Dramatism, Musical Theatre Interpretation, and Popular Artistic Production

Kimberly Eckel Beasley, Jacksonville University & James P. Beasley, University of North Florida


While Burkean applications of dramatism to the world of dramatic theatre are easily seen, this collaborative study attempts to utilize Burkean identification as a method of character analysis in musical theatre production. Since musical theatre, as a popular art form, crosses many disciplinary boundaries, it is often difficult to demonstrate its scholarly purposes. The authors demonstrate that an analysis of Burkean motives can be more successful in musical production than current interpretive applications through its mystification of popular forms, its ability to promote identification, and its ability to offer Burke studies new directions in the arena of performative rhetoric.

Review: Spiritual Modalities: Prayer as Rhetoric and Performance by William Fitzgerald. Reviewed by Richard Benjamin Crosby

Fitzgerald, William. Spiritual Modalities: Prayer as Rhetoric and Performance. University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2012. Print. 168 pages. $24.95 (paperback); $56.95 (hardcover)

Richard Benjamin Crosby,  Iowa State University

Spiritual Modalities is arguably the first major work to take up the high theoretical questions of rhetoric and religion since Burke's Rhetoric of Religion published more than half a century ago. While a number of other studies deal with the relationship between religious discourse and other phenomena, such as politics, social movements, or particular rhetors and periods, Spiritual Modalities makes a strong claim to understand the primeval stuff of prayer's varied and complex discourses. As Burke writes: "we are to be concerned not directly with religion, but with the terminology of religion" (vi). So Fitzgerald is not concerned with prayer as an efficacious means to access God, but with prayer as a discourse with motives grounded in human experience. Fitzgerald's contribution deserves praise, then, by virtue of its very manifestation in our literature, for it engages broadly and deeply the discourses of prayer in their complexity, situatedness, diversity, and embodiment.

Review: Purpose, Practice, and Pedagogy in Rhetorical Criticism by Jim Kuypers. Reviewed by Michael Osborn

Kuypers, Jim. Purpose, Practice, and Pedagogy in Rhetorical Criticism. New York: Lexington, 2014. 234 pages. $85 (hardcover); $84.99 (ebook)

Reviewed by Michael Osborn, University of Memphis

This book sets out to tell the back stories of fifteen prominent rhetorical critics and in the process to develop a rationale for rhetorical criticism (hereafter RC) as a legitimate academic enterprise. As critics, what do they hope to accomplish? How do they teach RC? And what does it mean to be such a critic?

These scholars explain their various approaches in a series of idiosyncratic essays that explore a wide spectrum of possibility. Consequently, the book opens an array of potential uses for beginning students and for those who may be stuck in a critical rut. I found the level of discussion to be high and the style of the writing to be engaging. It was a special, unexpected pleasure to also learn more about the people behind the critical work and the motives that drive them.

Review: The Making of Barack Obama: The Politics of Persuasion, ed. Matthew Abraham and Erec Smith. Reviewed by Jean Costanza Miller

Abraham, Matthew, and Erec Smith, eds. The Making of Barack Obama: The Politics of Persuasion. Anderson, SC:  Parlor Press, 2013. 243 pages. $27 (paperback); $60 (hardcover); $20 (ebook)

Reviewed by Jean Costanza Miller, The George Washington University

Some U.S. presidencies are more historical than others, and some may be more rhetorical than others. Certainly, the election and presidency of Barack Obama has captured the attention of rhetorical critics, both because of the historic nature of the first election of a man who identifies as African-American and because of the rhetorical and oratorical skill he exemplifies. The Making of Barack Obama: The Politics of Persuasion is a collection of essays dedicated to exploring the rhetorical moves made by Obama as he "made" himself in his first campaign for the presidency and in his first administration, particularly his first two years in office. The book includes an introductory overview of the importance of studying Obama from a rhetorical perspective, nine essays delving into Obama's rhetoric—either in particular speeches or in addressing particular issues, and a final reflective essay by David Frank that draws out lessons to be gleaned from the substantive essays.

Review: The Rhetoric of Intention in Human Affairs by Gary Woodward. Reviewed by Raymond Blanton

Woodward, Gary. The Rhetoric of Intention in Human Affairs. New York: Lexington Books, 2013. Print. 160 pages. $80.00 (hardcover); $79.99 (eBook)

Raymond Blanton, The University of Nebraska-Lincoln

"A motive is not some fixed thing, like a table, which one can go and look at. It is a term of interpretation." —Kenneth Burke

"Fantasy, imagination, and projection provide imperfect but useful frameworks for studying acts of indefinite construal. Each assumes a level of subjectivity that must be embraced if we are to plumb the deep enigmas of communication" (134). Embracing the subjectivity of the imperfect but useful within indefinite construal is our charge. Woodward's stark words, drawing from the rhetorical work of Walter Fisher and (utmost) Kenneth Burke as well as from the psychoanalytic and social constructivist work of Kenneth Gergen, mark the end (and beginning) of Gary Woodward's The Rhetoric of Intention in Human Affairs.

