Krapp's Last Tape Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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.)

Krapp's Last Tape Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

In a circle of light surrounded by darkness, Krapp sits at a table in his den. Pale and clownlike in appearance, he has a bulbous purple nose and wears old black trousers, a dirty white shirt with a black vest, and oddly oversized dirty white boots. His gray hair is messy, and he needs a shave. It is his sixty-ninth birthday. Krapp fumbles in his pocket, withdraws an envelope, and takes out a small bunch of keys. He goes to his desk where he unlocks a drawer and removes a recording tape. After peering at the tape he puts it back and unlocks the second drawer, taking out a banana. Krapp strokes the banana, peels it, and puts the end in his mouth, meanwhile staring into space. Finally he eats the banana and drops the peeling. In gestures suggesting a clown’s comic pantomime, he paces back and forth, slips on the peeling, then nudges the banana peel off stage with his toe. He takes out another banana, fondles it suggestively, peels it, tosses the peeling, and puts it in his mouth. Then he thinks of something. Krapp sticks the banana in his pocket and leaves the scene. A few moments later he returns with a ledger.

Scanning the ledger, for the first time Krapp speaks aloud. “Box . . . three . . . spool . . . five.” He studies the ledger in which he records the contents of tapes he makes each year on his birthday and searches through his boxes of tapes. The one he is looking for is from his thirty-ninth birthday. A ledger note refers to his mother’s death, an unexplained black ball, “the dark nurse,” bowel problems, and a “memorable equinox.” It ends “farewell to love.” Krapp plays the tape and hears his younger self describe a birthday spent drinking, then returning to his room to write and eat bananas. This younger voice seems self-satisfied and expresses the smug belief that, at thirty-nine, he is at the height of his powers. The voice of Krapp at thirty-nine goes on to talk about listening to a still earlier tape of himself from ten or twelve years before. Krapp in his twenties was living with someone named Bianca. Krapp at thirty-nine sneers at his younger self and calls these sentimental memories “gruesome.” He laughs at the lofty aspirations of his younger self, and Krapp at sixty-nine joins in the derisive laughter. Other events noted are his father’s death and the end of an affair.

Krapp switches off the tape. He seems disturbed. Abruptly he walks out. This time three corks pop. When he returns he begins to sing drunkenly until he starts coughing. When Krapp resumes listening to the tape, he hears himself describing his mother’s death. At the word...

(The entire section is 1064 words.)