No doubt the best known of Beckett’s mature efforts written originally in English, Krapp’s Last Tape carries his theatrical experiment one step further, reducing the cast of characters to a single human actor, supplemented by a tape recorder playing back the same voice at a much earlier age, with references to still earlier recordings. Going well beyond the usual dramatic monologue, the interaction of the aging Krapp with his former self (or selves) raises Krapp’s Last Tape to the dimension of full-scale theater.
Set “in the future”—tape recorders being relatively new at the time of the play’s composition—Krapp’s Last Tape presents the title character under the strong, merciless light of his workspace, light demanded by his increasingly poor eyesight. Light and shadow, sight and blindness figure prominently in Beckett’s attempt to examine, and possibly correct, Marcel Proust’s often-misinterpreted concept of “involuntary memory.” Krapp has apparently intended to surprise himself with memories kept “fresh” on tape, but there are few surprises to be found. Krapp, like Proust, is a writer by choice, albeit a most unsuccessful one whose major publication has only sold seventeen copies, “to free circulating libraries beyond the seas.” He is also, like Hamm and Pozzo, something of a poseur whose carefully phrased speeches, here recorded solely for his own benefit, ring hollow when heard across the gulf of time.
Like Vladimir and Estragon, Krapp is rather clownish in appearance and dress, prone to a variety of ailments no doubt inflicted by his lifestyle. A heavy drinker who interrupts the tape more than once to take a nip offstage, Krapp is also hopelessly addicted to bananas, despite chronic constipation. While onstage, Krapp eats at least two bananas and starts to eat more, stuffing them absently into his pockets as he...
(The entire section is 776 words.)