Pentadic Criticism Lecture and textbook notes detailing pentadic criticism, its origin, contributing theorists and how to analyse the artefact.
University of Waterloo
Rooted in work of Kenneth Burke, his concept of the pentad.
Method seeks to answer the question "What is involved when we say what people are doing and
why they are doing it?"
Also rooted in Burke's notion of dramatism, which is the label he gives to the analysis of human
motivation through terms derived from the study of drama. Two basic assumptions underlie
o Language use constitutes action, not motion. Motion corresponds to biological or animal
aspect of the human being which is concerned with bodily processes such as growth,
digestion, respiration etc. does not involve use of symbols and thus is nonsymbolic. Action
corresponds to neurological aspect of the human being, which Burke defines as the ability of
an organism to acquire language or a symbol system
o Human develop and present messages in the same way that a play is presented. Use rhetoric
to constitute and present a particular view of our situation. How we describe a situation
indicates how we are perceiving it
Three conditions for action
o Must involve freedom or choice.
o Must have a purpose.
o Must have motion. Motion can exist without action, but action can't exist without motion.
Symbolic activity or action is grounded in the realm of the nonsymbolic
Rhetors describe their situations using the five basic elements of drama: act (what), agent (who),
agency (how it's done), scene (where) and purpose (why). They constitute what Burke calls the
pentad and are used as principles or 'grammar' for describing a symbolic act fully.
o Sometimes includes attitudes as elements to be considered in an analysis of motivation.
Designates the manner in which means are employed. Attitude considered part of agent
Uses ratios that link the five terms in pairs as the mechanism for discovering the rhetor's motive in
o Ratio is a pairing of two of the key terms that allows a critic to discover the relationship
between them by analysing how the first term in the pair shapes understanding of the
second term. Motive is located in the term that controls the other term
Selecting an Artefact
Virtually any artefact is appropriate
Discursive or nondiscursive, doesn't matter, and length/complexity also doesn't matter
Based on broad assessment rather than close reading, may be better suited for artefacts of greater
Analysing the Artefact
Identify the five terms from the perspective of the rhetor
o Identification of the agent involves naming the group/individual who is the protagonist/main
character of the situation described in the artefact as presented by the rhetor