This article reconstructs the concept of rhetorical action to excavate its original, recurrent, and—for many—discomforting links to constitutive politics. By examining the history of rhetorical action through the ancient period to the mid-17th century, I will argue that that relationship between rhetorical action and constitutive politics is a powerful prism for understanding actio. The article's contributions are twofold and compounding. The first is the establishment of a positive account of the relation between actio and constitutive rhetoric for the ancient politicians and early modern dramatists, which pushes the usual bookends of actio's history both backward and forward, providing analytical leverage to critically reflect on its standard history. The second contribution is a demonstration that much of the confusion and discomfort surrounding actio results from formulating actio negatively against its constitutive political threat. In sum, this article contributes to both the theoretical and historical understanding of rhetorical action.

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