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 audiences. Yet all hopes for democratization, evident, for example, in a greater freedom of the press, were crushed in August, 1968, when the invasion of the Warsaw Pact armies headed by the Soviet Union restored a hard-line Communist regime under Gustáv Husák and established rigid control of the political and economic life.
During the brief period of reform, Havel had his previously confiscated passport returned to him and was permitted to travel to New York in mid-1968 to witness the first American production of his play Vyrozumní (pr. 1965, pb. 1966; The Memorandum, 1967) under Joseph Papp, a production that won an Obie Award. Two years later, Ztíená monost soustední (pr., pb. 1968; The Increased Difficulty of Concentration, 1969) met with similar success in another New York production. Immediately after the Soviet invasion, Havel, like other artists and representatives of public life, made radio broadcasts from the underground to appeal to the West for support and to call for continued protest among his compatriots against repression of civil liberties. As a result of his unequivocal championing of human rights, Havel again had his passport confiscated, and, along with thousands of others, was forced into various blue-collar jobs, some of which later provided him with subject matter for his plays and infused his vision.
Havel’s writings were not published, and his plays were banned from the stage in Czechoslovakia between 1970 and 1989. Yet he categorically refused to emigrate and continued to write regardless of all pressure and hardship. ebrácká opera (pr. 1975, pb. 1977; The Beggar’s Opera,...
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