Václav Havel

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(Drama for Students)

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 continued to write and work in theater, though plays dwindled in quantity and, and some would say, quality, by the mid- 1970s. His financial situation was so dire that he had to work in a brewery to support himself and his wife Olga.

In the late 1970s, Havel was arrested and convicted several times for his human rights protests. In 1979, he was sentenced to hard labor. He served time until 1983, when pneumonia forced his release. Letters he wrote to his wife from jail were later compiled in a book Letters to Olga (1988).

After his release, Havel continued to protest. He was again arrested and jailed for nine months in 1989. That year, however, as a consequence of the so-called Velvet Revolution, the Czech communist regime collapsed. By the end of the year, Havel was elected president of Czechoslovakia. Though the adjustment to the presidency was difficult, Havel was internationally acclaimed and reelected president again the following year.

Considering his lack of political experience and the many difficulties he faced, Havel succeeded well as president. One significant problem for Havel was the rise of Slovak nationalism. (Czechs and Slovaks had been forced to share a country for many years.) The Slovak Republic was formally created in 1992, the same year Havel resigned his presidency. The following year, he was elected President of the Czech Republic. Despite a bout with lung cancer in 1995, in which half of one of his lungs was removed, and some hints of political scandal, Havel remained in power at the beginning of the twenty- first century.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

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...

(The entire section is 1,176 words.)