Václav Havel 1936–
Czechoslovakian dramatist, essayist, and poet.
Havel is associated with the respected Theater on the Balustrade, Prague's leading avant-garde theater of the 1960s. His work is "blackly" comic and often disturbing. It is also controversial among leaders of the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia, yet Havel is acclaimed by critics in his own country and abroad. Some describe him as the most important Czech dramatist since Karel Čapek.
Working from a broad interest in the absurd nature of human existence, Havel writes plays that have a universal appeal despite their Czechoslovakian settings. In general, his dramas depict the mechanization of the individual by society and the role of language in this dehumanization process. These works have an intriguing circular quality: their focus shifts rapidly and repeatedly from the psychological to the metaphysical, to the social, to the patently absurd. His most famous plays, Zahradni Slavnost (The Garden Party) and Vyrozumeny (The Memorandum), are absurdist works, full of humorous social commentary, political parody, and bleak philosophical observations.
In 1979 Havel, who often and effectively satirizes bureaucracies, was arrested and sentenced to four and a half years in prison for allegedly subversive activities. His plays were also banned from the Czech stage. Havel, nonetheless, has strong supporters in and out of his country. He is a close friend and confidant of dramatist Tom Stoppard. Samuel Beckett's recent brief play, Catastrophe for Václav Havel is an anti totalitarian statement written to protest Havel's imprisonment.
(See also Contemporary Authors, Vol. 104.)