The Absurdity of Samuel Beckett

Ch. 1 - Introduction Ch. 3 - The Theory of Absurdity Ch. 5 - Beckett's Absurd Characters in Time Ch. 7 - Conclusion
Ch. 2 - A Brief Outline of the Life of Samuel Beckett Ch. 4 - Becketts Absurd Characters Ch. 6 - The Theatre of the Absurd as the World of the Absurd Character Notes & Bibliography

V. Beckett's Absurd Characters in Time

The motif of time and "waiting for" recurres in all four plays I deal with. In this chapter I attempt to analyse Beckettean flowing of time and show why it causes suffering and tragic lasting between life and death for Beckett' characters. Zeno, the Greek philosopher of the 6th century B.C., tried to prove the philosophical thesis espoused, by his teacher Parmenides, that movement does not exist, nor any activity. He proclaimed, that there is only unchanging and constant Being. Zeno, through his dialectical arguments, showed that the movements and the thoughts of a finite being in space and time are unrelated to, and incompatible with, the reality of the Universe, since the essence of reality is infinity. He separated the two worlds from each other; the ostensible, illusory world of the human being, the finite world demarcated by time, which creates the delusion of flowing, change, and movement; from the real and only true world of the infinite Universe as the Being of a Unity. 31
Zeno and Parmenides criticised human gnozeological apparatus and broke down the basic human view of the world, pointing, that knowledge acquired through the sense organs is an illusion and an error. "There is nothing to learn" 32Parmenides says.
Although Zeno pointed at the contradiction between man, his thinking, and the real essence of the world; Beckett, in this sense, does an experiment. His characters are torn out of their natural finite world, and are deprived of Parmenides' delusions: of time, falling down into timelessness; and of movement, they are immobile and static. Though they are situated in the only real infinite Parmenides' world, they still stay human beings with human mind and feelings. That is the tragedy of Beckett's man and the absurdity of his world: the inability to face the world deprived of delusions, the impossibility of integrating a finite and limited human life with the infinity of the Universe, where he stays.
Thus, the subject - object conflict, described by Camus as the "denseness and strangeness of the world"(Myth 11), called by Descartes subject - object "dualism" (Collins 57), and understood by Schopenhauer as the conflict of body and the will (see Collins 100-101), is viewed here from the perspective of time and change. The inconsistency now consists in different being in time, or rather different time categories: finite and infinite.
Beckett's characters are expelled from the stream of successive life events which create the illusion of a flux of time, and stop in one single moment which opens up the static, unceasing, absurd world of absurdity. (See chapter III.) They stop in time and space, in fact they are deprived of these categories, and stand face to face with their true existence in a world of which the real essence is its infinity. Time takes hold of them and becomes the "worst enemy"(Camus 11), time which actually does not exist, but crushes through memories and a nonsensical hopeful vision of tomorrow. In these moments time loses its only quality: the delusion of fluency seeming to be the natural life process makes no sense anymore.
Among Zeno's lesser known dialectical demonstrations, he propounds the one of the heap of millet. "Take any finite quantity of millet, and pour half of it into a heap. Than take half of the remaining quantity again...and so on. In an infinite universe, the heap could be completed; in a finite universe, never, for the nearer it gets to the totality, the slower it increases".33 The remote past of the characters has been filled up quickly, but the nearer time comes to the present, the slower and slower it passes. It shatters into smaller and smaller periods, in fact, it is stopping all the time, and the closer it is to the end, to death, the more unattainable it is. Since time is stopping, all the characters are sentenced to never-ending waiting.
Zeno's parable of the heap of millet appears concretely in the play Endgame, first performed in 1957 in France, but the heap of millet is replaced by the heap of days.
Hamm: Moment upon moment, pattering down, like the millet grains of...(he hesitates)... that old Greek, and all life long you wait for that to mount up to life.
