequivocal championing of human rights, Havel again had his passport confiscated, and, along with thousands of others, was forced into various blue-collar jobs, some of which later provided him with subject matter for his plays and infused his vision.
Havel’s writings were not published, and his plays were banned from the stage in Czechoslovakia between 1970 and 1989. Yet he categorically refused to emigrate and continued to write regardless of all pressure and hardship. ebrácká opera (pr. 1975, pb. 1977; The Beggar’s Opera,...
(The entire section is 1246 words.)
Václav Havel’s life and work bear witness to his unwavering humanism, his assertion of individual conscience and responsibility under adverse conditions. His primary interest is devoted to universal dilemmas that transcend the mere historical circumstances of Communist totalitarianism in central Europe and include questions of human identity, fragmentation and alienation, communicational collapse, and existential schizophrenia.
In his essay “Words on Words,” Havel describes the earthshaking potential, both beneficial and detrimental, of language. That words of truth prevail and indeed can change history has been proven by him and the thousands of students, artists, intellectuals, and ordinary citizens who peacefully toppled Czechoslovakia’s hard-line Communist regime in 1989.
Václav Havel (HAH-vehl) emerged from socialist Czechoslovakia as the most important representative of the Theater of the Absurd in Eastern Europe. Jailed for his dissident activities, Havel’s career took a remarkable turn once democracy returned to Czechoslovakia in 1989. He was acclaimed the leader of the Czech democratic movement and within a year he had been elected president of his country; he continued as president of the Czech Republic after Czechoslovakia split in two, retiring only in early 2003. Fundamental to his early development was the circumstance that he was born to the wealthy engineer Václav M. Havel and his wife, Bozena Vavreckova. Recalling childhood years later, Havel wrote that being the son in a wealthy...
(The entire section is 1421 words.)