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English Language and Literature

The English Language and Literature course at Oxford 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 present.

The College has an excellent record of academic achievement in English and the Joint Schools with a tradition of fostering a love of literature and independent thought. Theatre trips, poetry readings, and English society events (detailed below) all contribute to a densely textured intellectual life at Jesus. Jesus College is located a two-minute walk from the Bodleian Library, an eight-minute walk from the English Faculty Library and itself offers excellent library and computer facilities.


All degree courses should help students to learn how to think, and the English course at Oxford is particularly well equipped to do so. Each student will study different texts, pursue personal interests, and shape his or her degree in exciting and challenging ways. The study of English starts from a love of literature and language, and branches out to encounter or encompass other subjects and fields of enquiry. English is a subject which lends itself to diverse approaches and theories of interpretation, from Aristotle’s Poetics to Derridean deconstruction.

Here at Jesus we encourage students to work in interdisciplinary ways, and to explore a range of approaches to literature, while never forgetting the centrality of the text. Studying English involves the development of analytical skills and the accumulation of a great deal of knowledge: you need to be able to read widely but also in close detail; to understand the sweep of historical change while also being able to meditate on the nuances of a single word.

The English course is extremely demanding, and you must be ready to work hard. Our students think in original and imaginative ways, and are willing to pursue ideas, themes, and approaches to texts independently. Much of our teaching is conducted in tutorials (one or two students with the Tutor) and small groups, and you must be prepared to discuss your ideas and reading with tutors and other students, and to respond spontaneously to criticism or new ideas introduced by them. You must be excited by the challenges of literary study, and dedicated to developing the skills of reading, writing, interpretation, and research.

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 approaches. At the same time, you will be doing tutorial work on early medieval literature, Victorian literature and literature from 1910 to the present.

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 Romanticism. These papers are assessed by three-hour written examinations at the end of your third year. You will also produce a portfolio of three essays on Shakespeare, on topics of your choice; an extended essay (or occasionally an examination) relating to a special options paper, chosen from a list of around 25 courses; and an 8,000-word dissertation on a subject of your choice. Submitted work will constitute almost half of the final assessment for most students.

Alternatively, in the second and third years, you can choose to follow our specialist course in Medieval Literature and Language, with papers covering 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. Students on this course also take a special options paper and submit a dissertation on a topic of their choice.

Further information on the course structure and current options for papers can be viewed here.


Professor Paulina Kewes

Professor Paulina Kewes, Fellow and Tutor in English, teaches English literature from the Renaissance to the Romantics, including Shakespeare. Paulina’s research interests are in early modern literature (especially drama), history, and politics, and she is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. Her publications include Authorship and Appropriation: Writing for the Stage in England, 1660-1710 (1998) and several edited or co-edited volumes: Plagiarism in Early Modern England (2003), The Uses of History in Early Modern England (2006), The Oxford Handbook of Holinshed’s Chronicles (2013), Doubtful and Dangerous: The Question of Succession in Late Elizabethan England (2014), Stuart Succession Literature: Moments and Transformations (2019) as well as numerous articles on Shakespeare, Dryden, early modern drama, translation, plagiarism, historical writings, royal iconography, and political thought. She is currently writing the first interdisciplinary study of debates about the royal succession in the period from Henry VIII’s death in 1547 to the accession of James VI/I and union of the English and Scottish crowns in 1603, from a comparative British and European perspective. The book is contracted to Oxford University Press.


Professor Dirk Van Hulle

Professor Dirk Van Hulle teaches Bibliography, Genetic Criticism, Book History and (Digital) Scholarly Editing. His research interests are in modern manuscripts, notably by James Joyce and Samuel Beckett. With Mark Nixon, he is co-director of the Beckett Digital Manuscript Project, series editor of the Cambridge UP series ‘Elements in Beckett Studies’ and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Beckett Studies. He is editor of the online journal Genetic Joyce Studies and member of the editorial board of the International Journal for Digital Humanities (Springer). His publications include Textual Awareness (Michigan UP, 2004), Modern Manuscripts (2014), Samuel Beckett’s Library (CUP, 2013, with Mark Nixon), The New Cambridge Companion to Samuel Beckett (CUP, 2015), James Joyce’s Work in Progress (Routledge,
2016), several volumes in the ‘Making of’ series (Bloomsbury) and genetic editions in the Beckett Digital Manuscript Project, including the Beckett Digital Library. His current projects include a monograph on Genetic Criticism for OUP, a digital edition of Samuel Beckett’s Murphy, the co-editing of a Comparative History of the Literary Draft (John Benjamins), and of the Oxford Handbook of Samuel Beckett (OUP).


Professor Peter Davidson

Professor Peter Davidson is Senior Research Fellow at Campion Hall and teaches renaissance, baroque and romantic literature for Jesus College. He has edited the seventeenth century poet Richard Fanshawe for OUP, as well as the two Oxford anthologies, Poetry and Revolution, and Early Modern Women Poets. His study of early modern international culture The Universal Baroque was published in 2007. He is general editor for the Oxford Edition of the works of St Robert Southwell. He has wide interests in early modern cultural history and also teaches for History of Art. He has taught the Epic bridge paper for Classics and English, and has supervised for History and English. He has another identity as a writer of literary nonfiction and verse: The Idea of North (2005); The Palace of Oblivion (2008); Distance and Memory (2013); the Last of the Light (2015).

