Kenneth Burke's Dramatism and Popular Arts

Kenneth Burke's Dramatism and Popular Arts

Kenneth Burke's Dramatism and Popular Arts

Kenneth Burke's Dramatism and Popular Arts


Dramatism provides us with a seemingly endless array of stages from which to perform our analysis of human action. By enlarging or reducing the scope of our endeavors, as has been done throughout the present work, we can use the Dramatism method to reveal almost any sort of relationship.


The work which follows represents an effort to scratch an itch. The itch was my long-felt sense of frustration when I was confronted by those literary scholars who persisted in avoiding serious discussion whenever they encountered popular art. Even though they should have known better, these explicators of such popular writers as Shakespeare and Dickens seemed to crumble when faced with the popular art of their own age. Rather than admit they knew little about the complexities of punk rock, for example, these guardians of the canon would resort to ad hominem arguments about "plastic bubblegum music" and "commercial exploitation." Few cared to use their training in criticism to try to make sense of the popular fare of our times.

Though I may be overgeneralizing, I am setting up no straw men. Most "serious" critics do not take popular art seriously. How does one demonstrate to them—in terms they can relate to—that popular art is worth investigating? The present study is an essay with that purpose.

Kenneth Burke is my principal source. His theory of Dramatism provides me with a methodological instrument to investigate and unravel some of the mysteries shrouding the production and consumption of popular art. In the chapters which follow, I explicate Burke's methodology and apply it to some of the major questions concerning artistry, form and audience response in the popular arts.

The organizational scheme of this study follows the outline of traditional rhetoric. I first consider the artist, an examination of ethos, if you will. A study of form in popular culture follows next, in Chapter II. Audience response— pathos—is dealt with in Chapter III. Finally, in Chapter IV, I

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