Disconnected Voices, Displaced Bodies: The Dismembered Couple in Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape, Happy Days, and Play

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Author: Mary Catanzaro
Editor: Linda Pavlovski
Date: 2004
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 8,850 words

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[(essay date 1995) In the following essay, Catanzaro argues that the dismembered bodies of couples in Beckett's works are metaphors for the failure of communication in relationships.]

Beckett's plays of the late 1950's and the 1960's can be read as grotesque commentaries on unsatisfying personal relationships caused by failure in communication. Krapp's Last Tape,1 Happy Days,2 and Play3 address the full range of separateness and otherness which undermine accord in intimate relationships. Within the scaffolding of failure in speech, the physical impediments and emotional ruptures reveal the subjects as subverted, segregated, and grotesque selves.

One of the complications arising from speech is that the subjects become aware of a need for an other whose presence might offer some comfort to the multitude of their changing selves. The impasse, however, is never removed. In Krapp's Last Tape, Happy Days, and Play, the subjects most often fail to work through prior experiences with others that can be felt, but that cannot be fully articulated. Here, the voice's structure demonstrates finite time within infinity; what it says in effect is that to live is to repeat the fragments of one's past.

Beckett's interest in faulty communication in relationships, whatever its sources, was no doubt prompted by his fascination with the pathological, stemming perhaps from originary faults in language itself. When the spoken word shifts toward vacuous absurdity, as it does in Happy Days, confinement and minimal movement intensify bizarre speech. At other times, a text's sequences may be deliberately incomprehensible, as is evident in Play. One sees the significance of the grotesque in Krapp's cryptic words and idiosyncratic behaviors.

When trapped, and all else fails, the subjects tell themselves stories, marked by ambiguities. The texts do not follow the sequence of lived time; refusing forward movement, they contain little plot and less chronology. Rather, they interrupt rational habits of mind, breaking traditional responses and logical assumptions. An obsessive need to talk points to regression as part of the source of this relapse. To speak is to lie, and as a result, Krapp, Winnie, and the figures in Play echo a doctrine of guilt and suffering, all the while realizing the insufficiency of words. Winnie's speech is like a grave in the air as much as the earthen grave that buries her; her "lines" hint at incidents that are never clarified, producing even odder statements, such as, "What a curse, mobility!" (46). The figures in Play speak in clichés--a kind of cartoon language, excrescence of speech, in short, a jeremiad against married love. Krapp repeats himself in fits and starts, obsessed with hearing his voice on tape. He can confess only his seething sense of regret at his incapacity to master himself. Like those endowed with perfect pitch, he is gifted with a tormentingly acute sensibility--undisciplined, violent, fiendishly remorseful. Skulking around his den like a jackal, Krapp appears a hectoring crank who manages to produce both the masochistic harangues on his tapes and the biting acuity of an awareness in...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420056339