How to act dramatic

You have been asked to read a story to an audience. Whether you are reading your own work or a story by a famous author, there is a lot more involved than just opening the book and reading aloud. A little preparation can ensure that your reading of the story is as memorable as the story itself.

Select a story. Make sure it is one that your audience can appreciate with a structure that will be easy to understand.

Analyze the story. In order to convey the story to your audience, you must thoroughly understand it. Read it several times. See if other writers and critics have written about the story.

Act each part. Each character with dialogue has a different way of speaking. The narrator also has a speaking style. Practice reading your story, acting the part of each character. Be excited when the character is excited, pause when the character would pause. Remember that it is a dramatic reading–it is your job to be dramatic!

Build toward the climax. Begin and end the story with low energy and make sure that your biggest gestures and loudest volume occur at the climax of the story.

Rehearse. You should know the story well enough that you can look up from the book and make eye contact with the audience without getting lost. Practice your gestures until they seem natural. You may want to record your rehearsal to see how you look and sound.

Perform the reading. Do not let nervousness make you forget all your hard work in preparing for the reading. Take a deep breath and a sip of water, then begin.

Give a short introduction to the story and the author before beginning to read.

If you elect to hold the book while reading, cradle it in one hand and use the other to gesture.

The bigger the audience is, the bigger your gestures will need to be. You will also need to read more slowly.

Things You’ll Need

  • Water
  • Text of your story
  • Give a short introduction to the story and the author before beginning to read.
  • If you elect to hold the book while reading, cradle it in one hand and use the other to gesture.
  • The bigger the audience is, the bigger your gestures will need to be. You will also need to read more slowly.

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How to act dramatic

You smile as your three-year-old darts past you, declaring he’s a pirate stranded on a desert island—also known as the pile of pillows he stacked up in the living room. His siblings trail behind, each wearing an array of dress-up clothes and choosing a swashbuckling pirate identity for themselves.

Your kids’ pirate adventures may just seem like some simple afternoon of fun, but they’re actually engaging in a positive learning experience called dramatic play. You may have heard of dramatic play before, but you’re not quite sure what it is or why it matters for your kids.

Something as simple as an hour of pretend playtime may not seem important, but dramatic play offers proven benefits in children’s cognitive learning, according to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). We have the scoop on what dramatic play entails, why it matters and how you can encourage this activity with your kids.

What is dramatic play?

Dramatic play may sound like a fancy educational term, but it’s something you’re probably already familiar with. “Dramatic play, also called pretend play, involves acting out real-world situations and taking on the roles of different characters,” says Lily Jones, former kindergarten teacher and founder of Curiosity Pack.

“Children use dramatic play to explore their own thoughts & feelings.”

There are two types of dramatic play: structured and unstructured. Unstructured dramatic play gives children the freedom to choose their own roles and play scenarios. Structured dramatic play, on the other hand, has specific guidelines, according to Child Care Exchange. Children are presented with a pre-determined scenario and then must make choices and discover solutions.

Both structured and unstructured dramatic play are important for your children’s emotional and social development. Maybe you remember dramatic play from your own childhood as “make-believe” or “playing house.” Whatever you want to call it, it’s an important opportunity for kids to act out scenarios from the real world and fictional lands alike.

5 reasons why dramatic play is important

Dramatic play is an integral part of a child’s social, emotional and cognitive development, according to NAEYC. Here are five important aspects of dramatic play:

1. Dramatic play teaches self-regulation

Toddlers and preschoolers are known for acting impulsively, but dramatic play is a positive stepping stone toward self-regulation. NAEYC notes that children tend to be highly motivated to follow rules and stick to the roles of the play. This helps them grow in their ability to inhibit their impulses, coordinate with others and make plans.

2. Dramatic play gives children an emotional outlet

Dramatic play allows kids to act out scenarios they’ve seen or heard in real life, giving them an important emotional outlet. “Young children do not yet think internally,” explains Barbara E. Harvey, executive director of Parents, Teachers and Advocates. “Children use dramatic play to explore their own thoughts and feelings.”

