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Chapter Outlines
10th Edition

From the Instructors Manual


List mode: Normal (click on theory name to show detail) | Show All details | Clear details

Chapter 23—Dramatism

  1. Introduction.
    1. For Kenneth Burke, words are first and foremost action—symbolic action.
    2. For Burke and other rhetorical critics, a critic is one who carefully analyzes the language that speakers and authors use.
    3. They try to discern the motivations behind their messages—and often these motivations aren’t obvious.
    4. Burke devoted his career to developing vocabulary and methods that help theorists understand the connection between the symbols speakers use and their motives for speaking in the first place.
    5. Burke rejected the commonly held notion that communication is primarily a process of message transmission.
    6. The transmission approach treats communication as just one part of the realm of motion, where things move according to cause-and-effect laws without meaning or purpose.
    7. Unlike animals, humans possess the capacity to engage in intentional action.
    8. This ability to plan and act arises from our ability to use symbols. Thus, when we speak, we’re engaging in symbolic action—using words to give life to particular motives and pursue particular goals.
    9. Burke coined the umbrella term dramatism to describe “a technique of analysis of language and thought as basically modes of action rather than as means of conveying information.”
    10. The nature of language itself leads us to believe that something is wrong with the world. And if something is wrong, somebody or something needs to pay the price to make things right.
  2. Language as the genesis of guilt
    1. Burke regarded our capacity for language as the source of our downfall. That’s because language introduced the negative.
    2. We couldn’t have laws without the negative.
    3. Man-made language gives us the capacity to create rules and standards for behavior that Burke called the “thou shalt nots” of life.
    4. Burke uses guilt as his catchall term to cover every form of tension, anxiety, embarrassment, shame, disgust, and other noxious feelings he believed inherent in human symbol-using activity.
    5. Burke reiterates that it’s only through man-made language that the possibility of choice comes into being.
    6. Burke suggests that our inventions—language and all the tools developed with language—cause us grief.
    7. The final phrase of Burke’s “Definition of Man,” which is “rotten with perfection,” is an example of what Burke called perspective by incongruity, or the linking of two dissonant ideas in order to provide shocking new insight.
    8. Perspective by incongruity shocks our sensibilities but helps us see things from a different angle.
  3. The guilt-redemption cycle: A universal motive for rhetoric
    1. The ultimate motivation of all public speaking is to purge ourselves of guilt.
    2. Rhetoric is the public search for someone or something to blame, the quest for a perfect scapegoat.
    3. The “devil term” sums up all that the speaker regards as bad, wrong, or evil.
    4. The “god terms” are the words that sum up all that the speaker regards as righteous and good.
    5. Devil- and god-terms reveal another aspect of Burke’s theory: his frequent use of religious language.
    6. He regarded theology as a field that has fine-tuned its use of language, and he urged the social critic to look for secular equivalents of the major religious themes of guilt, purification, and redemption.
    7. Burke said that the speaker or author has two possible ways of offloading guilt.
      1. The first option is to purge guilt through self-blame.
      2. Described theologically as mortification, this route requires confession of sin and a request for forgiveness.
      3. Since self-blame (or mortification) is difficult to admit publicly, it’s easier to blame someone else.
      4. Victimage is the process of designating an external enemy as the source of all our ills.
  4. Identification: Without it, there is no persuasion.
    1. Identification is the common ground that exists between speaker and audience.
      1. Substance describes a person’s physical characteristics, talents, occupation, friends, experiences, personality, beliefs, and attitudes.
      2. The more overlap between the substance of the speaker and the substance of the audience, the greater the identification.
      3. Although social scientists use the term homophily to describe perceived similarity between speaker and listener, Burke preferred religious language—identification is consubstantiation.
    2. One of the most common ways for speakers to identify with audiences is to lash out at whatever or whomever people fear.
    3. Audiences sense a joining of interests through style as much as through content.
    4. He was more interested in examining rhetoric after the fact to discover what motivates the speaker.
  5. The dramatistic pentad: A lens for interpreting symbolic action.
    1. Burke’s dramatistic pentad enables the critic to dig beneath surface impressions in order to identify the complex motives of a speaker or writer.
      1. The act is the most important element of the pentad, “foremost among the equals.” The act is what was done.
      2. The agent is the person or kind of person who performed the act.
      3. The agency is the procedure, means, or instruments used to perform the act.
      4. The scene is the background of the act, the environment in which it occurred.
      5. The purpose is the implied or stated motive of the act.
    2. The five elements of the pentad usually refer to the act described within the speech rather than the act of giving the speech.
    3. If we identify with the drama, then we’re persuaded, and the symbolic action worked
  6. Ratio: The relative importance of each part of the pentad.
    1. Burke associated each part of the pentad with a corresponding philosophy.
      1. An emphasis on act demonstrates a commitment to realism.
      2. An emphasis on agent is consistent with idealism.
      3. An emphasis on agency springs from the mind-set of pragmatism.
      4. An emphasis on scene downplays free will and reflects an attitude of situational determinism.
      5. An emphasis on purpose suggests the concerns of mysticism.
    2. The ratio of importance between individual pairs of terms in the dramatistic pentad indicates which element provides the best clue to the speaker’s motivation.
    3. The critic can start by identifying the two elements of the pentad most heavily emphasized in the speech. These two elements create the dominant ratio that provides the most insight into the speaker’s motivations.
  7. Critique: Evaluating the critic’s analysis.
    1. Burke was perhaps the foremost twentieth-century rhetorician.
    2. His ideas are tested through qualitative research from a strong community of agreement.
    3. He provided a creative and new understanding of people.
    4. But some scholars don’t think he did enough to clarify values or reform society.
    5. Perhaps the greatest weakness of dramatism is this: Burke isn’t an easy read.
    6. Although Burke’s followers think he was brilliant, it’s hard to argue that his writings have aesthetic appeal.
    7. Burke has done us all a favor by celebrating the life-giving quality of language.

