Burke's Pentad: an Analysis of Rhetorical Persuasion

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About this sample

About this sample


Words: 680 |

Page: 1|

4 min read

Published: Feb 7, 2024

Words: 680|Page: 1|4 min read

Published: Feb 7, 2024

Table of contents

  1. Burke's Pentad
  2. Application of Burke's Pentad
  3. Critique of Burke's Pentad
  4. Conclusion

Communication plays a crucial role in shaping people's views and opinions. Whether it's a political speech or a commercial advertisement, the way messages are delivered can significantly impact how they are received. This is where rhetorical analysis comes in. Rhetorical analysis is the study of how language is used to persuade an audience. One of the most popular methods of rhetorical analysis is Burke's Pentad, developed by Kenneth Burke, a renowned literary critic and theorist. This essay will explore Burke's Pentad, its importance in rhetorical analysis, its application, its limitations, and alternative methods of analysis.

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Burke's Pentad

Burke's Pentad is a method of rhetorical analysis that involves examining five elements of a message to understand how it persuades the audience. The five elements are act, scene, agent, agency, and purpose.

Act refers to the action or event being described in the message. For example, in a political speech, the act might be a proposed policy change.

Scene refers to the context in which the act occurs. It involves understanding the physical, social, and cultural environment in which the message is delivered. For example, the scene of a political speech might be a rally or a debate.

Agent refers to the person or group responsible for the act. In a political speech, the agent might be a politician or a political party.

Agency refers to the means by which the act is carried out. It involves understanding the techniques or strategies used to persuade the audience. For example, a politician might use statistics or emotional appeals to persuade the audience.

Purpose refers to the reason or motivation behind the act. In a political speech, the purpose might be to gain support for a particular policy or to win an election.

Application of Burke's Pentad

To understand how Burke's Pentad works, let's analyze a commercial advertisement. The ad is for a new brand of shampoo that promises to make hair smoother and shinier. The act is the use of the shampoo, and the scene is a woman getting ready for a first date. The agent is the woman using the shampoo, and the agency is the use of before-and-after images to demonstrate the effectiveness of the shampoo. The purpose is to persuade women that using this shampoo will make them more attractive and confident on a date.

By using Burke's Pentad, we can see how each element contributes to the effectiveness of the advertisement. The scene of a first date creates a sense of excitement and anticipation, which makes the viewer more receptive to the message. The agent, a woman using the shampoo, makes the product relatable and trustworthy. The agency, the use of before-and-after images, provides visual evidence of the product's effectiveness. The purpose, to make women more attractive and confident, appeals to the audience's desire for self-improvement.

Critique of Burke's Pentad

While Burke's Pentad is a useful tool for understanding how messages are constructed, it has some limitations. For example, it is not always clear how to distinguish between the elements. Sometimes, an element might overlap with another, which makes the analysis less precise. Additionally, the pentad does not take into account the audience's perspective or the cultural context in which the message is received.

To complement the pentad, alternative methods of analysis can be used. One such method is the rhetorical situation, which takes into account the audience's expectations, attitudes, and beliefs, as well as the historical and cultural context in which the message is delivered. Another method is the narrative paradigm, which focuses on the storytelling elements of a message, such as plot, character, and theme.

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In conclusion, Burke's Pentad is a valuable tool for analyzing how messages are constructed and how they persuade the audience. By examining the act, scene, agent, agency, and purpose of a message, we can understand how the message is intended to be received and how it might affect the audience. However, the pentad has some limitations and must be complemented with other methods of analysis to provide a more complete understanding of how messages work. By using a variety of analytical methods, we can become more informed and critical consumers of the messages that surround us.

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This essay was reviewed by
Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

Cite this Essay

Burke’s Pentad: An Analysis of Rhetorical Persuasion. (2023, February 07). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 25, 2024, from
“Burke’s Pentad: An Analysis of Rhetorical Persuasion.” GradesFixer, 07 Feb. 2023,
Burke’s Pentad: An Analysis of Rhetorical Persuasion. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 25 Feb. 2024].
Burke’s Pentad: An Analysis of Rhetorical Persuasion [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2023 Feb 07 [cited 2024 Feb 25]. Available from:
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