Kenneth Burke is an important figure in modern rhetorical criticism. Burke is responsible for the way we look at symbolic interaction as drama; this is called Dramatism.

Dramatism is a technique of analysis of language and thought as basically modes of action rather than as means of conveying information. Burke created this theory based on the idea that motivations for behavior are imprinted in the language we use and in how we use it.

A major concern of Burke's was motives. Burke wanted to understand the human motives behind the drama that is life.

We start with Burke's definition of Human:

Humans are symbol-using animals, inventors of the negative, separated from natural conditions by instruments of their own making, goaded by a spirit of hierarchy, and rotten with perfection.


PENTAD is an analytic mode that helps us to determine why (motives) a speaker used certain rhetorical strategies.

Penta-meaning 5, the PENTAD is composed of 5 parts. The 5 parts are: ACT, SCENE, AGENT, AGENCY, and PURPOSE. These 5 parts are a proverbial who what when where and why (and how) deal (not in that order).

ACT: What the agent, or speaker, does; the speech itself. The proverbial "what".

SCENE: Context surrounding the act; the rhetorical situation. The proverbial "where and when".

AGENT: This is the person performing the act; the speaker him or herself. The proverbial "who".

AGENCY: This is the proverbial "how".

PURPOSE: The goal of the agent, or speaker; this is the proverbial "why".

Depending on which parts of the PENTAD are analyzed, it can help us to understand more about the speakers motives. The PENTAD can be analyzed using whats known as the Pentadic Ratio.


The Pentadic Ratio is a ratio, made up of any two pieces of the PENTAD, that shows the dramatic relationship of the speech.

Common pentad ratios:

  • Scene/Act
  • Scene/Agent
  • Act/Agent
  • Act/Purpose
  • Agency/Purpose
  • Agent/Purpose


Burke says that human beings are separated by language. Identification is the overlap between the speaker and the audience that helps us to bridge this division. It involves the speaker's ability to connect to the audience and create this common ground to bridge the division. Burke says that wherever there is persuasion, there is rhetoric, and wherever there is meaning, there is persuasion. There are several ways to create identification.

One way to create identification is through the creation of a common enemy.