Dramatistic pentad

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The dramatistic pentad forms the core structure of dramatism, a method for examining motivations that the renowned literary critic Kenneth Burke developed. Dramatism recommends the use of a metalinguistic approach to stories about human action that investigates the roles and uses of five rhetorical elements common to all narratives, each of which is related to a question. These five rhetorical elements form the "dramatistic pentad." Burke argues that an evaluation of the relative emphasis that is given to each of the five elements by a human drama enables a determination of the motive for the behaviour of its characters. A character's stress on one element over the others suggests their world view.

Burke introduced the pentad in his 1945 book "A Grammar of Motives". Burke based his pentad on the scholastic hexameter which defines "questions to be answered in the treatment of a topic: Who, what, where, by what means, why, how, when".[1] Burke created the pentad by combining several of the categories in the scholastic hexameter. The result was a pentad that has the five categories of: act, scene, agent, agency, and purpose. Burke states, "The 'who' is obviously covered by agent. Scene covers the 'where' and the 'when'. The 'why' is purpose. 'How' and 'by what means' fall under agency. All that is left to take care of is act in our terms and 'what' in the scholastic formula".[2]

The pentad also closely follows the journalistic 'Five Ws': who, what, when, where, why. 'Who' maps to agent. 'What' maps to action. 'When' and 'Where' map to scene. 'Why' maps to purpose. There is no direct mapping from the Five Ws to the pentads category of agency but Geoff Hart states "Some authorities add a sixth question, “how”, to this list, but “how to” information generally fits under what, where, or when, depending on the nature of the information." [3]

Rhetorical elements of the dramatistic pentad[edit]

The dramatistic pentad comprises the five rhetorical elements:


Act, which is associated with dramatic action verbs and answers the question "what?", is related to the world view of realism; What happened? What is the action? What is going on? What action; what thoughts?


Scene, which is associated with the setting of an act and answers the questions "when?" and "where?", is related to the world view of materialism and minimal or non-existent free will.


Agent, which answers the question "by whom?", reflects the world view of philosophical idealism.


Agency (means), which is associated with the person or the organization that committed the deed and answers the question "how?", implies a pragmatic point of view.


Purpose, which is associated with meaning and answers the question "why?", indicates that the agent seeks unity through identification with an ultimate meaning of life. Reflects the world view of mysticism.



  1. ^ Burke, Kenneth. "A Grammar of Motives". University of California Press, 1969, p. 228
  2. ^ Burke, Kenneth. "A Grammar of Motives". University of California Press, 1969, p. 228.
  3. ^ "The Five Ws of Online Help". by Geoff Hart, TECHWR-L. Retrieved April 30, 2012.
  4. ^ "The Five Ws of Online Help Systems" by Geoff Hart, TECHWR-L. Retrieved April 30, 2012.[1]