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....
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