(End 126)
As the title suggests, the main motifs of the play are ending and playing, the characters are aware of being not only human beings but also actors playing a game about waiting. "Of all Beckett's dramas, Endgame is unique in its relentless focus upon play as play".34 While Vladimir and Estragon are waiting for Godot to come, Winnie is waiting for the bell to ring and the "night" to come, Hamm, as the main protagonist, his son Clov and his parents Nell and Nagg are waiting for the . It seems that the main motif in the all three plays, is the same. Although expressed in different images and symbols, all of the characters are waiting for death, the end of their suffering (Endgame, Happy Days), the end of their insoluble situation (Waiting for Godot).
Hamm, Clov, and Hamm's parents represent three generations and also three time periods. Clov, as the son of Hamm, embodies Hamm's past. He used to be like him, he was able to move and use his legs as Clov does, he was young as him. Nell and Negg represent Hamm's future, they are old, and probably closer to death towards which they are all moving. Hamm is the main protagonist through his position in time, representing the present and Zeno's concept of time continuity.
It seems that there are two time levels operating simultaneously. The first one is a horizontal level, characterised as a linear time fluency tending from one point to the other. It consists in what the three generations present, growing old from youth to old age. This linear scheme of time appears through the age of all the characters and their family relationships. On the other side, there is a vertical line, which presents Zeno's time succession, the eternal slowing down and tending to infinity. This one is represented mostly by Hamm, although all of the characters are in the same situation.
Their past is filled up and the closer they are to the future, the slower it passes; it decays into smaller and smaller fragments, stopping in one simple moment. It is an infinite abyss in the time line, an unattainable border between the past and the future. Beckett projected this infinite present right on the stage through the character of Hamm and his spasmodic sticking to the central position in the middle of the stage.
Hamm: Back to my place! (Clov pushes chair back to centre.) Is that my place?
Clov: Yes, that's your place.
Hamm: Am I right in the centre?
Clov: I'll measure it.
Hamm: More or less! More or less!
Clov: (Moving chair slightly.) There!
Hamm: I'm more or less in the centre?
Clov: I'd say so.
Hamm: You'd say so! Put me right in the centre.
(End 104)
Hamm wants Clove to place him in the centre of the stage, as if he would like to be as deep as possible in the moment of the present in order to reach the long-desired end.
Linear time, as the tending from one point to the other, is primary connected with change, while the vertical Zeno's time succession, implies sameness. On one hand, the characters are aware of what is not and what used to be, in fact, they do realise the change. They reflect the changes among objects around them; there is no nature anymore, there are no bicycle-wheels, there is no pain-killer, no sawdust, as well as the changes of their physical and psychical dispositions:
Hamm: But we breathe, we change! We lose our hair, our teeth! Our bloom! Our ideas!
(End 97)
On the other side, they experience the static sameness of a long stopping moment. One of the factor which gives the idea of the sameness is permanent repetition. During the play Hamm begs for his pain-killer, Clov recurrently declares that he is leaving; the weather and the sea are as usual, and the beginning of the play introduces time which has stopped.
Hamm: ...What time is it?
Clov: The same as usual.
Hamm: (Gesture towards window right.) Have you looked?
Clov: Yes.
Hamm: Well?
Clov: Zero.
(End 94)
Static time is also expressed through the motif of a circle, which appears in different forms. Clove takes Hamm for a little "trip round the world" (End 104) pushing him along the walls around the room. He returns to the same place from which he set off, as if nothing happened. The quality of repetition is noticed in the motif of the "bicycle-wheels"(End 96) at the beginning of the play; and it also appears in some repetitive dialogues, when one character repeats several times what has already been said.
Clov: (Looking.) Grey. (Lowering the telescope, turning towards Hamm, louder.) Grey! (Pause. Still louder.) GRREY! (Pause. He gets down, approaches Hamm from behind, whispers in his ear.)
Hamm: (Starting.) Grey! Did I hear you say grey?
