This article demonstrates the value of rhetorical audience studies for analysing constructions of ‘the nation’ and national identity. A key strength of this approach is its recognition of the interplay between the rhetorical situation, the text of the speech, and the audience’s responses to that rhetoric. Using the historical method for investigating rhetoric and its reception, the article examines Theresa May’s efforts to bring the nation together after the 2016 referendum and to offer an inspiring vision of post-Brexit Britain. A textual analysis shows that her rhetoric of Britishness was constructed around an imagined audience of Leave voters, and thus excluded Remainers from her conceptions of Britain and ‘the British people’. The audience reception study supports this finding, as it reveals two competing myths of ‘the nation’ which in turn constituted rival subject positions. In short, May’s epideictic failed to unite the country behind her conception of a strong, cohesive Global Britain.
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- rhetoric; reception studies; national identity; Brexit; Global Britain