This is especially important for children who have seen something upsetting or scary in their daily lives. Dramatic play gives them an opportunity to sort through difficult emotions and “practice being in the world,” according to Jones.

3. Dramatic play teaches conflict resolution

Both unstructured and structured dramatic play offer teachable moments about conflict resolution. Disagreements between children will crop up naturally during unstructured dramatic play, which offers a chance for kids to work through their differences and arrange a compromise.

Dramatic play encourages children to resolve conflict, consider alternative perspectives and recognize the various roles and responsibilities individuals have in our society, according to Child Care Exchange. Structured dramatic play encourages children to consider a specific problem and propose their own solutions.

4. Dramatic play supports literacy

Dramatic play provides a prime opportunity for kids to see “functional print”—like newspapers, signs or menus—in action, according to Scholastic. Kids who are playing grocery store, for example, will be exposed to text in the form of a shopping list, coupons and a checkout receipt. This gives them a chance to gain firsthand experience with the many ways we use text in everyday life.

Dramatic play can also increase reading comprehension. Kids often choose to act out scenes from a favorite storybook. This gives them a deeper understanding of the narrative structure and character motivations found in familiar stories.

5. Dramatic play allows you to support your kids and encourage their ideas

Like we said above, kids process their inner thoughts and emotions externally through dramatic play. That means you can learn a lot about what makes your kids happy, scared or frustrated just through observing their pretend play.

The next time you see your kids acting as pirates, firefighters or chefs, pay attention. This is your chance to foster ideas by asking open-ended questions or to help your kids work through difficult emotions, Harvey says.

How can you encourage dramatic play?

Now you know dramatic play is important, but how can you incorporate it into your kids’ schedule? The answer is easier than you might think. Kids naturally gravitate toward dramatic play, so they only need a little encouragement from you before they’ll be off and running.

Start a dress-up box filled with scarves, hats and other props that children can use as costumes, Harvey suggests. These don’t have to be full-blown Halloween costumes – keep it simple to let them use their imaginations! If you have the space, you should also try to make a designated area for dramatic play, Jones recommends. Fill this space with props like paper and pencils, blankets, cardboard boxes and other items that children can put to use in unstructured pretend play.

And don’t forget to build free time into your kids’ day! They can’t initiate dramatic play if their schedules are filled to the brim with other activities.

Ready, set, PLAY!

Now that you know what dramatic play is and why it matters, you have everything you need to encourage this important type of play in your kids’ lives.

If you love supporting your kids in their dramatic play adventures, you might be destined to help other kids in a career as a teacher! Find out why you should consider becoming a teacher today!

This article, more than most others I have written, requires a disclaimer. Below is a group of dangerous ideas regarding how I believe actors can use their eyes as a storytelling tool. It is not based on a method of acting. It is not a guaranteed way to be a better actor. In fact, consciously trying to do anything with your eyes while acting will probably make you worse. Much worse. So please read with caution.

Eye contact

One of the biggest mistakes early career actors make is maintaining excessive amounts of eye contact with their scene partner. I get it. Your acting coach has told you over and over again that “Acting is about listening.” And it is! But it’s also about responding to what you hear. We respond with our voices, bodies, and eyes.

Allow yourself to break eye contact while listening and responding, it’s natural.

Rehearsal exercise: Find the keywords in your partner’s dialogue that prompt you to respond; avoid eye contact until you hear them.

Conversely, don’t shy away from eye contact. A sure sign of bad acting is when an actor darts their eyes constantly and can’t commit to what they are thinking about. Don’t be afraid of being direct. Clear thoughts will lead to clear acting, let your eyes take care of themselves.

How to act dramatic


Directors often say “Just have the thought.”. This is intended to allow actors to let their body, face, and eyes respond naturally to whatever is happening in the scene. But how do you “Just have the thought.’?

Breath: Take the focus of reacting off your eyes and into your body. As humans we organically respond to new information with our breath.

Emotion: How do you feel about what you’ve just heard? Don’t sit in that feeling, but allow it to inform your next move. Your eyes will follow.

