Krapp's Last Tape is a one-act play, written in English, by Samuel Beckett. Consisting of a cast of one man, it was originally written for Northern Irish actor Patrick Magee and first entitled "Magee monologue". It was inspired by Beckett's experience of listening to Magee reading extracts from Molloy and From an Abandoned Work on the BBC Third Programme in December 1957.
According to Ackerley and Gontarski, "It was first published in Evergreen Review 2.5 (summer 1958) … then in Krapp’s Last Tape and Embers (Faber, 1959), and Krapp’s Last Tape and Other Dramatic Pieces (Grove, 1960). Beckett’s own translation of the play into French, La Dernière Bande, was published in Les Lettres Nouvelles on 4 March 1959.
The available printed texts must not be taken as definitive. "By the mid-1950s Beckett was already talking and working like a director … In a letter to Rosset’s editorial assistant, Judith Schmidt, 11th May 1959, Beckett referred to the staging of Krapp’s Last Tape as its 'creation'," and he made numerous significant changes to the text over the years as he was involved in directing the play.
In early productions he had a white face with a purple nose but these details were excised from later performances. "Beckett has been extremely wary of over stressing the clownish elements in Krapp’s physique, dress and behaviour. Even in the first production at the Royal Court Theatre, the purple nose of the ‘tippler,’ which is referred to in the printed text, was much toned down and has since been abandoned by Beckett. The "[s]urprising pair of dirty white boots, size ten at least, very narrow and pointed, suggesting an "ex-dandy rather than the former cricketer, survived longer. Like Henry in Embers, another of Beckett’s failed writers, Krapp is a man of independent means and does not have to depend on his writing to survive.
"When the plays that follow All That Fall begin, the 'action' in traditional terms has already taken place. From Krapp’s Last Tape onwards all that is left in most of the plays is recapitulation, a struggle with voices in the head, and a masochism that both demands and dreads the assault of memory.
Krapp is sitting at his desk in his den. There is a white light above the desk but the extremities of the stage are in darkness. This black and white imagery continues throughout the whole play; in fact, Beckett’s Berlin "notebook lists no less than twenty-seven points in the play at which the alternation of light and dark is stressed. Twice throughout the play he turns and peers into the darkness. Beckett explained to Martin Held at rehearsal in Berlin: "Old Nick’s there. Death is standing behind him and unconsciously he's looking for it.
He checks his pocket watch periodically as if waiting for the exact moment when he was born before he can begin. Before he starts he has time for a banana, a fruit he has a terrible weakness for. He retrieves a large one from a locked drawer, strokes it – the sexual connotation obvious – peels it and nearly slips on the skin he drops on the floor. After finishing the first he locates a second. This time he throws the skin into the pit but he ends up not eating the banana which gets stuck into a pocket of his waistcoat, the end rudely hanging out. He decides on a drink instead and shuffles into the darkness to get one. Done with that he returns with an old ledger.
On his desk are an old reel-to-reel tape-recorder and a number of tins (originally cardboard boxes) containing reels of recorded tape. In some productions the desk is empty at first and he brings out the tapes and recorder after the ledger. He consults the ledger. The tape he is looking to review is the fifth tape in Box 3. He reads aloud from the ledger but it is obvious that words alone are not jogging his memory. He takes childish pleasure in saying the word ‘spool’ – a moment of genuine pleasure.
The tape we get to listen to along with Krapp is the one recorded when he turned thirty-nine. The voice on the tape is strong and rather self-important but it’s clearly him. As he settles himself in his seat Krapp accidentally knocks one of the tins on the floor. He curses, switches off the playback, sweeps the remaining tins onto the floor before rewinding the tape to begin again.
The voice on the tape mentions the fact that he’s just celebrated his birthday alone "at the wine house" jotting down notes in preparation for the recording session later. In earlier drafts the place was peopled but Beckett progressively emptied the play of all but the most essential characters. The voice confesses to having consumed three bananas and only just resisted the urge to eat a fourth. His bowel trouble is still a problem and one obviously exacerbated by eating too many bananas. "The new light above my table is a great improvement, reports the thirty-nine-year-old Krapp, before describing how much he enjoys leaving it, wandering off into the darkness, so that he can return to the zone of light which he identifies with his essential self. He notes how quiet the night is. Even his neighbour, the elderly Mrs. McGlome, who habitually sings in the evenings, is silent.
