There are a number of important contexts for Largo Desolato, the most obvious of which is autobiographical. Like Leopold, Václav Havel has been arrested a number of times, and has been a consistent—if occasionally reluctant—leader of dissident Czech political groups. Leopold, however, is less like Havel than was the Vanek character of earlier plays; a philosopher rather than a writer, he represents both the idea of dissidence and its long-term effects on those who practice it. Civil disobedience has become, for the Czechs, such a rudimentary aspect of their national culture that gestures of defiance have become less an expression of individual identity than they are conventional expressions of solidarity in political opposition. For Leopold, this prolonged conventional pressure is so great that he needs some relief from its demands: Either the government will assign to him the similarly conventional role of jailed martyr, or he will have to forge some kind of a new identity from the remains of his historical role. Havel must similarly balance the roles of artist and political activist, or somehow blend the two without compromising his excellence.
In terms of Havel’s other work, Largo Desolato continues a number of experimental themes. Havel’s first full-length play, Zahradni slavnost (pr., pb. 1963; The Garden Party, 1969), featured a hero who, like the characters of Largo Desolato, seemed only to...
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