(End 107)
Beckett's characters are grounded between the past and the future, between the past life and the future death, and their position is symbolically expressed by colour grey, which combines white and black, as the symbols of life and death in itself. This colour lights the stage and it is also observed outside as the colour of the sea and the earth.
As the play progresses the characters are deeper and deeper in the moment of timelessness. They are eventually so deep that the words expressing a different time quality than the actual presence lose their meaning.
Hamm: Yesterday! What does that mean? Yesterday!
Clov: (Violently.) That means that bloody awful day, long ago, before this bloody awful day. I use the words you taught me. If they don't mean anything any more, teach me others. Or let me be silent.
(End 113)
Their longing for any radical change that would solve their hard situation is gradating. Clov, trying to leave, takes off his slippers and puts on his shoes, Hamm wants to be "hit with the axe"(End 130), to finish his suffering.
The characters' approach to and view of the world as suffering is expressed already in the first lines, when Hamm is complaining about his life, saying that he is the one who probably suffers the most of all creatures.
Hamm: But does that mean their sufferings equal mine?
(End 93)
In these lines Beckett introduces the Schopenauerean vision of life as suffering and pain. (See chapter III.) The will to life is infinite, and fulfilment is limited. Man is tossing about in a flood of instincts and desires, and never reaches satisfaction, happiness, or peace. Beckett's characters in Endgame are aware of their fate as misery, Clov confesses that he has never been happy (End 123), Hamm hates his parents for giving him a birth and throwing him into these distressful circumstances ( End 116), Nagg and Nell express their view of the world in the bitter joke:
Nagg: ...Sir, my dear Sir, look-(disdainful gesture, disgustedly)-at the world-(pause)-and look-(loving gesture, proudly)-at my TROUSERS!...
(End 103)
They wish to die, because their past is completed, but the will to life keeps them breathing and going on. Negg and Nell are very close to the goal, even if it seems that Nell is dead already, and Hamm through his central position and absolute immobility is closer than Clov. However all of them are isolated by walls, their situation and their suffering are the same, no matter how old they are. The situation shared by all of them is exactly expressed by Hamm at the beginning of the play when he says:
Hamm: I'll give you nothing more to eat.
Clov: Then we'll die.
Hamm: I'll give you just enough to keep you from dying. You'll be hungry all the time.
(End 103)
The main character of the two-act play Happy Days, first performed on September 17, 1961 in New York, is Winnie, a well-preserved, fifty-year-old blonde woman, who is embedded up to her waist in the centre of the stage. "The 'heap' actually occupies the centre of the stage: 'the heap of time' in which Winnie is buried, up to her waist, later up to her neck - the heap which always promises, yet never actually grants a death, an end".35 Her past reduced to several nostalgic memories is too far away and there is no sufficient reason why the future and the end should be within reach. Winnie is grounded in the mound as well as in the present, on the border between the remote past and the wide future. Her situation is analogous with Vladimir's and Estragon's. Winnie is waiting, waiting for the bell to ring and the night to come. Her immobility forces her to persist in this situation and the will to life keeps her going.
Winnie: ...Yes, the feeling more and more that if I were not held-(gesture)-in this way, I would simply float up into the blue. (Pause.) And that perhaps some day the earth will yield and let me go, the pull is so great, yes, crack all round me and let me out. ...
(Happy 151-152)
Winnie longs for the night, an end, when her suffering will stop, but the will to life never promise any ending, any death. She "envies the brute beast" because of its fast and painless death.
Winnie: ...And if for some strange reason no further pains are possible, why then just close the eyes-(she does so)-and wait for the day to come-(opens eyes)-the happy day to come when flesh melts at so many degrees and the night of the moon has so many hundred hours. (Pause.) That is what I find so comforting when I lose heart and envy the brute beast. ...
(Happy 143-144)
She is waiting on the border between past and future, and the closer she tends towards "next", the slower her time passes.
Winnie: Sometimes all is over, for the day, all done, all said, all ready for the night, and the day not over, far from over, the night not ready, far, far from ready.