Focus: I often see actors staring at a prop or person, not breathing, trying to force an emotional response out of their body and on to the stage. Try shifting your gaze from your scene partner, to a prop, and back again. You might find that the small change generates something interesting in your performance.


An actor’s eyes are a powerful tool for endowing other characters with status. If you are playing a servant, consider avoiding eye contact with your master until it is absolutely necessary. If you are playing a master, consider only making eye contact with those you believe are of equal status. If a character is beautiful, you might look at them in awe, or jealousy could make make you look away. Remember to keep these choices functional so that your performance doesn’t become self indulgent and ruin the story.


Your eyes are the gateway to your soul. They are also a murky pathway to abhorred acting. Make sure you are confident in holding eye contact, but don’t overthink it. Like with most acting training, there is a period of self awareness, but then you have to let it go. Don’t get caught up thinking about your eyes, you’re insecure enough.

Show us your new found skills

Learn something interesting about eye contact in this article? Well show us what you learnt in our coaching club. Every month we get members to submit work to us and receive personal feedback on the scenes or monologue you choose to submit. Its all online so you can take our classes with industry experts and live masterclasses from anywhere, as long as you have an internet connect you can keep training as an actor.

How to act dramatic

She flies off the handle, demands your total attention and bursts into tears for what seems like no reason. She’s your girlfriend, and she’s a drama queen. Unless you’re ready to walk away, understanding how to handle her over-the-top antics can improve your relationship and help her to overcome her attitude issues. Even though drama queens often have an appealing sense of charisma, they’re also narcissistic and emotionally over-reactive. While giving in and just accepting her outlandish actions may seem the easiest route to take, this will only enable her behavior.

Step 1

Assess the relationship to determine if you really want to stay in it. If you’ve just gotten together or are casually dating, you may not be close or committed enough to make handling her drama worth your while. If the two of you are already in love — or the possibility is real and on the horizon — working on her behavior can turn your relationship from drama-filled to a more calm type of constant.

Step 2

Keep your calm. Drama queens feed on the energy or emotionally-charged situation that they create. Maintaining your composure doesn’t give your dramatic girlfriend the effect that she’s looking for. If you’re in a group situation, keep the peace and maintain your composure. Screaming at her to “Quit it” may make matters worse. For example, she’s hysterically huffing that she thinks you’re looking at the other women in a flirty way when you’re out at a club. Breathe in and calmly redirect her attention elsewhere. Reassure her that she’s your queen — not mentioning the word drama in that sentence — and move her on to the dance floor.

Step 3

Define specific boundaries. Dramatic people often need firm limits, according to clinical professor of psychology Judith Orloff on the Psychology Today website. Doing so can help you to handle the mayhem that may result from your girlfriend’s dramatic behavior. For example, your girl constantly calls you from work, crying and asking you to pick her up because her boss is so mean that she has to leave early. First, make sure that she is just being dramatic and that her boss isn’t actually out-of-line. If this is the case, firmly — but nicely — explain that her boss is supposed to tell her what to do and that you will not rush to pick her up when she engages in this type of drama.

Step 4

Assertively address the situation. Shrinking into the background and letting your dramatic girlfriend domineer the conversation won’t help you to get your point across. Sit her down and rationally plead your case. If she starts to cry, scream or otherwise show her dramatic side, keep your cool and continue on with the conversation. Explain how her actions impact your feelings, and consequently your relationship. Use “I” statements such as, “I feel hurt by your constant accusations every time I go out with my friends.” This shifts the discussion from pointing a finger at her to helping her see how you feel. Doing so can also help you to explore her need for attention. It’s possible that she has low self-esteem and needs a boost.

Step 5

Enlist outside help such as family fiends or a professional. Some — but not all — dramatic people have a real condition called histrionic personality disorder. Characterized by a heavy concentration on their own personal appearance, being emotional and dramatic, having a high level of sensitivity when it comes to criticism and a need to be the focus of attention, this disorder can only be diagnosed by a trained psychological professional. Also sometimes known as borderline personality disorder, therapists use talk therapy or dialectical behavior therapy — a combination of individual and group psychosocial therapies — to help the diagnosed dramatic individual.

