Our Part I (first and second year) course is built around five core papers, to each of which we devote a term’s study. These are: English literature, 1300 to 1550; 1500-1700; 1660-1870; and either 1830 to 1945 or 1870 to the present; and then also Shakespeare (whose complete works get a term to themselves). The formal examination for one of the period papers can be replaced by a dissertation, and that for another by a portfolio of three essays. In addition to taking these first five papers, most Part I students also read for a general paper on the skills of practical criticism and literary theory. Subject to certain restrictions, any paper other than the medieval and Shakespeare ones can be replaced by one element from a range of borrowable options provided under the Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic, the Classics, and the Modern Languages Triposes. This means that appropriately qualified English candidates can take, for example, an Anglo-Saxon, Latin, French or Spanish literature option (subject to availability in the given year). Whatever six papers a candidate settles upon, these are studied over a period of two years, leading to examination at the end of the second year.
Having developed a sense of the broad spectrum of English literature, undergraduates turn in their third year to the Part II finals course where they have much greater opportunity to specialise. There are still two compulsory elements: one, again, on Practical Criticism, and one on Tragedy, a comparative literature paper which invites students to explore Greek tragedy (in English translation) in relation to Shakespearean and more modern tragic forms. To these papers, students add a dissertation project (on any literary topic of their choice) and two further papers chosen from a list of more than a dozen options. The latter cover a wide range of English, American, Commonwealth and foreign-language literatures, but also include papers on more theoretical and philosophical subjects. Again, individual teaching is arranged by the College’s Directors of Studies as appropriate.