directed by Alan Schneider
Originally produced by THEATER 1960 and
Harry Joe Brown, Jr. at the Provincetown Playhouse

A Spoken Arts, Inc. 33-1/3 rpm LP record [1961]


From the liner notes:

Sleep is lovely, death is better still
not to have been born is of course

the miracle

I quote these lines from [Heinrich] Heine, as recently translated by Robert Lowell, because I'm tired of people pinching their mouths at Samuel Bcckett for celebrating the nausea of existence. Most men feel it, certainly all poets do—Heine's lines are a paraphrase of Sophocles— and it has nothing to do with despair, which is the related charge leveled against Beckett. He states his case—the most recent of many similar statements—in a one-character, one-act play, Krapp's Last Tape.

It is curious about Beckett that, though he deals in the most dire experience, his fables do not depress. There is a salty virility to his people, an assumption of equality with juggernaut, that gives off the exciting smell of human pride.

Krapp's Last Tape is the outrageous title of an outrageous play. Imagine! A feeble, nearly blind and deaf, solitary and half-drunk man, crouching in a squalid room, subsisting on bananas and playing to himself (commenting the while) old tape recordings of his own voice—recordings, moreover, that consist in no small part of comments on still earlier tapes. Is this theater? Well, yes, it is; outrageous, of course, but very much theater. Being outrageous in the theatre is nothing new for Beckett. . .

There is no curtain at Krapp's Last Tape. When you take your seat, a dark dusty room confronts you. There is a table at stage center, with a recorder and some cardboard boxes on it, a light overhead, a shabby chair alongside. That is all you can see, and you can imagine what you care to imagine beyond vision. After a time the lights go down. When they come up again, Krapp sits in the chair, the recorder cover in his lap. It is his birthday, the one day each year when he records a new tape . . . And then begins one of those great vaudeville pantomimes that are Beckett's hallmark . . .

Krapp has no story. What he has is the iteration of a spot on a tape where experience got stuck thirty years ago. Krapp is a martyr to art, one who was burned . . .

People are always comparing Beckett with Joyce: they are both Irish and Beckett is said to have served as Joyce's secretary. In fact, his debt to Joyce is not greater than that of half the writers of his generation, and as for working for him, Beckett says he used sometimes to write letters for him or run literary errands—as did a good many in the English and American colony in Paris in those days.

What is forgotten is that Beckett's second book was a study of Proust, written in 1931, before any of his novels or plays. After that he wrote for twenty years with almost no recognition. Krapp, shifting around the table, dislodges a little pile of books. He picks one up:

"Seventeen copies sold, of which eleven at trade price to free circulating libraries beyond the seas. Getting known."

When you realize that Beckett was forty-six before Godot threw him a bridge to the world, you may guess why the unappetizing Krapp, with his bananas and his "spooools," his "viduity," his "crysolite," his visions on the jetty and renunciations in the punt, crawls with such terrifying authority through his litter of impoverishment:

"Sometimes wondered in the night if a last effort mightn't—(Pause.) Ah finish your booze now and get to your bed. Go on with this drivel in the morning. Or leave it at that. Leave it at that."

An artist may go on for quite a time, seeing himself as Molloy or Malone or whichever of those clowns and desperate pilgrims crying out their stories in a lunar landscape. But when he sees himself as Krapp in his den, cursing and drinking and searching out the right word, fighting terror— "Last fancies. (Vehemently.) Keep 'em under!"—and recording new reflections of old reports of sterile years; when that is the way he sees himself, he is going down for the third time. No wonder the play fascinates—we are always asking one another what it must feel like to die.


from "Laughter At Your Own Risk"
"HORIZON, A Magazine of the Arts"

to Samuel Beckett Resources