English Language and Literature

visiting students

Prof Erica McAlpine and undergraduates in an English tutorial

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

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, religious poetry and the work of English mystics, as well as Arthurian romance and courtly poetry. Texts will be studied in the original language in glossed student editions, though no prior experience of medieval literature will be expected.  Modern English versions of some of the more linguistically challenging texts can also be used if necessary.

This course will examine literature, including poetry, drama and prose, during the period from Thomas More (Utopia) to John Donne.

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, Christina Rossetti, Carlyle, Arnold, Mill, Bentham, and Wilde. Careful preparation is needed for this course, because the novels in particular are very long.

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.

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, with topics including language change, language and identity, and literary language and metaphor. Students can choose to produce either essays or language commentaries or a mixture of both.

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.

This course will cover various British and American authors from turn of the century to the present day. The syllabus will likely include some of each of the following: Modernism in prose (Woolf, Joyce, James, Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald et al); Modernism in poetry (Yeats, Eliot, Pound, Frost, Stevens, Moore, et al); mid-century poetry (Bishop, Auden, Lowell, Plath, Larkin, O’Hara, et al); post-45 novelists (Nabokov, Morrison, et al); Language poetry; contemporary Irish poetry (Seamus Heaney, Paul Muldoon). Students may be encouraged to think about various literary developments in the period (i.e. confessional writing, experimental modes in verse and prose, modernist ideals and techniques, the Harlem Renaissance, feminist and queer theory, new formalism).

This course focuses on literature written roughly between 1789 and 1832. The syllabus will likely include revolutionary writing, first-generation Romantic poetry, Romantic prose writing, and second-generation Romantic poetry. The structure of the course will be roughly chronological, though students will be encouraged to make thematic connections across the period.

This course introduces you to the language and literature of the Anglo-Saxons, the oldest English literature which survives. We look at the haunting poems of exile and lament, of vivid, riddling insights into nature, and at the greatest Old English heroic poem, the story of Beowulf the monster-slayer.

Minor Courses

Students will read Beowulf in a Modern English version, as well as exploring some very short passages of the poem in the original Old English language.  Possible topics for essays might include monsters and monstrosity, heroes and heroism, the role of women in the poem, the material culture of the poem or some of the various translations, including that by Seamus Heaney.

Students will cover a range of early and late medieval Arthurian texts, which will be read in Modern English versions if necessary, including (i) extracts from Geoffrey’s Historia, Wace’s Roman de Brut, and Layamon’s Brut; (ii) Sir Gawain and the Green Knight; and (iii) Malory’s Morte Darthur.  The fourth tutorial is reserved for students to follow up key Arthurian themes or characters in a modern Arthurian text of their own choosing.  In all four tutorials, we will explore key Arthurian elements such as chivalry, courtly love and kingship, investigating what lies behind the enduring popularity of this subject matter and how it embodies cultural and social forces.

This short course introduces you to the Irish and Welsh mythological traditions through an examination of four texts in translation: (i) The Wooing of Êtaín, a millennium-spanning Irish tale of love, loss and reincarnation; (ii) The Tales of the Elders of Ireland, a novel length crossweave of stories within stories about the hero Finn mac Cumhaill and his band of fighting men; (iii) The Four Branches of the Mabinogi, a quartet of haunting medieval Welsh short-stories which seem in part to contain ancient myths of Celtic gods and goddesses; and finally (iv) How Culhwch Won Olwen, the oldest Arthurian prose tale in existence, and a vivid and bizarre story of a young man’s quest to win the beautiful daughter of a giant, with the help of King Arthur.

This course will explore imaginative literature’s response to painting and other arts, considering a range of authors from the Renaissance to the present day. Authors covered may include: Shakespeare, Spenser, Dryden, Pope, the Romantic Poets (Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley and Byron), William Hazlitt, John Ruskin, Robert Browning, W. H. Auden, William Carlos Williams, and a variety of contemporary authors. The course will also deal with some important art theorists, such as Immanuel Kant, W. J. T. Mitchell, and T. J. Clark.

This course covers some of the most fascinating poets in the English language, famous for their wit and playful intellectual conceits, using them to find new ways of thinking about profound emotional, philosophical and religious matters. The poets covered will include John Donne, George Herbert, Andrew Marvell and Henry Vaughan.

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.

This course covers the poetry and prose of one of the greatest writers in the English language, including Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, the shorter poems, and the prose works in defence of the execution of King Charles I, and of the short-lived English republic which followed.

This course will examine literature, including poetry, drama and prose, during the period from Thomas More (Utopia) to John Donne.

This course will cover several major Romantic poets and their work. Students may encounter poetry by Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, Shelley, Byron, Clare, and several women writers including Felicia Hemans, Anna Barbauld, and Charlotte Smith.

This course will cover several American poets of the first half of the 20th century; authors may include Eliot, Pound, Stevens, Frost, Williams, and Moore.

This course will cover some of the basic principles of either verse or prose fiction writing; students will have the opportunity to write in their chosen genre and develop their skills in a friendly but rigorous environment.

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Visiting Students

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