The voice reports that he has just reviewed an old tape from when he was in his late twenties. It amuses him to comment on his impressions of what he was like in his twenties and even the sixty-nine-year-old Krapp joins in the derisory laughter. The young man he was back then is described as idealistic, even unrealistic in his expectations. The thirty-nine-year-old Krapp looks back on the twenty-odd-year-old Krapp with the same level of contempt as the twenty-odd-year-old Krapp appears to have displayed for the young man he saw himself for in his late teens. Each can see clearly the fool he was but only time will reveal what kind of fool he has become.
The taped voice continues with a review of his last year. This was the year his mother died. He talks about sitting on a bench outside the nursing home waiting for the news that she had passed away. When the moment comes he is in the process of throwing a rubber ball to a dog. He ends up simply leaving the ball with the creature even though a part of him regrets not hanging onto it as some kind of memento. Krapp at sixty-nine is more interested in his younger self’s use of the rather archaic word "viduity", which Beckett had originally as "widowhood" in early drafts) than in the reaction of the voice on the tape to their mother’s passing. He stops listening to look up the word in a large dictionary.
Done with that he returns to the tape. The voice starts to describe the revelation he experienced at the end of a pier. "The dark that Krapp has always struggled to keep under is, one may guess, in reality his most valuable subject-matter and, in particular, his greatest source of enlightenment. Krapp grows impatient and gets worked up when his younger self starts enthusing about this. He fast-forwards almost to the end of the tape to escape the onslaught of words. Suddenly the mood has changed and he finds himself in the middle of a description of a romantic liaison between him and a woman in a punt. Krapp lets it play out and then rewinds the tape to hear the complete episode. Throughout it he remains transfixed and visibly relives the moment while it is retold.
Afterwards, Krapp carefully removes this tape, locates a fresh one, loads it, checks the back of an envelope where he has made notes earlier, discards them and starts. He is scathing when it comes to his assessment of his thirty-nine-year-old self and is glad to see the back of him. He finds he has nothing he wants to record for posterity, save the fact he "Revelled in the word spool. But he does mention a trip to the park and attending Vespers where he dozed off and fell off the pew. His sex life has been reduced to periodic visits by an old prostitute recalling the jibes made in Eh Joe: "That slut that comes on Saturday, you pay her, don't you? ... Penny a hoist tuppence as long as you like.
Unlike his younger selves, Krapp has nothing good to say about the man he has become and even the idea of making one "last effort when it comes to his writing upsets him. He retreats into memories from his dim and distant past, gathering holly and walking the dog of a Sunday morning. He then remembers the girl on the punt, wrenches off the tape he has been recording, throws it away and replays the entire section again from the previous tape. It is a scene of masochism reminiscent of Croak in Words and Music, tormenting himself with an image of a woman’s face. This time he allows the tape play out. It ends with the thirty-nine-year-old Krapp determinately not regretting the choices he has made certain that what he would produce in the years to come would more than compensate him for any potential loss of happiness.
Krapp makes no response to this but allows the tape to play on until the final curtain. "Krapp’s spool of life is almost wound, and the silent tape is both the time it has left to run and the silence into which he must pass. Whereas the younger Krapp talks about the "fire in me the tired old man who sits listening is simply "burning to be gone. The title of the play seems obvious, that what we have witnessed is the recording of Krapp’s final tape, "yet there is an ambiguity: 'last' can mean 'most recent' as well as 'ultimate'. The speaker in Browning’s My Last Duchess is already planning to marry his next duchess … Still, one hopes for Krapp’s sake that he will be gone before another year is over.
