Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.


The "endgame" of chess is the series of moves at the end of the game, one whose outcome is usually decided before the formality of the endgame occurs. Beckett was a chess player and, in Endgame, parallels the chess conceit to the endgame of life, in which death is the inevitable outcome. The characters—or players—enact repetitive rituals that are part of their endgame. Like a losing player who strains through the final moves even though his demise is imminent, the characters make routines out of their lives and do whatever it takes to get through one more day, even though the game has lost whatever appeal it may have once had. Beckett constructs the chess motif with movements on stage. Hamm, who sometimes utters the cryptic line, "Me to play," is the King, the most powerful and yet the most vulnerable piece on the board. His movement is restricted, and he relies on Clov for protection in the center. Clov might be considered the Queen, as he can move better than anyone else, but his erratic, staggering gait is better suited to the L-shaped movement of the Knight. At one point Hamm alludes to Shakespeare's equine-bartering Richard III when he declares "My kingdom for a night-man!" Since the night-man replaces Shakespeare's horse the allusive pun recalls a chess piece's capture. Night-man (knight) takes knight. Nagg and Nell are relatively valueless Pawns, appearing only when the King allows it. Nell's death hardly disturbs him. The chess motif amplifies Beckett's vision of a repetitive, cyclical universe: the play ends with a stalemate, a game no one has won that will be played again tomorrow.