(Happy 157)
At another point Willy realises the situation which keeps her in one infinite moment of Zeno's continuity of time, when things pass so slow that no change can be seen, saying:
Winnie: ...It's not hotter today than yesterday, it will be no hotter tomorrow than today, how could it, and so on back into the far past, forward into the far future. ...
(Happy 154)
Her past has been filled up quickly, but it seems that it actually did not exist for her. The things that used to be, are not anymore, it is the same as if they never really were. Her memories are so pale, so remote, and alien, that it is difficult for her to talk about them, to transform them into words.
Winnie: ...The bag is there, Willie, as good as ever, the one you gave me that go to market.... That day...What day?
(Happy 160-161)
What stays in Winnie's mind is a sweet idealised memory of "the old style" (Happy 157), which undoubtedly has never been happy, but the memory of which evokes pleasant feelings. Winnie feels satisfaction only through the form of memory; everything is happier, easier, nicer when it is seen from the distance of time. She also tries to look at the present from the point of view of the past. "When the present becomes the past only nice things can be remembered, if one chooses to do so, while now the suffering of being cannot be avoided". 36 Thus, she treats the present if it would be her past, as it helps her bear her suffering.
Winnie: Oh, this is going to be another happy day!
(Happy 142)
Winnie also finds an escape from her situation in trying to forget about it. She is engaged in playing with little things, like a mirror, a magnifying-glass, a tube of toothpaste, a toothbrush, a comb, and so on; various objects she has in her bag. The bag represents her previous life, and the things she has in it stand for what she used to do. It is connected with her everyday routines and so it is a habit protecting her against the suffering of being. This daily routine is mentioned by Camus, it is something which protects humanity from waking up to Absurdity: " Weariness comes at the end of the acts of a mechanical life, but at the same time it inaugurates the impulse of consciousness"(Myth 10). (See Chapter III)
It is evident that Winnie is aware of her situation. She realises what kind of future lies before her and that her situation will not, in any case, be better in any respect. If there was one more act in Beckett' play, Winnie would not be able to speak at all. She would be a step closer to death, but again, not quite close enough to reach it.
Winnie: ...cast your mind forward, Winnie, to the time when words must fail- ...
(Happy 151)
This is the clue with which Beckett assures us although Winnie is, in Act 2, almost completely buried in the ground, she will not die so soon, her time will slow down infinitely.
Act 2 reflects a considerable change, but since time does not pass in linear fluency, it does not mean any step closer to a goal. Winnie is deeper in the ground - time, and is completely confused as to how the time has slowed down. She is not able to use the past tense without anchoring it in her presence, as if her past were fused in it.
Winnie: I used to think...(pause)...I say I used to think there was no difference between one fraction of a second and the next. (Pause.) I used to say...(pause)...I say I used to say, Winnie you are changeless, there is never any difference between one fraction and the next. Why bring that up again?
(Happy 165)
She is involved in Zeno's concept of disintegration of time contingency. If time is divided into particular separate fragments; (and Winnie does so, because she separates one second from the other), change can never occur. Now she realises the fluency of Zeno's time, (that is what her tragedy consists of), which slows down, so that the particular moment seems to be an infinite moment.

Zeno's time
Zeno's Time

Waiting for Godot is a play in which the experience of time is expressed in its purest form. Vladimir and Estragon, the two tramps seized in Zenoean time, which has almost stopped but not quite, are waiting for Godot in a waste land, having nothing to do but to be and to expect. The main subject of the play is not "Godot", as it might be deduced from the title, representing a person, thing, event, death or God...etc., but the waiting itself, which is the most evident experience of time. "If we are active, we tend to forget the passage of time, we pass the time, but if we are merely passively waiting, we are confronted with the action of time itself".37
Consequently the main theme of the play is not any act or any activity, although it is divided into "acts", but the passive expecting of somebody/something that should bring some evident change into the characters passive position. Godot is somebody/something that evokes the characters' expectations as well as the reader's or the on-looker's expectations that something will happen at the end of the play, that Godot as a presupposed subject must appear. Thus, Godot is expected by Vladimir and Estragon in the same way as it is expected by the audience; the characters are waiting along with the audience.
