Renaissance Self-Fashioning [...] showed how the courtier's role was an elaborate construction of a "self" through writing, dress, behavior and the commissioning of art.
And the nightmare was, you couldn't stop. Greenblatt argued that the whole Renaissance oeuvre was the product of this constant shoring-up of the era's fragile constructed personalities. When Shakespeare said all the world's a stage, he wasn't talking in metaphors.
Thomas Wyatt hung out at the court of Henry VIII. (Greenblatt memorably describes this as "like small-talk with Stalin"). When Wyatt was accused of shagging Anne Boleyn, he circulated a poem in his defense - and escaped the axe. When he retired from public life, he wrote "Mine own John Poyntz" to explain his motives.
He got to die of old age, we get some of most exquisite writing of his age as a by-product.
With the coming of the web, we're all courtiers now.
You can see people constructing all kinds of selves online.
Some of these are explicitly fantasy personae, like those in role-playing games like Ultima (of which more soon), or IRC chat rooms (more on these too).
On the other end of the scale there are intimate real-life diaries.
But it's in-between where the interesting stuff happens, where all kinds of games are played between people and their on-line personalities. Chris Locke, author of the Cluetrain Manifesto, often conducts whole "flame wars" with his own alter ego, Rageboy.