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English Language and Literature

The Oxford English Course offers undergraduates a unique opportunity to study the whole of English Literature, from Anglo-Saxon to the present day, in a tutorial setting. Visiting Students taking courses in English are, as far as is practicable, integrated into the English degree programme. The course consists of a series of chronologically defined areas of study within which students can choose the authors, topics, and genres that attract them most. Individuals are encouraged to pursue their own interests, and the tutorial system allows for a wide variety of approaches.

Below is a list of courses divided into major (primary) and minor (secondary) options. Course descriptions are provided for major courses only. Availability of courses does vary according to term of study. Please note that the term in which a particular course is available is noted in brackets after the course title.  Because of the depth and detail possible in the study of English Literature at Oxford, we recommend that Visiting Students make applications either to take all of their courses in English Literature or in combination with only one further subject.

Major Courses

Late Medieval and Early Tudor Literature (Michaelmas or Hilary Terms)This course will examine literature from the period between 1350 and 1550, including authors such as Chaucer and Malory and genres such as mystery and morality plays, as well as romances and courtly poetry. Texts will be studied in the original language, though no prior experience of medieval literature will be expected. 
The Renaissance (Michaelmas Term)This course will examine literature, including poetry, drama and prose, during the period from Thomas More (Utopia) to John Donne. 
Victorian Literature (Michaelmas Term)The course will examine how novelists, poets, dramatists, essayists and critics responded to the pressing social and political issues of their day. Authors may include: Dickens, Eliot, Hardy, the Brontes, Tennyson, Browning, Hopkins, C. Rossetti, Carlyle, Arnold, Mill, Bentham, and Wilde. Careful preparation is needed for this course, because the novels in particular are very long.
Shakespeare (Michaelmas or Hilary Terms)The course will focus on plays chosen from various stages in Shakespeare’s career, including Love's Labour's Lost, Richard II, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night's Dream, 1-2 Henry IV, Hamlet, Twelfth Night, Measure for Measure, King Lear, The Winter's Tale and The Tempest. Readings may be augmented by University lectures and attendance at theatrical performances of Shakespeare at Stratford-upon-Avon, London, and in Oxford. 
The English Language (Hilary or Trinity Terms)This wide-ranging course is designed to encourage students who may have no previous formal knowledge of linguistics to study aspects of the development and use of English, and/or theories of language. Students produce both essays and language commentaries.
The Seventeenth and early Eighteenth Centuries: From Milton to Pope (Hilary Term)This course covers poetry, drama and prose, reflecting the social conflicts of the English Revolution as well as the literary aftermath, when the appearance of political stability led to a flowering of new genres, a realism in fiction and a neoclassicism in poetry. Authors may include: Milton (Paradise Lost and prose), Marvell, civil war women writers, Bunyan, Dryden (poems and plays), Rochester, Wycherly, Otway, Behn, Astell, Defoe, Phillips, Swift and Pope. 
The Twentieth Century (Hilary and Trinity Terms)This course will concentrate mainly on the first half of the twentieth century, and will consider some of the following literary developments: Edwardian and Georgian poetry (Housman, Hardy, Edward Thomas, Frost); poetry of the first world war (Sassoon, Owen, Rosenberg, Sorley, Aldington); prose of the First World War (Brittain, Sassoon, Graves, Ford); the Bloomsbury group (Leonard and Virginia Woolf, Strachey, Keynes); Modernism (Eliot, Pound, Joyce); the poetry of W.B. Yeats; poetry of the Thirties (Auden, Spender and Macneice); Ted Hughes and Thom Gunn; the writings of Sylvia Plath; contemporary Irish poetry (Seamus Heaney, Paul Muldoon, Tom Paulin and Bernard O’Donoghue); twentieth century women’s memoirs, from Vera Brittain to Lorna Sage.
English Literature: 1789−1832 (Trinity Term)This course focuses on 1789 Revolution debate; first generation Romantic poetry; Romantic prose writing; second generation Romantic poetry; women’s prose writing and women’s poetry. The structure of the course is roughly chronological, but students are encouraged to make thematic connections across the period.


Minor Courses

  • Beowulf: Myths and Monsters (Michaelmas, Hilary and Trinity Terms)
  • Arthurian Literature (Michaelmas, Hilary and Trinity Terms)
  • Geoffrey Chaucer (Trinity Term)
  • Donne or Marvell (Michaelmas Term)
  • Shakespeare or Milton (Michaelmas and Hilary Terms)
  • Renaissance Literature (Hilary Term)
  • Romantic Poetry (Trinity Term)
  • Modern American Poetry (Hilary Term)
  • Contemporary Poetry (Michaelmas, Hilary and Trinity Terms)
  • Creative Writing (Michaelmas, Hilary and Trinity Terms)