Although both sides, the actors and the audience, are waiting for Godot, it would be rather silly to identify the characters' experience of time with the audience's. At the end of the play the audience's expectations are finished: the curtain falls, even though Godot did not come. The audience expected him/it, he/it not to come, the play is over. That is the solution for the on-lookers, that is the end of their expectations: the curtain.
There is no reference in the play, no trace, that Vladimir's and Estragon's waiting will ever finish, there is no promise that Godot will fulfil to his promises. On the contrary, the solution will never appear, as their waiting does not tend more toward any conclusion.
Vladimir's and Estragon's situation seems to be like a never-ending number SQUARE ROOT 2, which can never be measured. Only an end - the coming of Godot gives it undoubted evidence, it is the last figure in a series of numbers determining the content of the whole number meaning. Godot is, in Vladimir's and Estragon's waiting such a last figure, which can never be reached, staying unknown forever, but on which their situation, their whole existence is dependent.
Pozzo: Godet...Godot...Godin...anyhow you see who I mean, who has your future in his hands...
(Godot 29)
Vladimir and Estragon are almost at the end, they have got through a number of "figures behind the decimal comma", they are almost in a position where an immediate instantaneous "now" fuses with eternal lasting. Every day they get closer and closer, but as the following figure in the succession of figures is less significant than the preceding one, they are progressing by pettier and pettier steps, unceasingly receding from the goal. Every day brings them closer to Godot, although each one is less progressive, it is stopping all the time.
Vladimir: Time has stopped.
(Godot 36)
Vladimir: And it's not over.
Estragon: Apparently not.
Vladimir: It's only beginning.
Estragon: It's awful.
(Godot 34)
While waiting, Vladimir and Estragon occupy themselves with a number of little games. They talk to each other, because silence means a definite stop in time, between being and non-being, between life and death. Silence is an unendurable infinite pause for them between the past and the future, between what was and what they expect to be.
Estragon: We always find something, eh Didi, to give us an impression we exist?
(Godot 64)
To talk means to while away the time and not to realise its horrible endless emptiness. They talk about how many thieves were saved, about Estragon's boots, they play at Pozzo and Lucky, or think out how to hang themselves. It seems that their mutual conversation, no matter how useless and banal it is, returns them from timelessness back to time fluency, giving them the impression that time is passing anyway. In the same way that Winnie was trying to forget about her condition in all those little things she had in her bag, which reminded her her past, and helped her pass time, Vladimir and Estragon find an escape from their condition in killing time through conversation. "...playing games is a subsystem, protecting them from the sense that they are waiting. They confront Time (i.e., are conscious of Godot) only when there is a break in the games and they 'know' and 'feel' that they are waiting". 38 Vladimir says about these games:
Vladimir: ...We have time to grow old. The air is full of our cries. (He listens.) But habit is a great deadener.
(Godot 84)
The moments when they realise time - their fate to wait for Godot become unbearable suffering and therefore they force themselves, although spasmodically into "blathering"(Godot 61).
Estragon: I'm tired! (Pause.) Let's go.
Vladimir: We can't.
Estragon: Why not?
Vladimir: We're waiting for Godot.
Estragon: Ah! (Pause. Despairing.) What'll we do, what'll we do!
Vladimir: There's nothing we can do.
Estragon: But I can't go on like this!
(Godot 63)
Didi and Gogo are caught up in time which passes so slow, that Estragon cannot remember anything from the previous days. While Winnie's past is reduced to several pale and insignificant pictures, dying away in her mind, Estragon's time passes so slow that he immediately forgets everything. Even Didi has to remind him of their situation and within the whole play repeats that they are waiting for Godot. Estragon's time has got so slow, that the recent moments become a remote and dead past for him. He cannot remember Pozzo and Lucky, cannot remember the place where they spent the previous day.