The dichotomy of light and dark … is central to Manichaean doctrine … Its adherents believed that the world was ruled by evil powers, against which the god of the whole of creation struggled as yet in vain … Krapp is in violation of the three seals or prohibitions of Manichaenism for the elect: the seal of the hands, forbidding engagement in a profession, the seal of the breast against sexual desire, and the seal of the mouth, which forbids the drinking of wine … Beckett [however] seems to have known no more about Manichaenism than is contained in the eleventh edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica, which he possessed.
Although no time frame is given, it is likely that sixty-nine-year-old Krapp’s memories of being "again in the dingle at Christmas Eve, gathering holly … [or] on Croghan on a Sunday morning, in the haze, with the bitch alludes to Beckett's own childhood familial memories.Krapp (in his twenties) His birth-sign in early drafts is given as Aries, Beckett’s own. All we learn about Krapp at this age comes from the tape. Like a lot of young men he is full of “aspirations” – his work is starting to take shape – and “resolutions” – he is already aware that his drinking needs to be curbed. He is becoming resigned to the fact that he might well have let true love – represented by the image of a “girl in a shabby green coat, on a railway-station platform” – get away from him. He has settled for an on/off relationship with a “Bianca” but even there his future plans do not feature her. We learn that his problem with constipation has been ongoing since at least this time. He disparages his youth and is glad it is over. The thirty-nine year old Krapp estimates that the tape he had been listening to was made some ten or twelve years earlier. If it was twelve then he would have been twenty-seven at the time it was recorded.Bianca "In the earlier drafts the woman with whom the young Krapp lived [later named "Bianca"] was first named 'Alba' (a character in Dream of Fair to Middling Women modelled on Ethna MacCarthy whom he had loved when he was a young man), then 'Celia' (the name of the green-eyed prostitute with whom Murphy cohabits in Murphy), then 'Furry' (nickname of Anne Rudmose-Brown, the wife of Beckett's French Professor at Trinity, who was himself satirized as 'the Polar Bear' in Dream of Fair to Middling Women)..
"He settled on "Bianca", who was most likely based on another lecturer, Bianca Esposito, who (along with Walter Starkie) taught him Italian and cultivated his lifelong passion for Dante. He took private lessons from Signorina Esposito as well. Those lessons at 21 Ely Place were then caricatured in the short story 'Dante and the Lobster'. Kedar Street is not a real location but an anagram of 'darke' or Hebrew for 'black'. Keeping this in mind, the name may simply have been selected because "bianca" means "white woman" in Italian. Little is recorded about her other than "'a tribute to her eyes. Very warm.' Vivian Mercier, who knew Beckett personally, writes: "Although I do not recall his ever using the phrase, Beckett unquestionably regards the eyes as the windows of the soul.Krapp's father Krapp’s father, the only other man mentioned in the play, is spoken of only very briefly. The expression "Last illness" suggests he has not been a well man for some time and dies while Krapp is in his twenties. His own father, William Beckett, died of a heart attack on 26 June 1933, when Beckett was twenty-seven.The girl in the green coat Beckett’s first love, his cousin, Peggy Sinclair, had "deep green eyes and [had a] passionate love of green clothing. An allusion to Peggy Sinclair also appears in Dream of Fair to Middling Women in Smeralina, the "little emerald". Although the relationship is often cited as being a little one-sided, Beckett does recall: "Oh, Peggy didn’t need any chasing.Krapp (aged 39) This character does the majority of the talking throughout the play. His voice is contained on Tape 5 from Box 3. His voice is strong and rather pompous. He has celebrated his birthday alone in an empty wine house before returning home to consume three bananas. As has become his practice on his birthday he makes a tape looking back at who he was, assessing who he is and anticipating what might be to come. His is as disparaging of the young man he was in his twenties as he was then of the youth he had been thinking about when he made that earlier tape. He records the death of his mother, an epiphany at the end of a pier and an idyllic moment in a punt. Old Mrs McGlome This character is based on Miss Beamish, an eccentric novelist from Connacht whom Beckett had met in Rousillon, while hiding during World War II. “Whether the real Miss Beamish did actually sing regularly every evening is … debatable. Beckett did not remember this.”The dark young beauty There appears to be no direct correlation between this character and anyone living. The black and white imagery is strong here: her white uniform and the "big black hooded perambulator. Krapp also remembers this woman’s eyes as being "[l]ike … chrysolite!
