Date of Award


Thesis Type

Open Access

Degree Name

Master of Liberal Studies


Philip F. Deaver

Second Advisor

Steve Phelan


Originally conducted primarily as a game of war and strategy, chess has evolved to reflect historical developments in Western civilization as well as inspired literary and artistic endeavors in such a fashion as to provide comment, often as metaphor, on the human condition and our place in a cosmos influenced as frequently by chance as by order. The evolution of the game itself, particularly the promotion of a weak and relatively unimportant piece to the most powerful, at a time when a similar shift was taking place in the real world, ensured its survival as it served as an educational tool, an entertainment, and a method for developing military strategy. At the same time, chess has provided inspiration for writers, artists, and filmmakers, whether on the sidelines or as part of the general composition, or providing more substantial thematic and/or metaphorical material. Finally, it is a reflection of humanity’s place in the cosmos altogether. The constantly shifting balance between order and chaos, and its effect on the human condition, is perpetually subject to randomness, introducing choice into the equation: a choice between options which may lead to chaos or order depending on the human element. The Chess Players is a novel-in-stories which are connected by themes involving the role of the queen in chess; tradition—both in a family context and on a larger, social scale; the significance of random chance, giving imagination and intuition the opportunity to take advantage of it; and a tinge of feminism: Irina Orzeł, arriving in a café on an early spring day, with its intimation of something new pending in the air, brings a sea-change to the denizens of an all-male chess club while undergoing a transformation of sorts of her own. The accompanying collection of essays, “A Game For All Reasons: Musings on the Interdisciplinary Nature of Chess,” discusses the evolution of the modern chess queen; Geoffrey Chaucer’s use of chess and fortune in the Book of the Duchess and the Knight’s Tale; and the influence of chess on modernist Marcel Duchamp, who incorporated improvisation and chance into his idiosyncratic fusion of chess-as-art, and surrealist Samuel Bak, whose Jewish heritage and views on war and the human condition inform his paintings, using chess to portray both the devastation of the former and his hope for the latter.

wolfson_gameessay.pdf (2205 kB)
A Game For All Reasons: Musings on the Interdisciplinary Nature of Chess