Here are 17 dramatic playscripts for two actors. These scripted scenes are good for acting study, practice, demo reels or film and video content. Feel free to share our short scripts with your creative colleagues.

RED TUXEDO (2 men) – a luxurious event held inside a manhattan penthouse while a private business deal takes place.

DRY PATCH (1 woman, 1 man) – Jan and Charlie argue over lack of money.

ENOUGH IS ENOUGH (2 women) – Sarah confronts a nurse caring for her mother about the negligence and crude manner in which she does her job.

IMAGINARY, YOU (2 men) – Waldo gets a visit from his older brother Rallye to discover that he didn’t attend their father’s funeral.

ENCOUNTER (1 woman, 1 man) – Roger and Leslie meet for the first time and spark up a romance.

MATCH MADE IN HEAVEN (1 woman, 1 man) – Mick admits his love to Tia for the first time and this new found vulnerability makes her happy.

WINDOW PAIN (2 women) – Vickie and Leslie are in a violent relationship together.

YELLOW DRESS (1 woman, 1 man) – a terrorist bomb has gone off in an airport and two strangers form an instant bond.

NOT QUITE (2 men) – one man threatens another man to confess his cheating ways to his wife.

DIRT MOUTH (2 men) – one man buys a gun from a gun dealer in order to plot a dangerous plan.

REAL AGAIN (2 teen girls) two young girls are in love and discuss the possibility of going on the run together.

TRUE BLOOD TIES (1 woman, 1 man) – Jennifer visits her father in prison but a dark truth gets unexpectedly revealed.

JASPER THE WHALE (1 man) – a man at the end of his life talks to a sculpture of a whale at a park.

THE HIRE (1 woman, 1 man) – Sam tries to seek out help and advice from a co-worker regarding a killer contract.

GAME (2 men) – Two friends have an argument about the truth of their loyalty.

BACK TO LIFE (1 woman, 1 man) – Pamela and Mitchell are going there separate ways with a final meeting at an outdoor train station.

POLICY (1 woman, 1 man) – A young married couple hustle money in ways that are dangerous and terrible.

Find original new scripts and short scenes.

How to act dramatic

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How to act dramatic

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D ramatic irony is one of the three main types of irony. Like verbal and situational irony, dramatic irony is an integral element of storytelling. The power a writer or director can yield with a firm grasp of dramatic irony is huge. But w hat is dramatic irony and how does it work?

In this article, we’re going to define dramatic irony. We will also discuss the stages of dramatic irony and a subtype called tragic irony. By the end, you’ll know how to implement dramatic irony in your own works.

3 Types of Irony (Overview)

Let’s Define Dramatic Irony Meaning

Introducing dramatic irony

Let’s begin with a quick definition of dramatic irony. Dramatic irony isn’t exactly a difficult concept to understand, but it is difficult to master. In simplest terms: dramatic irony is whenever we’re “in on the secret” of a story. Let’s listen to educator Christopher Warner explain dramatic irony in his own words.

What is Dramatic Irony? • Dramatic Irony Definition Explained

“Dramatic irony is when the audience seems to know more about an event, a situation, or a conversation than the characters do,” Warner said. Because of this, dramatic irony serves an integral role in engaging storytelling. We’re going to break down some dramatic irony examples in a bit, but first, let’s define dramatic irony.

Dramatic Irony Definition

What is dramatic irony?

Dramatic irony is when the audience understands more about a situation than some of the characters do. Oftentimes, this understanding leads to an element of suspense because we know the character(s) will learn the truth eventually – but we don’t know when or how.

Dramatic irony can be deployed in many ways and in many genres. Comedy, horror, suspense, thrillers, and dramas can all benefit from the use of dramatic irony.

What are the stages of dramatic irony?

  • Preparation
  • Suspension
  • Resolution

What is Dramatic Irony Used For?

Conceptual dramatic irony examples

When the audience knows something the characters don’t, tension is created. We lean in closer and our engagement increases. Of course, for dramatic irony to really be effective, we need to build sympathy for the characters and establish stakes that the audience will care about.