She observes also that Beckett made "a direct connection ... with Othello, a play in which dark and light imagery is central," as "in the margin of the text that he used for the 1973 London production," on page 15 "where the word 'chrysolite' occurs ... he writes:
If heaven would make me such another world
Of one entire and perfect chrysolite
I’d not have sold her for it
"Like Othello, too," Pountney continues, "Krapp has lost his love through his own folly.Krapp's mother Beckett’s mother, May, died on 25th August 1950 in the Merrion Nursing Home which overlooked Dublin’s Grand Canal. Beckett had made the trip over in the early summer to be with her. By 24th July medical opinion confirmed that she was dying. During that last long month he used "to walk disconsolately alone along the towpath of the Grand Canal.
Towards the end she was oblivious to his presence. Her death took place while he was sitting on a bench by the canal. "At a certain point he happened to look up. The blind of his mother’s window, a dirty red-brown affair, was down. She was dead. A drawn blind, an old custom signifying death, also makes an appearance in Rockaby: "let down the blind and down".The little white dog When Krapp’s mother died, he was throwing a ball for a little white dog. He says he will feel it forever: “But I gave it away to the dog.” Significantly the ball is black to contrast with the white of the dog. In All Strange Away a "small grey punctured rubber ball is the last object contemplated before Fancy dies. The ball reappears in All That Fall: Jerry returns "a kind of ball to Mr. Rooney. Although not an obvious symbol of death, this ball is a significant motif of childhood grief for Beckett though none of his biographers propose that the presence of the dog is anything more than artistic license. The girl in the punt Beckett makes the relationship of this woman to Krapp clear when “[i]n 1975, directing Pierre Chabert in Paris, Beckett said: “I thought of writing a play on the opposite situation, with Mrs Krapp, the girl in the punt, nagging away behind him, in which case his failure and his solitude would be exactly the same.” In her biography of Beckett, Deirdre Bair deduces that "the girl in the punt" may be Peggy Sinclair because of the references to "Effi" and to "the Baltic": in July 1929 Beckett vacationed with the Sinclairs "in one of the smaller resort towns along the Baltic Sea. Summer, traditionally the time for light reading, found Peggy tearfully engrossed in Theodor Fontane's novel, Effi Briest. Beckett read it too, but with less detachment than Peggy, who wept and suffered as Effi’s infidelity ended her marriage. Talking to James Knowlson, a few days before his death, Beckett said that he "did not remember the scene this way, however, denying that girl in the boat … had anything at all to do with his cousin, Peggy. Knowlson feels "that there is little doubt the source for the girl with the haunting eyes is Ethna MacCarthy. For, as Dream of Fair to Middling Women had made clear … the 'Alba', who, on Beckett’s own admission, was closely modelled on Ethna, had eyes like dark, deep pools. Beckett left no doubt however when he told Jean Martin, whilst rehearsing the play in 1970, that the girl was modelled on Ethna. On 11 December 1957 Beckett learned that Ethna was terminally ill and regularly wrote uncharacteristically long letters until her death. When he completed the play he wrote her: "I’ve written in English a stage monologue for Pat Magee which I think you will like if no one else.