You can access the Outline for a particular chapter in several ways:

  • Switch to View by Theory, then select the desired theory/chapter from the drop-down list at the top of the page. Look in the list of available resources.
  • To quickly find a theory by chapter number, use the Table of Contents and link from there. It will take you directly to the theory with available options highlighted.
  • You can also use the Theory List, which will take you directly to the theory with available options highlighted.

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Resources
by Type




 OUTLINES


 VIDEOS


 ESSAY


 LINKS





Instructors can get
additional resources.
Read more

New to Theory
Resources?

Find out more
in this short
video overview
(3:01).

Chapter Outlines
10th Edition

From the Instructors Manual


List mode: Normal (click on theory name to show detail) | Show All details | Clear details

Chapter 23—Dramatism

  1. Introduction.
    1. For Kenneth Burke, words are first and foremost action—symbolic action.
    2. For Burke and other rhetorical critics, a critic is one who carefully analyzes the language that speakers and authors use.
    3. They try to discern the motivations behind their messages—and often these motivations aren’t obvious.
    4. Burke devoted his career to developing vocabulary and methods that help theorists understand the connection between the symbols speakers use and their motives for speaking in the first place.
    5. Burke rejected the commonly held notion that communication is primarily a process of message transmission.
    6. The transmission approach treats communication as just one part of the realm of motion, where things move according to cause-and-effect laws without meaning or purpose.
    7. Unlike animals, humans possess the capacity to engage in intentional action.
    8. This ability to plan and act arises from our ability to use symbols. Thus, when we speak, we’re engaging in symbolic action—using words to give life to particular motives and pursue particular goals.
    9. Burke coined the umbrella term dramatism to describe “a technique of analysis of language and thought as basically modes of action rather than as means of conveying information.”
    10. The nature of language itself leads us to believe that something is wrong with the world. And if something is wrong, somebody or something needs to pay the price to make things right.
  2. Language as the genesis of guilt
    1. Burke regarded our capacity for language as the source of our downfall. That’s because language introduced the negative.
    2. We couldn’t have laws without the negative.
    3. Man-made language gives us the capacity to create rules and standards for behavior that Burke called the “thou shalt nots” of life.
    4. Burke uses guilt as his catchall term to cover every form of tension, anxiety, embarrassment, shame, disgust, and other noxious feelings he believed inherent in human symbol-using activity.
    5. Burke reiterates that it’s only through man-made language that the possibility of choice comes into being.
    6. Burke suggests that our inventions—language and all the tools developed with language—cause us grief.
    7. The final phrase of Burke’s “Definition of Man,” which is “rotten with perfection,” is an example of what Burke called perspective by incongruity, or the linking of two dissonant ideas in order to provide shocking new insight.
    8. Perspective by incongruity shocks our sensibilities but helps us see things from a different angle.
  3. The guilt-redemption cycle: A universal motive for rhetoric
    1. The ultimate motivation of all public speaking is to purge ourselves of guilt.
    2. Rhetoric is the public search for someone or something to blame, the quest for a perfect scapegoat.
    3. The “devil term” sums up all that the speaker regards as bad, wrong, or evil.
    4. The “god terms” are the words that sum up all that the speaker regards as righteous and good.
    5. Devil- and god-terms reveal another aspect of Burke’s theory: his frequent use of religious language.
    6. He regarded theology as a field that has fine-tuned its use of language, and he urged the social critic to look for secular equivalents of the major religious themes of guilt, purification, and redemption.
    7. Burke said that the speaker or author has two possible ways of offloading guilt.
      1. The first option is to purge guilt through self-blame.
      2. Described theologically as mortification, this route requires confession of sin and a request for forgiveness.
      3. Since self-blame (or mortification) is difficult to admit publicly, it’s easier to blame someone else.
      4. Victimage is the process of designating an external enemy as the source of all our ills.
  4. Identification: Without it, there is no persuasion.
    1. Identification is the common ground that exists between speaker and audience.