Here are some simple examples of dramatic irony:

  1. Two characters kill their former classmate – then hide his body in a wooden chest and host a dinner party. We know the body is in the chest but the partygoers do not.
  2. The cabin in the woods is a staging ground for an ancient ritual. We know the cabin is part of an experiment, but the characters do not.
  3. The protagonist is secretly the star of a show. We know he’s on TV but he does not.

Now let’s look at how these instances of dramatic irony apply to famous movies:

  1. In Rope, Brandon and Phillip murder their former classmate David, then host a dinner party. We know David was strangled to death, but the partygoers – who largely consist of his family – do not.
  2. In The Cabin in the Woods, a group of scientists lure five archetypal teens to an abandoned cabin to stage an ancient ritual. We know the five teens are part of a ritual, but they do not.
  3. In The Truman Show, Truman Burbank is unknowingly the star of a 24/7 TV show. We know that Truman is under constant-watch, but he does not.

In all of these stories, the truth is revealed – but the tension that’s created by concealing the “secret” is what drives the story. Now that we’ve looked at some simple examples of dramatic irony, let’s break down the term in further detail.

Dramatic Irony Literary Definition

Dramatic irony examples in literature

Dramatic irony has played an important role in literature and stage plays for hundreds of years. Take William Shakespeare for example: many of his plays revolved around dramatic irony.

  • In Twelfth Night, a love triangle is predicated on Viola’s false identity. We know she’s an imposter, but some characters do not.
  • In Romeo and Juliet, the title characters commit suicide because they don’t know about each other’s plans.
  • In Othello, the title character is led to believe his wife cheated on him – but we know she didn’t.

All of these instances of dramatic irony add nuance and drama to their story. Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment is a book that revolves around dramatic irony. Take a look at this next video and think about how Dostoevsky plays with what dramatic irony – aka when we know more than some characters do – in order to create a sense of paranoia.

How to act dramatic

Let’s go to the shore! By setting up a beach themed dramatic play area, children can enjoy the surf and sand no matter what time of year. Winter or spring, rain or shine, spending “a day at the beach” will get little learners to engage in role-playing and make-believe. These actions are essential to helping develop the mind and body of preschoolers.

To get started, it is important to figure out where the play zone will be and how big the space is. This will help to determine what type of decorations and how many props should be available for the dramatic play area. Whether setting up in the home or early learning classroom, make sure children have enough room to let their imaginations grow!

Creating a Beach Dramatic Play Area

When creating a fun-filled day in the sun, be certain to have the necessary beach-themed props. Get everyone involved by asking what should be included on the trip to the beach. Have each child name something they would like to bring and go get it from the prop box. Some things to consider having on hand might be:

  • Umbrella
  • Towels
  • Beach ball
  • Snorkel
  • Goggles
  • Picnic basket
  • Portable radio
  • Water table
  • Life preservers
  • Sea shells
  • Sandbox
  • Bucket
  • Beach chairs
  • Cooler
  • Sunglasses
  • Beach bag
  • Bathing suits
  • Flip flops
  • Sand tools
  • Books

Now that all the children are ready to go, hop in a cardboard box bus or wagon train and head over to the “beach”. Upon arriving, set out the towels and stand up the umbrella to keep out of the hot sun and in the cool shade. Put on some imaginary sunblock and play in the water at the water table or the sand in the sandbox. Dress up in beach cover-ups, sunglasses, and big hats. Encourage the children to be free to express themselves and have fun in their own way. This allows for personal growth both physically and emotionally.

In addition to free dramatic play, establish a few structured group activities. If there is enough room in the play area, have a beach ball toss or a game of pantomiming charades. Children can engage in some pretend beach adventures, such as swimming the ocean, surfing the waves, or deep-sea fishing. Act out a scenario with lifeguards coming to the rescue, or play a game of pirates in search of gold treasure.

Gather everyone on the beach towels to share stories. Have children participate by telling a personal experience of beach time. Did they ever go to the beach, and if not, would they like to go? What beach did they go to? Who did they go with? What did they do at the beach? Did they like it? Keep everyone engaged by asking questions and taking turns.

