There is little doubt that the cannon of Beckett's work is one of experimentation and investigation, with the author constantly exploring the boundaries of content and form, pushing the limits not only of theme and narrative, but also of the very mediums themselves that are in use in each production. However, despite a trajectory of work that shows constant change on the part of the artist, many of Beckett's plays do indeed present differing solutions to consistent and recurring themes, toying over and over again with the relationship between sound and motion, audience and actor and past and future, to name just a few. This is particularly evident in 'Krapp's Last Tape', a piece in which Beckett explores the potential for theater technology in the formation of the 'I' and stage time within the narrative structure. Here, Beckett uses a tape-recorder both to present a multiplicity of time and character as well as to the push the boundaries of stage theater as a medium. As we watch 'Krapp's Last Tape', then, our conceptions both of Krapp and of stage theater as a whole are dictated entirely by the role technology plays in the exploration of each.
In 'Krapp's Last Tape', technology is most immediately at work in the rendering of the charterer Krapp in multiple chronological incarnations simultaneously. While we, as audience, are introduced at once to the oldest Krapp as we watch him putter about on stage, through listening to a literal record of the man's life as he has conceived of it over decades, we are quickly introduced to Krapp's younger selves as well. The play begins with Krapp at sixty nine years old, a parody of age and decrepitude, as he bumbles around his den, falling victim to an errant banana peel, locking and unlocking his desk drawers, and finally encountering a sought-after reel of tape among his impossibly large collection.
In the first minutes of the play, then, we see Krapp almost one-dimensionally, a caricature of a 'wearish old man' for whom any depth of character is over-shadowed by slapstick physicality and over-the-top appearance. It is many minutes before Krapp even utters his first words, and his large shoes ('size 10 at least'), purple nose and pale face only lend momentum to the simple and familiar archetype that we quickly identify as clownish. We are presented, before the addition of the tape-deck, then, with a man about whom we know next to nothing and whose actions, without the presence of dialog to give them context, leave us amused at best, and confounded at worst. (Beckett 221)
[...] Thus, it is through these reactions, the recorded words in which Krapp relishes, as well as the ones that bring him to laugh, snicker or reiterate, after forty years, the same chorus of dissatisfaction, that we come to understand Krapp in relation to his past, a man who mourned until, old and alone, there was nothing left to mourn for, and who, despite his pithy final statements, is still clearly imprisoned by the distant memories of his past. II. Technology and Stage-Time Yet, technology allows Beckett not only to complicate the image of Krapp, but also the conception of stage-time in general, muddying the lines between past and present. [...]
[...] While this unflinching synchronization of sound and motion, as well as the focus on listening in general, goes unnoticed in a well- done production of the piece, it is indeed uncharacteristic of its genre, requiring a level of precision far more expected (and far easier to accomplish) with the recorded media, rather than the stage. Writing Krapp's Last Tape, then, and displaying so centrally the sound-production techniques of another artistic form, evidences a departure from the traditional constraints of the live theater and displays a purposeful choice, on the part of Beckett, to push the limits both of what can be accommodated by the genre and of what he had previously produced. [...]
[...] As Brater posits, “Krapp's Last Tape moves not only in time, but through time, every second in the present of the performance is quickly turning into Krapp's past.” In this way, we can say that Krapp's history is under constant construction as he revisits it. he picks up a Brater writes, “Krapp can hold his history in his hands, and what remains is not some 'old stancher' but a 'girl in a shabby green coat on a railway platform.'” (Brater 95) A similar process of re- imagining the past is at work as Krapp dismisses as bastardly naive the aspirations of his youth and, nearly in the same breath, ignores his own resignation by citing fire in him (Brater 95). [...]
[...] Even Beckett himself is ironically aware of the constraints of time despite a work which presents them so liberally, and he is careful to set his play in the future in order to accommodate for the invention-date of the tape deck. Just as Krapp's life bears witness both to the fluidity of time as well as to its undeniable passage, it seems that Beckett, too, was forced to contend with the immutability of the past, something even he did not care wholly to re-write, in order to avoid haranguing by the critics. [...]
[...] The consistent background of misery and isolation, one that is evidenced both by the Krapp we see in front of us and by what we come to learn of his biography, is broken only by the single moment of ecstasy in which Krapp “suddenly saw the whole thing,” and to which he painfully and obsessively returns. (Beckett 226) Thus, all of the biographical information provided by Krapp's tape allows the audience to conceive more fully of the air of disappointment that pervades the narrative from it's beginning. [...]
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