The pentad is an instrument for interpreting actual and potential
motives. For Burke, the pentad evolved as a dialectical device for “rounding” one’s perspective, for preventing one from limiting himself to a single perspective.
This model consists of five elements:
Example #1: This morning, Tom got so bothered by the lack of light in his living room that he grabbed a chainsaw and cut down the apple tree in front of the window.Act: Cutting down the apple tree
Scene: Morning (when), in the garden (where)
Agency: The chainsaw
Purpose: To let more light in
Example #2: Taking in summer guests was my parents’ way ofAct: Taking in summer guests
helping young academics revise a manuscript before
Agent: My parents
Purpose: To help young academics revise
The Pentad is most useful when we look for the relationships (ratios ) between the five terms. For example, let’s say that the topic is “students skipping classes”, a situation we can classify as primarily an act. We can now explain this action by creating the following ratios:
In the first class, the teacher embarrassed one of the
Act-Act: The act is the result of another act.
students, so the students felt entitled to skip classes.
Scene-Act: The act is the result of the setting and circumstances.The school is right beside a beach. Can you blame young people for being drawn away to admire the local scenery?
Agent-Act: the act is the result of the agent’s motivationThe students were lazy. That’s why they skipped classes on a regular basis.
Agency-Act: The act is the result of the available tools orSince no buses ran that early, the students couldn’t make use of public transport to get to class. That’s why many skipped classes on a regular basis.
The students skipped classes because skipping classes is fun.
Purpose-Act: The act is the result of a particular purpose.