Vladimir: The tree, look at the tree. (Estragon looks at the tree.)
Estragon: Was it not there yesterday?
Vladimir: Yes, of course it was there. Do you not remember? We nearly hanged ourselves from it. But you wouldn't. Do you not remember?
Estragon: You dreamt it
Vladimir: Is it possible that you've forgotten already?
Estragon: That's the way I am. Either I forget immediately or I never forget.
Vladimir: And Pozzo and Lucky, have you forgotten them too?
Estragon: Pozzo and Lucky?
Vladimir: He's forgotten everything!
(Godot 56)
It seems that Estragon's time passes slower than Vladimir's. While Vladimir is still somewhat orientated in time, realising and remembering the past as the past, Estragon's memory is completely disintegrated, as if he has become closer to timelessness where the past fuses with the future in the infinite presence. For Estragon three-dimensional time has no meaning anymore and he therefore also loses any sense of change.
Vladimir: ...Do you not recognise the place?
Estragon: (Suddenly furious.) Recognise! What is there to recognise? All my lousy life I've crawled about in the mud! And you talk to me about scenery! (Looking wildly about him.) Look at this muckheap! I've never stirred from it!
(Godot 57)
In contrast to Estragon, there is Pozzo who does not seem to be caught up in Zenoean time. He is not immobile, he can move from one place to the other ("he is bringing him [Lucky] to the fair"{Godot 37}), his existence is controlled by "natural" time, with which he is confronted through his watch. His time passes in linear succession, as does his movement (from one place to the other). Thus, he can become oriented in space, "Here? On my land?"(Godot 24), as well as in time, "Yes, the road seems long when one journeys all alone for...(he consults his watch)...yes...(He calculates)...yes six hours, that's right, six hours..."(Godot 25). But, as soon as he comes into contact with Vladimir and Estragon, his linearity disintegrates. He is cycling in his thoughts, his memory stops working, and he must concentrate in order to speak sensibly.
Pozzo: What was it exactly you wanted to know?
Vladimir: Why he-
Pozzo: (Angrily.) Don't interrupt me! (Pause. Calmer.) If we all speak at once we'll never get anywhere. (Pause.) What was I saying? (Pause. Louder.) What was I saying?
(Godot 31)
In another place:
Pozzo: You see my memory is defective.
(Godot 38)
Pozzo also loses his watch when in contact with Estragon and Vladimir. They try to find it by listening for its sound, but there is no sound to it, which leads Estragon to the conclusion that "perhaps it has stopped"(Godot 45).
In Act II Pozzo is blind and Lucky has become dumb. Pozzo has definitely lost his orientation in time,
Pozzo: (Suddenly furious.) Have you not done tormenting me with your accursed time! It's abominable! When! When! One day, is that not enough for you, one day like any other day, one day he went dumb, one day I went blind, one day you'll go deaf, one day we were born, one day we shall die, the same day the same second, is that not enough for you?
(Godot 53)
and in addition they have became immobile. The try to leave but their decayed senses do not allow them to move; they fall down at the edge of the stage.
As I have already mentioned, the main motif of the play is waiting as the most evident experience of time itself. Time stops and the goal (Godot) is still as remote as it was at the beginning. Day alternates with night, one season alternates with the next, and this cyclical process devours all the four characters impelling them to move or die. Thus, their waiting is a waiting for the end of the never-ending song about the dog who "stole a crust of bread"(Godot 83).
Krapp's Last Tape, the first of Beckett's post-war dramas (1960) contain a lot of autobiographical features, is, in some aspects, an exception among the four plays I deal with. Krapp's situation differs from the previous characters'; Krapp is not waiting hopelessly for "his future", an end, as it is clear in Waiting for Godot, Endgame, and Happy days. Here, the motif of time presented as Zeno's infinite heap of millet, is not expressed explicitly on the stage in the form of waiting as an experience of time itself, but through the confrontation of an individual and his past. Krapp stands, and this is the main theme of the play, face to face with his "past reality".
