Krapp’s Last Tape by Samuel Beckett
Remarks by HE Dr Eamonn McKee, Ambassador of Ireland
Without doubt, Samuel Beckett is a colossus of 20th century literature. Paradoxically he is one of literature’s most distinctive voices yet his themes are the most universal: existence, awareness, memory, the nature of self and the ineffable quality of reality.
Paradoxically too Beckett is both a recognisably Irish writer in his characters and experiences and words. Yet, he sought to sublimate this Irishness on a wider, unnameable and infinitely more universal canvas.
If the origin of the universe is the big bang, the origin of Beckett as a writer is what he called ‘the disaster’. If reality was unreliable, and if consciousness seeking certainty of itself could only achieve uncertainty, then this was a disaster.
The only possible negotiation of this was in the act of writing. Only writing could bridge the gap between the bearable and the impossible; between ‘I can’t go on’ and ‘I must go on.’
In his writing, Beckett is detached from his characters but in a benign way. He is a forgiving God in his universe. It is we who judge ourselves. In Krapp’s Last Tape, Beckett has his character use recordings to listen to and to cast judgement on his younger self or younger selves. But he is in fact casting judgement on himself, on his life. Does he find redemption or condemnation in these encounters?
We cannot escape the question, would we?
Beckett moved seamlessly from prose to the theatre. The theatre offered him one thing that prose could not – silence. Beckett is probably the greatest exponent of the tension between the spoken word and silence.
More than that, as the great Irish literary critic Seamus Deane has observed in his wonderful précis of Beckett in Field Day Anthology III, the stage for Beckett offered tangibility. Because of this tangibility, Beckett was famously exacting about the quality and precision of the theatrical performances of his work.
Again prose could not offer this: Drama provided physical characters in the form of the actors themselves: The stage offered a reliable three dimensional space. And the performance provided measured time, real time. Where all of these could slip into nothingness in prose, on the stage they were actualised.
However, in their actualisation, Beckett wanted exactitude. In drama, Beckett was the composer and conductor. The actors were the instruments of his words. The whole production was the realisation of the world he was creating. As his instruments, actors must achieve precision of timing and quality of tone, just as the director must find exactitude of intention.
Only the most committed of directors and actors dare to perform Beckett. Only the greatest directors and actors can achieve this. With certainty of just such achievement, I am honoured to welcome you to this performance.
I would like to thank Prof. Linda Ben Zvi for her enormous commitment in sustaining this annual event. This year it is a very special one thanks to her inspiration. I would also like to thank Rina Yerushalmi, one of Israel’s most renowned directors and Doron Tavori, one of Israel’s most accomplished stage actors, for making this evening’s event possible. Thanks too to ITIM Theatre Ensemble for their enthusiastic support from the outset. I would like to acknowledge the support of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for its financial grant and Guinness for their support in a different form of liquidity!