David Hare Biography

David Hare's plays might be expected to push the envelope, with titles like Slag, Licking Hitler, and The Judas Kiss. And Hare doesn’t disappoint. He is a prolific British playwright who is not afraid to honestly critique the society in which he lives. In fact, Hare’s contempt for and love of his country are apparent in most of his works. He began as a left-wing fringe writer and cofounded a traveling theatrical group called the Portable Theatre, which aimed to take drama to places where it could not usually be found: poor, downtrodden neighborhoods. Today, Hare’s writing remains deeply political, but unlike many other social commentators, he successfully manages to balance the political with the very personal in his work.

Facts and Trivia

  • David Hare is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He was also knighted in 1998.
  • Hare has also explored issues in the Middle East. In 1998, he wrote and performed Via Dolorosa about a visit he made to Israel and Palestine.
  • Hare has adapted many other playwrights’ works, including Anton Chekhov’s Platonov and Ivanov and Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children.
  • Hare is married to Nicole Farhi, a fashion designer from Algeria.
  • In 2003, Hare was nominated for an Academy Award for his work on the highly praised film The Hours.

Biography

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1070

David Hare is one of England’s most important playwrights of the latter quarter of the twentieth century. The son of Clifford and Nancy Gilmour Hare, he has spoken feelingly of the sacrifices his sailor father made to send him to the good British public school, Lancing. Hare went on to earn an M.A. with honors in English from Jesus College at Cambridge University in 1968. His first interest in the theater as a profession began while he was at the university, although it was his family’s hope that he might become an accountant.

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After college Hare, together with Howard Brenton and Snoo Wilson, formed a traveling company of players appropriately called the Portable Theatre. Between 1968 and 1971 he was on the road, living hand-to-mouth with the band of young actors and producing plays by hopeful, unestablished playwrights. In addition to helping to manage the company, Hare was involved as a director and, eventually, a writer. During this time he also established a connection with the Royal Court Theatre in Sloane Square, Chelsea, which has a long tradition as the center for drama of social importance and artistic experimentation. His work for that company as a literary manager anticipated an important aspect of his later work in the theater.

The idea that drama is a form of casual entertainment has been assailed constantly in Europe since the last half of the nineteenth century. Critics such as Émile Zola, and, more significantly, playwrights such as Henrik Ibsen have demanded a social, sometimes a political role for the theater and have often achieved it with great success. The Royal Court Theatre has often been the venue for British examples of serious drama, indeed, any kind of drama that attempted to examine the hypocrisies, the immorality, the evils of modern society. George Bernard Shaw’s work was originally produced at the Royal Court, and after World War II the new wave of socially critical drama, which was called the kitchen-sink school of drama and led by John Osborne, became associated with this theater. Hare is a second-generation representative of the movement, which included Osborne, Arnold Wesker, John Arden, and Harold Pinter.

In 1970 Hare married Margaret Matheson, and they had three children before divorcing in 1980. For a time he was the resident dramatist at the Royal Court, and in 1973 he took the same position with the Nottingham Playhouse. Slag, his play about three young women determined to make a life of their own without men, won the 1970 Evening Standard award as work of “the most promising playwright” of the year and revealed one of Hare’s continuing interests: the nature of the female experience.

Another strong interest is the more general problem of social and political corruption, and Hare has pursued that theme rigorously. Brassneck, one of his collaborations with a contemporary, Howard Brenton, with whom he started to work in the Portable Theatre days, explored the corruption of postwar politics and business in a Midlands town. It was, mischievously, the first production by Richard Eyre (who became the head of the National Theatre in 1988) as the new director of the Nottingham Playhouse, which is located in one of the Midlands cities. Yet the inclination of socially committed theater has always been to make art that disturbs while it entertains.

Playwrights such as Osborne, Wesker, Arden, and Pinter have very clearly recognizable styles, not only in their language but in their structures and tonalities as well. Hare is much more chameleon-like and may, at first glance, seem to be doing only one thing when he is, in fact, doing considerably more. His first success in the West End (London’s version of Broadway), Knuckle, was affectionately dedicated to the mystery writer Ross Macdonald and is written in the style of the murder-mystery genre, but it is also about family loyalties, dishonesty in the stock market and real estate businesses, and love. In Plenty the question of post-World War II values is tied to the problem of individual integrity and the tragic breakdown of a woman who acted nobly during the war as an Allied agent in occupied France. In A Map of the World Hare turns his attention to a worldwide problem of the West’s view of underdeveloped countries. Pravda, again a collaboration with Brenton, is a play of enormous energy, sufficient to explore the excesses of press barons and toady journalists, and The Secret Rapture again explores the relations between women and, on a wider scale, the heartlessness of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s new Great Britain, with its emphasis upon profits at all costs.

Having established himself as a successful playwright, Hare went on to write for television productions. Licking Hitler he wrote and directed himself for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in 1978. Saigon: Year of the Cat he wrote for Thames television in 1983. In 1985 his film Wetherby, which he wrote and directed, earned the Golden Bear Award at the Berlin Film Festival and received international critical acclaim. Hare also wrote a screenplay adaptation of one of his most successful plays, Plenty, for a major motion picture released by Twentieth Century Fox, starring Meryl Streep, Charles Dance, and Sir John Gielgud. By the mid-1980’s Hare had established himself as a multifaceted writer and director of international scope and importance. In 2002, his screenplay for The Hours was nominated for a Golden Globe award, among many other awards, while the film itself, widely praised for its masterful adaptation of what had been regarded as an unfilmable novel, won for Best Motion Picture-Drama.

Hare does not expect agreement with his plays. Indeed, it might be difficult, from play to play, to say exactly where he stands. What is certain is his commitment, as a writer (and as a director), to exploring the ignorance, the greed, and the viciousness of the late twentieth century world as he sees it. Ibsen once refused the praise of the late nineteenth century women’s movement for his play A Doll’s House (1879), saying that he was not interested in women as such but in the problem of all individuals caught in social pretensions and preconceptions who are trying to free themselves. Hare has something of a similar ambition: to make his audiences think and to drive them (as he says) mad with argument. He does not believe that drama can make a real change; it can only bring the need for change to the public’s attention.

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