New Historicism, a reaction against formalist criticism, attempts to read literary texts of the Renaissance in relation to the nonliterary text production of the period. One of its central assumptions is that early modern humans are the subject of power relations shaped by social forces, but New Historicism equally argues that a sense of autonomous self is often encoded within documents based on the discourse of power. Among such documents is the emblem, a conjunction of several texts and one image delivering a moral lesson. Using the theoretical framework of New Historicism, I mean to show that Henry Peacham's Minerva Britanna (1612), a book of emblems illustrating part of King James I's Basilikon Doron (1599), can be understood as an attempt to construct a new sense of self within the discourse of power it is based upon. The essay will also examine how Minerva Britanna engages in a playful treatment of orthodoxies by questioning the paradigms upon which Renaissance culture is founded.

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