      1. Substance describes a person’s physical characteristics, talents, occupation, friends, experiences, personality, beliefs, and attitudes.
      2. The more overlap between the substance of the speaker and the substance of the audience, the greater the identification.
      3. Although social scientists use the term homophily to describe perceived similarity between speaker and listener, Burke preferred religious language—identification is consubstantiation.
    2. One of the most common ways for speakers to identify with audiences is to lash out at whatever or whomever people fear.
    3. Audiences sense a joining of interests through style as much as through content.
    4. He was more interested in examining rhetoric after the fact to discover what motivates the speaker.
  5. The dramatistic pentad: A lens for interpreting symbolic action.
    1. Burke’s dramatistic pentad enables the critic to dig beneath surface impressions in order to identify the complex motives of a speaker or writer.
      1. The act is the most important element of the pentad, “foremost among the equals.” The act is what was done.
      2. The agent is the person or kind of person who performed the act.
      3. The agency is the procedure, means, or instruments used to perform the act.
      4. The scene is the background of the act, the environment in which it occurred.
      5. The purpose is the implied or stated motive of the act.
    2. The five elements of the pentad usually refer to the act described within the speech rather than the act of giving the speech.
    3. If we identify with the drama, then we’re persuaded, and the symbolic action worked
  6. Ratio: The relative importance of each part of the pentad.
    1. Burke associated each part of the pentad with a corresponding philosophy.
      1. An emphasis on act demonstrates a commitment to realism.
      2. An emphasis on agent is consistent with idealism.
      3. An emphasis on agency springs from the mind-set of pragmatism.
      4. An emphasis on scene downplays free will and reflects an attitude of situational determinism.
      5. An emphasis on purpose suggests the concerns of mysticism.
    2. The ratio of importance between individual pairs of terms in the dramatistic pentad indicates which element provides the best clue to the speaker’s motivation.
    3. The critic can start by identifying the two elements of the pentad most heavily emphasized in the speech. These two elements create the dominant ratio that provides the most insight into the speaker’s motivations.
  7. Critique: Evaluating the critic’s analysis.
    1. Burke was perhaps the foremost twentieth-century rhetorician.
    2. His ideas are tested through qualitative research from a strong community of agreement.
    3. He provided a creative and new understanding of people.
    4. But some scholars don’t think he did enough to clarify values or reform society.
    5. Perhaps the greatest weakness of dramatism is this: Burke isn’t an easy read.
    6. Although Burke’s followers think he was brilliant, it’s hard to argue that his writings have aesthetic appeal.
    7. Burke has done us all a favor by celebrating the life-giving quality of language.

You can access the Outline for a particular chapter in several ways:

  • Switch to View by Theory, then select the desired theory/chapter from the drop-down list at the top of the page. Look in the list of available resources.
  • To quickly find a theory by chapter number, use the Table of Contents and link from there. It will take you directly to the theory with available options highlighted.
  • You can also use the Theory List, which will take you directly to the theory with available options highlighted.

Back to top



The screen on this device is not wide enough to display Theory Resources. Try rotating the device to landscape orientation to see if more options become available.
Resources available to all users:

  • Theory Overview—abstract of each chapter
  • Self-Help Quizzes—for student preparation
  • Chapter Outlines
  • Key Names—important names and terms in each chapter
  • Conversation Videos—interviews with theorists
  • Application Logs—student application of theories
  • Essay Questions—for student prepatation
  • Suggested Movie Clips—tie-in movie scenese to theories
  • Links—web resources related to each chapter
  • Primary Sources—for each theory with full chapter coverage
  • Further Resources—bibliographic and other suggestions
  • Changes—for each theory, since the previous edition
  • Theory Archive—PDF copies from the last edition in which a theory appeared

Resources available only to registered instructors who are logged in:

  • Discussion Suggestions
  • Exercises & Activities
  • PowerPoint® presentations you can use
  • Short Answer Quizzes—suggested questions and answers
  • Compare Texts—comparison of theories covered in A First Look and ten other textbooks

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