27 pages 54 minutes read

Samuel Beckett

Krapp's Last Tape

Fiction | Play | Adult | Published in 1958

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Summary and Study Guide


Krapp’s Last Tape is a one-act, one-man play by Irish avant-garde writer Samuel Beckett. It was first performed in 1958. Krapp is elderly and emotionally depressed. It is his 69th birthday. To mark the occasion, Krapp first listens to a tape he made on his thirty-ninth birthday to record important events and thoughts of the past year.

Krapp sits at his desk but is facing away from it. Atop the desk are boxes containing reels of recorded tapes, a reel-to-reel tape recorder, and a microphone. After sitting for a moment, Krapp gets up and searches his pockets for his keys. Then he goes through his desk until he finds a banana, which he peels. Tossing the peel on the floor, he puts the banana in his mouth but does not bite or chew it. After a moment of stillness, he starts to pace while eating the banana.

After almost slipping on the discarded peel, he kicks it out of the way and continues pacing until he has consumed the entire banana. Then he looks through the desk for a second banana. Once more, he peels the banana and puts it in his mouth only to stand still, not eating it. An idea sparks, and he puts the banana in his pocket. Krapp walks into the shadows, a cork pops, and he returns a moment later with a ledger. He sits at his desk to review what he’s written.

He reads the ledger and checks the boxes and their contents repeatedly, going through tapes labeled “Mother at rest at last,” “the dark nurse,” and “memorable equinox.” Finally, he finds the tape he is looking for, titled “farewell to love.” He places the tape in the recorder and listens. His voice, younger, comes out of the recorder. Krapp adjusts in his seat to get comfortable and accidentally knocks over a box of tapes. This angers him, and he sweeps the desk clean of everything but the recorder. He then rewinds the tape to the beginning.

On the recorder, his younger self talks about eating three bananas and having to use restraint to keep from eating a fourth. He then discusses a neighbor who sings every day at a specific hour and how he is listening to another tape from another year about a decade earlier, when he was living with a woman named Bianca. The elderly Krapp laughs with his younger self. The taped, younger Krapp listens to himself talk about how often and how much he drank and about getting less involved romantically, while laughing at what he refers to as his youth, though on this tape-within-a-tape, Krapp is only in his twenties.

The elderly Krapp turns off the recorder and sits for a moment before leaving the stage. Corks pop one after the other. He sings for a moment and then comes back to listen some more. He restarts the tape but stops it right away to look up the word “viduity,” which he has heard on the tape. After he learns it means being a widow or widower, he plays the tape again. He hears his voice recalling a young woman who threatened to call the police if he tried to speak to her again. Elderly Krapp stops and restarts the tape again.

This time, his younger voice talks about playing with a dog, and a gloomy year. He remembers having a vision of his life’s meaning and announces that he will talk about it on the tape. The older Krapp fast-forwards this section.

Younger Krapp mentions that he saw an image of a lighthouse, which reminds him of something he wants to keep a secret. The elderly Krapp fast-forwards once more.

Next, the younger Krapp mentions being intimate with a woman, but he is about to stop recording so the elderly Krapp rewinds to listen to the whole story, which includes an afternoon stroll through the woods followed by having sex outside. Elderly Krapp stops the tape and looks through his pockets for the banana, considers it, and puts it back in his pocket. He leaves his desk to pour a drink and then returns to find another tape in the desk, which he plays.

Act III opens with a younger Krapp angry at his youngest self, whom he insults. He starts and stops the recording multiple times before talking about how a year means nothing now. He talks then about the little things that he likes, such as the word “spool.” He discusses getting some recognition with his writing, a woman named Fanny, and then going to church as a child. He sings a song from church and then reminisces about how he used to fall asleep during the service.

Younger Krapp questions whether it is worth it to make an effort in life. Elderly Krapp takes the tape out and throws it away, replacing it with an older tape, which he plays. It is the tape with the details of his intimate experience. At the end of the tape, younger Krapp wonders if his best years are behind him but decides he would not want them back. The play ends with elderly Krapp staring at nothing while the tape plays only silence.