Vaclav Havel was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia, on October 5, 1936, the son of Vaclav M. and Bozena (nee Vavreckova) Havel. His family was wealthy and well-connected in the arts and business. Havel’s father was a restaurateur and real estate developer. In 1948, the Communists took over Czechoslovakia and the Havels’s property was taken away. Havel was denied a high school education. He got around this by working as a lab technician at a school for five years. This allowed him to attend night school, from which he graduated in 1954. Involved in Prague’s literary scene, Havel was already writing, primarily poetry and essays.
After a two-year stint in the Czechoslovakian army, where he founded a theater company, Havel got a job as a stagehand at a theater in Prague, the Divadlo ABC (ABC Theater). The following year Havel took the same job at the Balustrade. His dedication led to bigger roles within the theater. He aspired to be a playwright, and helped others write plays. Havel got his first solo play produuced at Balustrade in 1963, The Garden. This was followed by The Memorandum in 1965. By 1968, he was the theater’s resident playwright.
That year, a new repressive regime, headed by Gustav Husak, came into power in Czechoslovakia. Havel became a human rights activist. His activities lead to the banning of his works in 1969, a ban that lasted for the next twenty years. While continuing his political activities, Havel...
(The entire section is 495 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of this article. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Biography (Critical Survey of Drama, Second Revised Edition)
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,...
(The entire section is 681 words.)
Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
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...
(The entire section is 1249 words.)
Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
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.
(The entire section is 108 words.)
Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
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 family constantly made him feel inferior to other children. As a boy, he felt that he was mistrusted by others. Prevented from attending high school, he nevertheless earned a diploma by attending night classes and working as a laboratory assistant during the day. By the age of twenty Havel was publishing his first articles in literary and theatrical magazines. Unable to involve himself with several university humanities and performing arts programs, he turned to working as a stagehand at Prague’s ABC Theatre, and it was probably there that his love of drama became a life study.
Yet it was not until Havel gained another stagehand...
(The entire section is 1424 words.)
Havel grew up under the repressive communist regimes imposed on Czechoslovakia after the end of World War II. He was attracted to the avant garde theater, but communist authorities treated it as antisocial and subversive, so he always felt himself an outsider. Alienation became a theme of his earliest plays, The Garden Party (1963) and The Memorandum (1965). From 1969 through 1989 Havel was a subject of police persecution and was imprisoned several times for terms lasting from two days to nearly four years. By the mid-1970’s, he was considered the leading Czech dissident, admired for his outspoken “Letter to Dr. Gustav Husak” (1975), then the country’s leader.
A turning point in Havel’s public fight against censorship was his founding, in 1976, of Charter 77, a Czechoslovakian civil rights movement. This bold group of writers and intellectuals were constantly harassed and incarcerated by a government determined to silence its opponents. Charter 77 was, in part, a response to the ruthless policies that followed the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1968, bringing to an end Alexander Dubček’s reform government, which had called for “communism with a human face.” Havel and his supporters then embarked on a plan of keeping democratic values and aspirations alive at one of the...
(The entire section is 469 words.)