Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Krapp's Last Tape

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A “dramatic poem about the old age of the world” is how Robert Brustein characterized Krapp’s Last Tape in the New Republic (22 February 1960):

Krapp is surrounded . . . by his past—boxes upon boxes of magnetic tapes, the vocal diary of his entire life. The action of the play is the replaying of one spool . . . The droning, slightly pompous voice from the machine evokes a variety of responses from the aged Krapp; anger, interest, melancholy, contempt, despair . . . On the last tape, Krapp intends to record his present day’s activities, but there is nothing left in him . . . but memory, loss, and impotent desire . . . The curtain descends on Krapp stiffening in his rented room, his head laid miserably on the machine, his arms around it like a grotesque and wizened lover.

The four heavily corrected typescripts of Krapp’s Last Tape at the Ransom Center are a fascinating example of the creative process. The finished play is an eminently poetic work, and these four much-revised preliminary versions reveal Beckett’s path in reaching his destination. Typescript I contains the kernel of the idea; sentences are less carefully crafted, some of them still present even two revisions later. In Typescript II there is an expansion of the basic idea, along with the introduction of new material—the scene with Krapp and the banana, for example—and sentence structure is tightened up. In Typescripts III and IV there is, progressively, further refinement with additional changes to enhance such distinctively Beckettian characteristics as poetic phrasing (in its broader sense: modulation, pace, rhythm), unusual word choice, suggestive ellipsis, and two-edged humor.