At one point in the recollection, the young Krapp leans over the young woman to shade her from the sun. "Let me in," he says. This caused the Lord Chamberlain some concerns when the play was first presented before him to grant a license. He believed that what was being suggested was a desire for sexual penetration and was not convinced that Beckett was simply alluding to her eyes. It was not until a mere three weeks before the play’s opening that the objection was dropped. In 1982 Beckett, in response to a similar suggestion from one of James Knowlson’s postgraduate students, "said with a chuckle, 'Tell her to read her texts more carefully. She’ll see that Krapp would need to have a penis at an angle of a hundred and eighty degrees to make coitus possible in the position he is in!'––a position that Rosette Lamont proposes also "suggests that of a suckling babe.Krapp (aged 69) Beckett would not be 69 until 1975 so, from his perspective, with Krapp a proxy for him, the action is set in the future.The first line of the play explicitly sets it 'in the future' , although nothing onstage reveals this. When Beckett finished this play he would have been 49 next. As it happens, with Waiting for Godot, success had found him but, at 39, the future must have seemed a lot bleaker for the writer, the Second World War was ending and all Beckett had had published were a few poems, a collection of short stories and the novel, Murphy. Beckett had this to say about the drained old man we see onstage: "Krapp sees very clearly that he’s through with his work, with love and religion. He told Rick Cluchey, whom he directed in 1977, that Krapp was "in no way senile [but has] something frozen about him [and is] filled up to his teeth with bitterness. "Habit, the great deadener has proven more tenacious than inspiration. His "present concerns revolve around the gratification of those very bodily appetites that, earlier, he had resolved should be out of his life. Eating bananas and drinking have become a [daily routine]. Of the physical activities that he once considered excesses only sex has come to play a reduced part in his lonely existence in the form of periodic visits from an old prostitute.
Although this is a play about memory, the sixty-nine-year-old Krapp himself remembers very little. Virtually all the recollections come from the tape. As evidenced most clearly in the novel Murphy, Beckett had a decent understanding of a variety of mental illnesses including Korsakoff’s Alcoholic Syndrome––"A hypomaniac teaching slosh to a Korsakow’s syndrome.––which is characterised by powerful amnesic symptoms accompanied by intestinal obstruction.
In his focus on chronic alcohol consumption, Narinder Kapur explains in Memory Disorders in Clinical Practice that it can lead to marked memory loss and generalised cognitive defects, as well as “disorientation for time and also place”. More recent memories are likely to be forgotten than remote memories, for "memory loss shows a temporal gradient with greater sparing of items from earlier years. Krapp's gathering of red-berried holly in the dingle could be an example of the "relatively intact remote memory that preceded Krapp's apparent addiction to alcohol.
Krapp is not a textbook case. He is an individual with his own individual symptomology but he is more than a list of symptoms. Bananas contain pectin, a soluble fiber that can help normalise movement through the digestive tract and ease constipation. Bananas can also aggravate constripation especially in young children. It depends what the root cause of the problem is. They are also high in Vitamins A and C as well as niacin, riboflavin and thiamine and one of the root causes of Korsakoff's Syndrome is thiamine difficiency; eating bananas would be good for him. It is easy to get caught up in this kind of over-analysis to the detriment of the play as a whole. "[A]ttempts to demonstrate that Beckett’s characters conform to specific psychological syndromes so often turn into will-o-the-wisp pursuits. Certainly, Beckett would not deny that psychologists have offered very useful descriptions of mental activity. But their theories are typically no more than initial steps in an understanding of mental processes, fragmented bits of knowledge which should not be taken for universal principles. It is important to remember that Krapp has not simply forgotten his past but he has consciously and systematically rejected it as one way of reassuring himself that he has made the right decisions in "his yearly word letting.Effi Briest In the past year Krapp has been re-reading Fontane’s Effi Briest, "a page a day, with tears again," he says, "Could have been happy with her, up there on the Baltic…. Existing only on the printed page this fantasy woman is perhaps the most black and white of all Krapp’s women. Like the girl in the punt and the nursemaid mentioned earlier, perhaps to contrast with his inner fire, "Once again Beckett situates Krapp’s memory on some side near the water.Fanny Just as Krapp’s name is a vulgar pun, so is the name Beckett gave to the woman who visits him from time to time, whom he describes as a "bony old ghost of a whore. As Fanny is an "old ghost," all Krapp’s women are figuratively "ghosts, really, dependent for their existence on Krapp’s bitter-sweet recording of them," according to Katherine Worth.
"fanny" is a slang British expression for the female genitals – woman reduced to a function. "Fanny" is also a commonly-used diminutive of Frances, and Beckett occasionally referred to his aunt, Frances "Cissie" Sinclair, as "Fanny.
