University of Oxford English

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University of Oxford English

The English Language and Literature course is one of the broadest in the country, giving you the chance to study writing in English from its origins in Anglo-Saxon England to the literature of the 20th and early 21st centuries. As well as British literature, you can study works written in English from other parts of the world. The course also allows you a considerable degree of choice about the topics you would like to concentrate on. Studying literature at Oxford involves the development of sophisticated reading skills and of an ability to place literary texts in their wider intellectual and historical contexts. It also requires you to consider the critical processes by which you analyse and judge, to learn about literary form and technique, and to study the development of the English language.

The Oxford English Faculty is the largest English department in Britain. All Oxford colleges have at least two tutors in English who are responsible for tutorial teaching in their own college. Many also give lectures to all students in the English Faculty. You therefore have the opportunity to learn from a wide range of specialist teachers.

Library provision for English at Oxford is exceptionally good. All students have access to the Bodleian Library, the English Faculty Library, other faculty libraries and their own college libraries. The English Faculty has long pioneered the use of electronic resources in teaching, and has a wide range of resources and facilities. The faculty building has its own computer room and all colleges have computing facilities for undergraduates to use.

In your first year you will be introduced to the conceptual and technical tools used in the study of language and literature, and to a wide range of different critical assumptions and approaches. At the same time, you will be doing tutorial work on early medieval literature, Victorian literature and modern literature up to the present day.

In your second and third years you will extend your study of English literary history in four more period papers ranging from late medieval literature to the Romantic age. These papers are assessed by three-hour written examinations at the end of your third year. You will also produce a portfolio of work on Shakespeare; an essay relating to a Special options paper with topics based on faculty research expertise; and an 8,000-word dissertation on a subject of your choice. Submitted work therefore constitutes almost half of your final assessment.

Alternatively, in the second and third years, you can choose to follow our specialist course in Medieval Literature and Language, whose papers cover literature in English from 650–1550 along with the history of the English language up to 1800, with a further paper either on Shakespeare or on manuscript and print culture. You will also take a Special options paper and submit a dissertation on a topic of your choice.

ELL Careers

A number of English graduates (about 7%) choose to undertake research, while many more use the communication and analytical skills they develop at Oxford in a range of careers including advertising, acting, publishing, teaching, librarianship, public relations, journalism, the legal professions, management consultancy and finance.

Related courses

Students interested in this course might also like to consider the English joint courses: English and Modern LanguagesHistory and English, or Classics and English.

A typical weekly timetable

Although details of practice vary from college to college, most students will have one or two tutorials and classes each week. A tutorial usually involves discussion of an essay, which you have produced based on your own reading and research that week. You will normally be expected to produce between eight and twelve pieces of written work each term.

Most students also attend three or four lectures each week.

1st year

Four papers are taken:

  • Introduction to English Language and Literature
  • Early medieval literature 650–1350
  • Literature in English 1830–1910
  • Literature in English 1910–present day

Three written papers form the First University Examination, together with a submitted portfolio of two essays for Introduction to English Language and Literature.

All exams must be passed, but marks do not count towards the final degree.

2nd year

Course I:

  • Literature in English 1350–1550
  • Literature in English 1550–1660
  • Literature in English 1660–1760
  • Literature in English 1760–1830

Course II:

  • Literature in English 650–1100
  • Medieval English and related literatures 1066–1550
  • Literature in English 1350–1550
  • The history of the English language to c1800
3rd year

Course I:

  • Shakespeare (may also be studied in the 2nd year)

Course II:

  • The Material text or Shakespeare (choice of option)

Both courses:

  • Special options paper
  • Dissertation

More information on current options is available on the English Language and Literature website.


All period papers will be examined by final written examinations at the end of the third year.

One extended essay for Special options, due in at the end of the first term; dissertation and portfolio for Shakespeare/The Material text, due during the second term.

The content and format of this course may change in some circumstances. Read further information about potential course changes.