On Beckett – Krapp and Databases

Relational databases have been rationalized and implemented since the 1970s as the successor to traditional navigational based databases that computers originally used. Relational systems initially depended on content within the database rather than standard links. Within these relational systems would exist a key, or rather a piece of content that would exist across all tables within the database to string tables together. These relations would loop together when information is to be queried by a database navigator. This loop functions much like the tapes that Krapp uses to tap into his memories, rendering his collection a database, and his querying of information a search through tables or sound bytes to relay desired information.


Krapp’s only way to access his past is not by human function, but by machine technology and querying. Krapp, in essence can only recall through recording which denotes a complete reliance on technological innovation. Through normal limitations, databases function to store and present data, not interpret it. The human element to the database is to interpret the data through narrative, but what we are presented with instead is the database that “overtakes the interpretive abilities of Krapp himself” (Johnson, 216). His constant repetitions, requerying, and referencing to himself serve to show how Krapp is working only insofar as the technology is, relieving him of any human quality.Krapp's Last Tape

Krapp’s functions throughout the story reflect that of a database querying language rather than human operation. Structured Query Language or SQL is programming language designed for communication with databases. With SQL, databases aren’t limited to updates, but data can be retrieved as well through distinct queries. The main three functions that Krapp deploys during his initial search are the “select” function which invokes a column in a table, the “from” function which invokes the actual table, and the “where” function which invokes the condition of the data. Within the text, he begins with the following result “Box…thrree…spool…five” from his ledger of previously queried information (50). His selection process deals with the specific time that ends with “Farewell to- love” which would be invoked with the following query:

SELECT ‘tapes’
FROM ‘memories’
WHERE (event= ‘farewell to love’ AND time= ‘memorable equinox’)
OR (event= ‘mother at rest’ AND time= ‘memorable equinox’); (51).

Krapp is then provided with the content he initially queried for in his database of tapes. After he listens to his recollection of himself at thirty-nine, he then begins talking to himself but in doing so, he’s updating his database and creating a new tape record. When he’s recording, he’s simply using the following functions to append his database due to it being a reflection:

INSERT INTO ‘memories’ (tapes, event, time)
VALUES (‘virgin tape’, ‘farewell to love’, ‘equinox’);

Once he understands that he is overwriting his own memories with the same data at the end of his speech with the statement “Lie down across her,” he realizes that he must stop because his appending has ceased (57).

It is then towards the end of the story that Krapp’s function limits out once the data is fully presented. After Krapp’s former self notes the number of the tape and explains how he wouldn’t want his “best years back,” Krapp remains motionless and “the tape runs on in silence” (58). The data has then been given to Krapp through the successful query, and because the tape has finished and Krapp has no further queries, the system remains idle. Krapp’s functioning is solely within his own database and once he has no further queries to present data, his own functioning ceases rendering him dependent on technology and as a machine himself.

Beckett, Samuel. The Collected Shorter Plays. New York: Grove, 1984. Print.

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