Although Krapp's Last Tape is a monodrama, there are two different characters playing their own roles. The Krapp on the tape at the age of 39, who represents the real Krapp's vivid memory and the real Krapp, who is, probably about 69, observed on the stage.
Krapp occupies himself with listening to the old tapes he recorded many years ago, searching for his identity. Although, Krapp is the same person he used to be, his identity is the same, on the other side he does not identify with the one on the tape as his character has changed. A similar motif can be found in Happy Days, when Winnie wonders how it is possible that she is changed, she is different from the Winnie who lived many years ago, saying that it is impossible to change because there is no difference, in fact, between one second and the other (165). Krapp understands his past as the past of somebody else, he feels different from who he used to be.
Krapp: Just been listening to that stupid bastard I took myself for thirty years ago, hard to believe I was ever as bad as that.
(Krapp 222)
He is also aware of the same thing that Winnie wondered about, that he must be the same because, there is no difference between particular time fragments. Zeno's concept of time divided into an infinite number of separate time particles does not split in the moment of presence, but in the past.
Krapp feels different, changed, he views his past as a time contingency, but he is, at the same time, aware of his identity, that he remains Krapp, the same Krapp whom he listens to. His tragedy consists in refusing his past and in his changeless existence as Krapp.
Krapp, through saving his voice, his impressions of past events, tries to preserve his true self. Thirty years ago he believed there was something durable in his personality, a durable "core" which remained unchanged, and which was the true self of his identity.
Krapp: The grain, now what I wonder do I mean by that, I mean...(hesitates)...I suppose I mean those things worth having when all the dust has-when all my dust has settled.
(Krapp 217)
Now he is old, his voice is "cracked"(Krapp 215), he is " near-sighted"(Krapp 215), and "hard of hearing"(Krapp 215), he does not even remember what the word "viduity"(Krapp 219) means; he is tired, and without any illusions that something of his actual self, which he is recording on the tape will remain the same. In other words he will always consider himself a "stupid bastard", and that is why his words seems to be useless:
Krapp: Ah finish your booze now and get to your bed. Go on with this drivel in the morning. Or leave it at that. (Pause.) Leave it at that.
(Krapp 223)
It seems that Krapp, like the characters in previous plays, is also approaching an end, death. As the title suggests it is Krapp's last tape to which he listens , or the one he records. Within the play he sings a song about the day reaching an end, as if he thought about his own life.
Krapp: Now the day is over,
Night is drawing nigh-igh,
Shadows-(coughing, then almost inaudible)-of the evening
Steal across the sky.
(Krapp 222)
His life involves misery and suffering, he has "nothing to say, not a squeak"(Krapp 222) anymore, nothing to wait for, but death. His only joy in the last "past half million"(Krapp 222) moments is the only thing - the world "spool"(Krapp 216).
Krapp: Crawled out once or twice, before the summer was cold. Sat shivering in the park, drowned in dreams and burning to be gone.
(Krapp 222)
Krapp's movement toward death at the end of the play, a typical Beckett's image, is symbolised by the tape, and its cyclical shape depicting recurrence and sameness. It seems that Beckett let the tape run on as if he wanted to imply that there is still an infinite space of time until Krapp's actual death. Thus, while the motif of never-ending dying was a central theme in previous Beckett's plays, in Krapp's Last Tape it appears at the very end.

Ch. 1 - Introduction Ch. 3 - The Theory of Absurdity TOP OF THE PAGE Ch. 7 - Conclusion
Ch. 2 - A Brief Outline of the Life of Samuel Beckett Ch. 4 - Becketts Absurd Characters Ch. 6 - The Theatre of the Absurd as the World of the Absurd Character Notes & Bibliography