"Trouble with a Capital T": Jerome S. Bruner's Reenvisioning of Kenneth Burke's Dramatistic Pentad

Matthew T. Althouse & Floyd D. Anderson, The College at Brockport: State University of New York


Widely embraced by many academic disciplines, Jerome S. Bruner's scholarly ideas hold important, but unexplored, implications for rhetoric. In addressing this situation, this study elucidates Bruner's concept of "Trouble" and shows how it redirects Burkeian pentadic analysis. It further demonstrates that Bruner's concept of Trouble represents a profound paradigm shift, an alternative understanding and reenvisioning of Burke's pentad, which suggests new heuristic possibilities for rhetorical scholars.

Analyzing a Performative Text through Cluster Criticism: Hegemony in the Musical Wicked as a Case Study

Valerie Lynn Schrader, Penn State Schuylkill


This article proposes an extension of Burkean cluster criticism to include performative elements of a musical theatre text. Using the musical Wicked as a case study, this article uses cluster criticism to analyze Wicked’s script, cast recording, sheet music, and fieldnotes from three performances to reveal messages about hegemony.

The Syrian Civil War, International Outreach, and a Clash of Worldviews

Peter C. Bakke, US Army, and Jim A. Kuypers, Virginia Tech


We present a dramatistic analysis of the discourse of Syrian President Assad and his opposition in the ongoing Syrian civil war. Comparing terministic screens and world views expressed in the discourses, we find that the Assad regime believes it is not responsible for the current conflict, and is justified in the use of violence against rebel groups. Rebel groups overtly reject Western values and seek to depict their current and planned violence as morally justified.

Branding Cyber-Activism: Burke's Identification and the Visual Identity of Anonymous

Débora Antunes, University of Antwerp*


The cyber-activist collective Anonymous has created a powerful visual representation through the use of three key symbols: the mask, the headless suit logo, and its signature. Those images appear in almost all the campaigns launched by the collective and are part of Anonymous' visual identity, becoming important carriers of identification, which is understood here according to Kenneth Burke's theory. In this paper, I argue that, through the use of those symbols as means to promote identification, Anonymous created a cyber-activist brand that can be used by anyone who wishes to use the name and appeal of the collective to promote his/her message.

Material Correspondences in Icíar Bollaín’s Even the Rain: Ambiguities of Substance

Christopher Carter, University of Cincinnati


Whether describing the distillation of labor into commodities or the representation of affect through objects, Kenneth Burke attends to the interlaced agencies of people and things. This essay locates such convergences in Icíar Bollaín’s film Even the Rain, uncovering forms of politically-charged consubstantiality between human and extrahuman materiality. An awareness of what Burke calls "ambiguities of substance" gives viewers a way to interpret the movie's linkage of imperialism and "thing rhetoric" across five centuries.

Review of The Terministic Screen: Rhetorical Perspectives on Film, edited by David Blakesley. Reviewed by Jonathan A. Cannon

Blakesley, David, ed. The Terministic Screen: Rhetorical Perspectives on Film. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2003, 2007. Print. 312 pages.

Reviewed by Jonathan A. Cannon, Oklahoma State University

Containing a rich sundry of filmic analyses channeling scrupulous rhetorical acumen, The Terministic Screen: Rhetorical Perspectives on Film (2003), edited by David Blakesley, functions as a much-needed collection of articles that underscore en masse the nexus between rhetoric and the area of film studies. In his introduction titled “The Rhetoric of Film and Film Studies,” Blakesley establishes a solid theoretical foundation for the rest of the critical anthology to unfold, and argues for a greater presence and conscientious reexamination of cinema for rhetoric and composition studies. Through an eclectic array of rhetorical lenses, The Terministic Screen initiates a critical understanding of the medium of film. Moreover, the book – as the title clearly articulates – points to new and more interdisciplinary perspectives on the Burkeian term “terministic screens.” Indeed, scholars of rhetoric, composition studies, and professional writing should be familiar with this seminal concept, which is found in Kenneth Burke’s Language as Symbolic Action (1966).