Dramatic Devices

Krapp’s solipsism is suggested at the start of the play by the stage lighting. Krapp occupies the brightly lit center of the stage, sitting at his desk listening to tapes or making a new one. The rest of the stage is in darkness. His nearsightedness and deafness further emphasize that this is a man trapped inside his skull. His fumbling with the ledger, unlocking drawers, and groping in the boxes for a tape all metaphorically suggest the memories an old person contends with day by day and hour by hour.

Yet the tapes themselves are not simply an analogy for memory. The incongruity of life is seen in the contrast between the technologically perfect record afforded by the tapes and the living Krapp. Krapp’s Last Tape thus contributes something new to the technique of drama—an actor not present who is still able to speak. The immediate dramatic impact of younger Krapp is in the difference of sound, a strong, pompous voice brimming with assurance and wisdom, with which older Krapp, thanks to the tape machine, can play. Beckett can play, too, with Krapp’s attitude of listening. As Krapp begins listening to the tape, he settles himself more comfortably and, in the process, knocks a box full of tapes to the floor. He switches off the tape, loses his temper, and throws the boxes and index ledger to the floor before rewinding the tape and starting over. Thus, the drama of listening is portrayed as never before, as an activity of editing, censoring, and rehearing that true listening never can be. The...

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Historical Context

The 1950s is often thought of as an era where artistic expression was as ‘‘square’’ and as indicative of the status-quo, as the era...

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The Play

Krapp’s Last Tape commences with a nearsighted old man, Krapp, wandering aimlessly in his den. In the center of the room is a table bearing a tape recorder and several boxes of reels of tape. Initially, Krapp walks before the table at the front edge of the stage. He absentmindedly peels a banana, holds the banana in his mouth, eats, nearly slips on the banana peel, stares vacantly into space, retreats backstage for a drink (suggested to the audience by the pop of a cork), returns to mouth another banana front stage, puts the banana in his coat pocket, then goes backstage again and returns with a ledger. Reading the ledger, which is an index to the tape collection on the table, Krapp is diverted by the word “spool,” which he pronounces repeatedly, drawing out the oo sounds with pleasure. He puzzles over a ledger note about spool 5, “Memorable equinox?” then reads another note aloud, “Farewell to love.” After brooding some more, he decides to play the tape.

The voice he attends is his own, thirty years younger. It presents the recapitulation of Krapp’s thirty-ninth year, just as each of the other spools in the boxes holds the record of birthdays Krapp has recorded yearly from his twenties up to the present year, his sixty-ninth. His birthday custom is to play the tapes from past birthdays and then make the latest annual report on a blank tape. The thirty-nine-year-old Krapp speaks from the recorder with a strong and pompous voice, in resonant contrast to the cracked tones of the older. The younger has himself just been listening to an earlier year, a Krapp in his twenties speaking of resignation to the loss of youth and making resolutions to drink less and avoid women. Krapp in his twenties mentioned his chronic constipation, which still troubles the middle-aged Krapp; he blames it on his addiction to bananas. Older Krapp joins in the derision middle-aged Krapp directs at the younger’s resolutions, then older Krapp suddenly shuts off the tape, broods, goes backstage for another drink, sings from the darkness a few lines of “Now the Day Is Over,” interrupted by harsh coughing, and returns to the table to resume...

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Places Discussed

Krapp’s den

Krapp’s den. The writer’s den suggests the spiritual darkness and utter loneliness in which Krapp lives. The play opens with a series of seemingly unconnected and eccentric actions, as Krapp eats bananas, fingers an old envelope, and retires to a room offstage for a drink. As he listens to one of his tapes, in which a much younger version of himself describes his usual birthday routine, the audience discovers that Krapp is now repeating this ritual on his sixty-ninth birthday.

As the younger Krapp explains on the tape, he is searching for the “grain” of his life, which he defines as “those things worth having when all the dust . . . when all my dust has settled.” Now, thirty years later, the aging and alcoholic Krapp does the same. However, he can only return to a prior tape, on which he recorded what his ledger describes as a “Farewell to love.” The voice on the tape goes on to state with youthful conviction that he would not want the years back, when he was capable of happiness. “Not with the fire in me now.” As the elder Krapp sits in the same room thirty years later, with the fire all but extinguished, he has only the darkness surrounding him. The room embodies the dismal reality of that future which compelled him to bid farewell to love.

Literary Style

Krapp’s Last Tape is set in Krapp’s den a room that reflects, to a...

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Compare and Contrast

1950: North Korean forces break through the 38th parallel and capture Seoul (the capital of South Korea). General Douglas...

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Topics for Further Study

The American author Henry James’s ‘‘The Beast in the Jungle’’ (1903) is a short story that examines the life of Marcher, a man very...

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Media Adaptations

Krapp’s Last Tape was adapted as a film and directed by Samuel Beckett. It is available from...

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What Do I Read Next?

Waiting for Godot, Beckett’s 1952 play, is his most famous and widely-studied work. Its minimalist...

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Further Reading

Bair, Deirdre. Samuel Beckett, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978, pp. 491, 514-15.

Beckett, Samuel. Krapp’s Last Tape, in Krapp’s Last Tape and Other Dramatic Pieces, Grove Press, 1957, pp. 7-28.

Boswell, James. Boswell’s London Journal 1762-1763, Mc- Graw-Hill, 1950, p. 161.

Brien, Alan. Review of Krapp’s Last Tape in the Spectator, November 4, 1955.

Brustein, Robert. Review of Krapp’s Last Tape in Samuel Beckett: The Critical Heritage, edited by Lawrence Graver and Raymond Federman, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1979, pp. 192-93.

Cronin, Anthony. Samuel Beckett: The Last...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Gontarski, S. E. The Intent of Undoing in Samuel Beckett’s Dramatic Texts. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985. Covers Beckett’s plays. A chapter on Krapp’s Last Tape connects the revision process to evolving interpretation of the play. Selected bibliography.

Gontarski, S. E., ed. On Beckett: Essays and Criticism. New York: Grove Press, 1986. Essays by various scholars, including Ruby Cohn’s “Beckett Directs: Endgame and Krapp’s Last Tape,” which discusses Beckett’s adeptness at staging.

Kenner, Hugh. Samuel Beckett: A Critical Study. New ed....

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