Krapp refers to her visits as "better than a kick in the crutch. In the 1985 television version, Beckett changed this phrase to "better than the finger and the thumb, an unambiguous reference to masturbation that would never escaped the British Lord Chamberlain in the fifties.Krapp’s "vision at last", on the pier at Dún Laoghaire In an earlier draft of the play Beckett "uses 'beacon' and 'anemometer' rather than 'lighthouse' and 'wind-gauge'. The anemometer on the East Pier of Dún Laoghaire was one of the world's first. [It is] widely regarded as a mirror reflection of Beckett’s own revelation. Yet it is different both in circumstance and kind.
He summarised what this experience signified for him:
I realised that Joyce had gone as far as one could in the direction of knowing more, [being] in control of one’s material. He was always adding to it; you only have to look at his proofs to see that. I realised that my own way was in impoverishment, in lack of knowledge and in taking away, in subtracting rather than in adding.The tape recorder Beckett has applied character to non-human elements in his plays before, e.g. the light in Play, the music in Words and Music. “Beckett instructed the actor Pierre Chabert in his 1975 Paris production of the play ‘to become as much as possible one body with the machine … The spool is his whole life.’” Krapp no longer owns the memories on the tapes. His mind is no longer capable of holding onto them. The recorder also serves as proxy. When John Hurt, as Krapp, is transfixed by the retelling of the events in the punt he literally cradles the machine as if it were the woman recalling Magee’s original performance; Beckett took pains to point this out this to Alan Schneider, who was at the time preparing his own version of the play, in a letter dated 21st November 1958, and incorporated the gesture in future productions in which he was involved.
Later, on 4 January 1960, Beckett wrote a more detailed letter describing another unexpected revelation of that earlier performance, "the beautiful and quite accidental effect in London of the luminous eye burning up as the machine runs on in silence and the light goes down.
Magee had a harsh, gravely voice which had little superficial charm but had a hypnotic effect on the listener … He was grey-haired but ageless and could combine debility with menace, as Beckett character with their suppressed violence often do … [H]e had developed a rather strange accent with only faint Irish overtones and prolonged vowel sounds, The general effect was strangely déclassé but still indubitably Irish and thus ideally fitted for the performance of Beckett … As an actor he had the good sense to see that one played Beckett for the weight and mood of the words and the situation without bothering about the ultimate philosophical import.
It took some fourteen months for the work, Krapp: ou La dernière bande, a score of almost 260 pages, to be completed. From that point, according to James Knowlson, "Beckett and his German translator Elmar Tophoven … [literally] sat at the piano, one on either side of the composer, adapting the text to the music or modifying the score … Beckett sometimes changed his original English text to provide extra 'notes' or different rhythms: so, [for example,] 'incomparable bosom' became 'a bosom beyond compare'.
"Mihalovici's music is atonal, sparse and highly descriptive, relying heavily on a huge percussion battery to paint a pungent landscape for Beckett's moods and words. Beats on wooden blocks suggest a human heartbeat, a swirling celesta the dizziness of inebriation, muted trumpets a nauseating anxiety. Inner torture and pain are revealed through the orchestra as Krapp intones Sprechgesang in the present; a lyrical vocal line caresses the pre-recorded monologues of his younger self. The melody for the section of tape which Krapp rewinds and re-listens to numerous times (his happiest moment, curled up with his lover in a gently rocking boat) is ingeniously captured as an idée fixe by Mihalovici.
Gooseberries, she said (1967), part of the four-part cycle Exercises en Route, songs for voice & ensemble, by American composer Earl Kim, alludes to Beckett's phrase in Krapp's Last Tape.
The Hungarian composer Gyula Csapó has created the work Krapp's Last Tape –after Samuel Beckett] (1975) loosely inspired by Beckett's play. This theatrical work is for a "violinist-actor," a tape recorder, four spotlights and a sine wave generator.
In 1999, the English experimental composer, Michael Parsons, Adapted Krapp's Last Tape for piano, two pre-recorded pianos, and voice on tape. The piece, specifically written for John Tilbury, was called Krapp Music.