There are many different ways that children learn. Using their imagination through dramatic play helps them to discover themselves, as well as others. Dramatic play creates various scenarios that teach problem solving skills and involves children in new experiences. Allowing early learners to engage in pretend activities is valuable to their childhood development. So, next time their imaginations are running wild, maybe consider joining them in their adventures.

How to act dramatic

10 Methods to Incorporate Drama in the ESL Classroom

What does drama have to do with ESL? A lot.

Drama is about dialogue, about language, and interacting with others in specific “scenes” with appropriate language–all activities we as teachers try to get our students to engage in.

Reasons for Incorporating Drama in the ESL Classroom

Drama can be a valuable teaching tool. It gets students up and moving around and interacting with each other. It’s particularly appealing to kinesthetic learners but can be used successfully for all learners. It also contextualizes language, making real and three-dimensional that which is on the printed page.

Students will improve the speaking and listening skills in performing scenes and also their writing skills through such activities as dialogue writing. Drama also teaches the “pragmatics” of language, how we appropriately use language to get something done, like make a request. Finally, drama promotes class bonding: in drama classes, there is usually a great deal of comradery.

Methods for Incorporating Drama in the ESL Class

Act out the Dialogue

One of the easiest ways to incorporate drama in the classroom is to have students act out the dialogue from their textbooks. Simply pair them up, have them choose roles, then work together to act out the dialogue, figuring out for themselves the “blocking,” or stage movements. This is effective for a beginning activity of incorporating drama in the classroom.

Perform Reader’s Theater

Another good beginning exercise is to do Reader’s Theater. Hand out copies of a short or one-act play, have students choose roles, and then read the play from their seats without acting it out. However, do encourage them to read dramatically, modeling as necessary.

Act out the Story

If students are reading a short story such as “The Chaser,” about the man who buys a “love potion” for his unrequited love, have students act out the story or part of the story, working in groups and assigning roles and determining the blocking. This is particularly effective with “short-shorts”: brief, one-scene stories with limited characters.

Write the Dialogue for a Scene

Watch a brief clip of a movie without the sound on. Have students write the dialogue for it and act it out.

More Advanced Activities

    Once students have had some experience with the basics of character, dialogue, and stage movement, they can move on to some more advanced dramatics, involving more of students’ own creativity and critical thinking skills.

Act out and Put Words to an Emotion

Give students an emotion, such as “anger” or “fear”. Have students, either singly or in groups, first act out that emotion then put words to the emotion.

Give “Voice” to an Inanimate Object

What would a stapler say if it could talk? Or an apple? Have students write monologues with inanimate objects as the character. A monologue is a short scene with just one character talking, either addressing the audience, God, or himself or herself. Hamlet’s “To Be or Not to Be” soliloquy might also be termed a monologue, for example.

After writing them, students can read the monologues aloud.

Create a Character

Have students develop a character, writing a one-page profile on the character’s background, appearance, personality, etc. Have them introduce the character to the class, explaining what interests them about their character.

Write a Monologue

Using the character they’ve already developed, have students write a monologue for that character then perform it.

Mime and Dubbing

Have students act out short scenes without dialogue. The rest of the class then supplies the dialogue, developing the “script.”


Put students in groups of two or three, and assign the characters and the situation to the groups, perhaps using 3×5 index cards. Give a time limit of two to three minutes per scene. Students go from there, extemporaneously creating the dialogue and movement themselves.

Drama is an effective tool that can be used to promote interaction and language skills in the ESL classroom as well as create a class bonding experience.

With careful planning, use of drama can enhance your English classroom curriculum.

Kenneth Burke’s Pentad is a popular heuristic that allows us to analyze motivation in any dramatic situation. At a basic level, the Pentad functions like the journalistic questions (who? where? what? when? why? how?). However, the Pentad’s true function has more to do with the relationship between its five terms. Burke argued that motivation cannot be properly explained as having a single or simple cause. In a dramatic and rhetorical situation, motivation is a matter of the relationships (the ratios) between terms.

