'Krapp’s Last Tape' and the Beckettian Mimesis of Regret

Eric P. Levy


Perhaps no drama more deserves to be called a ‘memory play’ (to invoke Ruby Cohn’s designation) than Krapp’s Last Tape— a play which, through pairing the aged Krapp with what Martin Esslin terms an ‘autobiographical library of annual recorded statements’, unfolds a series of rememorations. In this regard, Krapp’s Last Tape, like The Glass Menagerie as described by its author, Tennessee Williams, appears as a work in which nostalgia is ‘the first condition’. This impression is reinforced by the abundant connections, expertly charted by James Knowlson, between the lives of Krapp and Samuel Beckett, his author. The relentless emphasis, in Krapp’s Last Tape, on memory as the agent of negative retrospection on life has prompted many critics to construe the play in generically mimetic terms, and hence to interpret Krapp as the Beckettian version of Everyman. For example, according to Joseph Smith, the play treats ‘the question whether any life can be said to have been lived for other than naught’. According to Anthony Kubiak, the play consummates the mimetic tradition of ‘Western drama’, with respect to the inevitability of ‘pain, failure, and hopelessness’ in life. Daniel Katz transposes this universalizing tendency to a more theoretical plane, by interpreting Krapp in poststructuralist terms as a representation of ‘the interminable denial of subjective appropriation which makes up “Not I”.’ But to construe the play, in generically mimetic terms, as the representation of some aspect or quality universally applicable to human life is to construe Krapp’s plight, at age sixty-nine, as irreversibly inevitable, and not as one which could, by any means, be averted.

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