38 pages 1 hour read

Samuel Beckett


Fiction | Play | Adult | Published in 1957

A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more.

Summary and Study Guide


Endgame is a one-act, absurdist play by Samuel Beckett, first performed in 1957. The post-apocalyptic play portrays the farcical, tragic existence of four character who are caught in an unfulfilling routine. Beckett regarded the play as one of his greatest achievements. It has been adapted as an opera and as a short film.

This guide uses the 2009 Faber and Faber edition.

Plot Summary

The curtain rises on a nearly bare stage: a room in Hamm’s home, bathed in ominous gray light. Hamm is blind and cannot stand up. He sits in his wheelchair, shrouded in a white sheet. Along the back wall, there are two windows and an exit to the kitchen. Two garbage cans sit near Hamm’s wheelchair. Clov, who is Hamm’s servant and unable to sit down, enters. Hamm took Clov in as a child, and Clov has served as Hamm’s personal attendant ever since.

Clov acts out an apparently familiar routine, opening the curtains and removing Hamm’s sheet before exiting to the kitchen. Hamm is still asleep. When he wakes, he summons Clov, and the two men have a conversation about change and death. Hamm wonders why Clov simply doesn’t walk out the door and never come back. Clov insists he must stay because no one else is out there. At another point in the conversation, Hamm wonders why Clov does not kill him. Clov responds that he does not know the combination to the locked cupboard where the food is stored.

Hamm and Clov are not alone in the room. In the two garbage cans live Nagg and Nell, Hamm’s parents, who soon wake up. Nell is in a bad mood and refuses to kiss and scratch Nagg, so he tells her a convoluted joke that fails to amuse her in the way it once did. Both of them return, sullen and defeated, to their cans.

Hamm has Clov take him for a spin around the room. Once they have completed their tour, Clov puts Hamm back, but Hamm grows fixated on making sure his chair is in the precise center of the room. Hamm asks Clov to look out the window and explain what’s happening out in the world, but nothing is happening. The world outside remains a barren wasteland, hostile to life. All of this appears to be part of the daily routine that occupies Hamm and Clov’s time, because Clov soon expresses his frustration with the travesty their life together has become. Hamm responds by expressing his fear that the two of them are starting to form a meaningful relationship. As he talks, Clov finds a flea, which compels both men to fear that the flea will reproduce and repopulate the barren world with fleas. Ultimately, Clov kills the flea, much to Hamm’s relief.

Clov admits that he cannot leave Hamm. When Hamm asks Clov to kill him, Clov refuses, so Hamm instead asks him to fetch his stuffed dog. Hamm requests that Clov place the dog next to his wheelchair and position the toy in such a way that it looks like the dog is looking up at him. As Clov complies, he brings up something that happened at an indeterminate point in the past. He rails against Hamm for not giving lamp oil to an elderly lady named Mother Pegg, who is now dead, but Hamm denies the allegation.

Hamm reflects on a mentally unstable man he used to know. This man thought the world was all ashes; an idea Hamm thinks is common. They wonder how Hamm would know if Clov were to leave or to die in the other room. Clov promises that if he ever leaves, he will set an alarm clock to alert Hamm of his leaving. Hamm rouses Nagg from his trashcan to tell him the story of how Clov came to become a member of the household. Nagg only agrees to listen to the story if Hamm gives him a sugarplum. However, as Hamm’s story ends, Hamm says that they are out of sugarplums. Outraged, Nagg goes back to his can.

Later, Clov starts cleaning and putting the room in order, explaining that order is his dream. Hamm asks Clov to check on Nagg and Nell in their trashcans as he cleans. Clov does so, only to find Nell dead and Nagg weeping. Clov admits that he has never been happy. He moves Hamm’s wheelchair to the window because Hamm wants to feel the light. However, there is no light, so Hamm returns to the middle of the room. Straining for an optimistic sentiment, Hamm reflects that the end of the world has happened, and they’ve survived. Clov gets angry and hits Hamm with the stuffed dog.

Eventually, Clov goes to the window, where he spots a boy. Hamm asks Clov to give him some reassurance before leaving. Clov provides empty platitudes about happiness. Clov exits to the kitchen to get ready to depart. When Hamm subsequently summons him, he doesn’t reply. Then, Nagg does not reply. Hamm finds this sudden loneliness a good thing and he muses on what endings mean. He covers his face with a handkerchief as Clov watches, silently.