The Pentad

Burke explained the Pentad in his book A Grammar of Motives (originally published in 1945):

“[A]ny complete statement about motives will offer some kind of answers to these five questions: what was done (act), when or where it was done (scene), who did it (agent), how he did it (agency), and why (purpose)” (p. x).

When represented visually, the five terms are placed at the points of a star (in any order):

How to act dramatic

The Pentad helps us describe dramatic situations. Take the following sentence:

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.

We can organize the information as follows:

Agent: Tom
Act: Cutting down the apple tree
Agency: The chainsaw
Scene: Morning (when), in the garden (where)
Purpose: To let more light in

You can see why Burke talks about a grammar of motives: analyzing a sentence in this way is not that different from parsing a sentence for parts of speech.

The real question, however, is where we locate motivation in all of this. If we describe the situation from Tom’s perspective, then we would say that he made a decision to cut down the tree. If we focus on the scene, by contrast, then we might say that the lighting (or rather the lack of light) drove Tom to grab his chainsaw.

Burke’s Pentad thus allows us to notice all the elements of a scene or composition, and it forces us to decide what has caused some action to take place.


The value of Burke’s Pentad is easily demonstrated by analyzing a photograph or painting. Take Alfred Eisenstaedt’s famous photo of a couple kissing on Victory over Japan Day in Times Square (1945):

At the time of the photograph, the identities of the sailor and young woman were not known. The photo was printed in Life magazine, accompanied by the following caption:

“In New York’s Times Square a white-clad girl clutches her purse and skirt as an uninhibited sailor plants his lips squarely on hers” (“V-J Day”).

The Pentad helps us to spot the scene (V-J Day in New York’s Times Square) as well as the agents (girl and sailor), the purpose (celebration), and the act and agency (the kiss).

That is, of course, if we focus on the centre of the picture. If we zoom out a bit we might notice many other agents and acts. In fact, even the photographer is acting by snapping a photo. The Pentad therefore tells us as much about our priorities and focus as about the object in view.

The Pentad also demonstrates that accounting for motivation is rarely a simple matter. The sailor didn’t know the girl, and so feminist critics have argued that the kiss was an act of sexual assault. She was simply walking along before being grabbed by a random stranger. Others suggest that the sailor shouldn’t be blamed. He had been drinking to celebrate the end of the war, and was so overjoyed (as well as thankful for the work of nurses in the war), that he kissed this young woman (who looked like she was dressed as a nurse). We can thus easily ascribe motivation to the scene itself–the circumstances of joy and jubilation–that brought these two young people together. In fact, we might find motivation even further afield, in the romantic motif of the hero who can sweep a girl off her feet–a motif common to western culture. Before we know it, we’re studying sociology.


The Pentad is most useful when we look for the relationships (ratios) between our five terms. As Richard Coe has pointed out (p. 82), a good strategy is to pick a topic and one term (e.g., Act) that captures it:

How to act dramatic

For example, let’s say that our 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:

Agent-Act: The act is the result of the agent’s motivation.

Ex. The students were lazy. That’s why they skipped classes on a regular basis.

Agency-Act: The act is the result of the available tools or means.

Ex. Since no buses ran that early, the students couldn’t make use of public transport to get to class. That’s why many skipped class on a regular basis.

Scene-Act: The act is the result of the setting and circumstances.

Ex. The school is right beside a beach. Can you blame young people for being drawn away to admire the local scenery?

Purpose-Act: The act is the result of a particular purpose.

Ex. The students skipped class because skipping class is fun.

Act-Act: The act is the result of another act.

Ex. In the first class, the teacher embarrassed one of the students, so the students felt entitled to skip class.

As you can see from these possibilities, the Pentad helps us to question motivation. It reveals that many explanations are possible.


The Pentad works particularly well for dramatic situations that involve human agents. It is less useful in describing scenes of nature. In addition, to use a Pentad properly we have to investigate the relationships (the ratios) between the five terms. The Pentad is meant to stimulate complex explanations of motivation. Rather than reduce causality to a simple cause, the Pentad makes us realize that human action has many competing explanations.