Dr Joseph Hankinson

Dr Hankinson studied English at Balliol College, completing his DPhil in 2020 under the supervision of Professor Matthew Reynolds. He has taught at St Hilda’s College, St Anne’s College, and The Queen’s College, and worked as the Co-ordinator of the Oxford Comparative Criticism and Translation Research Centre (OCCT), based at St Anne’s, where he currently leads a research strand on Comparative African Literatures. Dr Hankinson’s research explores questions of kinship, belonging, foreignness, and style, with a particular focus on Atlantic literary culture from the period between 1860 and the present day. His work routinely involves the tracing of relations which proliferate beyond temporal and geographical boundaries, and the development of innovative comparative methodologies—two activities united in his first book, which stages an encounter between the Victorian poet Robert Browning and the contemporary Ghanaian poet and novelist Kojo Laing.

Dr Amanda Holton

Dr Amanda Holton, Stipendiary Lecturer in English Language, teaches a paper on the English language at Jesus. She also teaches literature from 650 to 1550. Her principal research interests and publications are in Chaucer, the medieval and sixteenth-century love lyric, and poetics, with an emphasis on how form precedes and generates meaning. She is interested in interrogating the agendas which drive the taxonomy of poetic form, and in challenging the division still made between medieval and early modern literature.

Dr Ayoush Lazikani

Dr Ayoush Lazikani is a Departmental Lecturer during Professor Marion Turner’s leave. She is a SEDAaccredited tutor, teaching and lecturing in Old English and Middle English. As a researcher, Ayoush works in the history of emotions, specializing in devotional writing of the eleventh to thirteenth centuries. Her research considers English, Anglo-Norman, and Latin texts, and she has particular interests in literature written for religious recluses. Ayoush’s first book, Cultivating the Heart: Feeling and Emotion in Twelfth- and Thirteenth-Century Religious Texts (University of Wales Press, 2015), studied the languages of feeling – especially the interrelated affections of compassion, love, and sorrow – in texts and church wall paintings. Her second book, Emotion in Christian and Islamic Contemplative Texts, c. 1100-1250, is due to be published in 2021.

Dr Amy Lidster

Dr Amy Lidster is a Departmental Lecturer and teaches English literature from 1550 to 1830. Her principal research interests are in Shakespeare, early modern drama, and book history, with an emphasis on conditions of theatrical and textual production and reception. Amy’s first monograph – Publishing the History Play in the Time of Shakespeare: Stationers Shaping a Genre – was published by Cambridge University Press in 2022. Amy is working on two further monograph projects: Authorships and Authority in Early Modern Dramatic Paratexts is supported by a fellowship from the Society for Renaissance Studies, and considers how playbook paratexts helped to develop and negotiate ideas of ‘authorship’ during the early modern period. Funded by the Leverhulme Trust, Wartime Shakespeare: Performing Narratives of Conflict explores how Shakespeare has been ‘mobilized’ during periods of war from the eighteenth to the twenty-first century. Amy is also co-curating an exhibition on ‘Wartime Shakespeare’, which will be held at the National Army Museum in 2023-24.

The deadline to submit your application for undergraduate study via UCAS is 16 October (please note that this date is usually 15 October, except where this date falls on a weekend). Please refer to the University’s webpages for detailed information on how to apply.

Places available at Jesus College

In a total College entry of about 100 undergraduates, 6-8 are offered places in a typical year to read English and joint schools with English.

Academic requirements

Academic requirements for this subject can be found here.

Selection criteria

The specific selection criteria are given on the Faculty’s website here.

Admissions tests

All candidates must take the Oxford English Literature Admissions Test (Oxford ELAT) as part of their application. Separate registration for the test is required and it is the responsibility of the candidate to ensure that they are registered by the deadline of 29 September 2023. We strongly recommend making the arrangements in plenty of time before the deadline. Everything you need to know, including how to register and guidance on how to prepare, can be found can be found here.

Written work

Candidates are required to submit one recent piece of written work in English. The deadline to submit written work is 10 November 2023. Further information on the written work requirements can be viewed here.


There will usually be two interviews of approximately 20 minutes. In one interview, candidates will be asked to discuss a poem which will be supplied about half an hour earlier. In the other interview, candidates may be asked about their reading interests, the written work they have submitted, and the authors and texts they have studied at A-level or equivalent.

Deferred Entry

Please refer to the Departmental website for subject-specific advice.

The Tutors have no objection in principle to offering a place to a candidate who wishes to defer entry for a year, provided this intention is made known at the outset. You must apply for deferred entry at the time of application to Oxford: you cannot change your mind after an offer has been made.

You should be aware that applicants who are offered places for deferred entry will generally be among the very strongest of the cohort for their subject, and the College limits its offers of deferred places in order not to disadvantage candidates applying in the following year. In some cases, an applicant for deferred entry may be offered a place for non-deferred entry instead.

Joint Schools

The following undergraduate joint courses are available at Jesus College:

Jesus has a thriving community of graduate students in English, and we are actively expanding our postgraduate intake. For the last few years, we have been co-funding a number of full scholarships for MSt and DPhil students and we are committed to continuing to do all we can to support our students financially, as well as intellectually.

We welcome applications for the following postgraduate courses in English:

  • DPhil in English Language and Literature
  • M.St. English Language and Literature (650 -1550)
  • M.St. English Language and Literature (1550-1700)
  • M.St. English Language and Literature (1700-1830)
  • M.St. English Language and Literature (1830-1914)
  • M.St. English Language and Literature (1900- Present)
  • M.St. English and American Studies
  • M.Phil. English Studies (Medieval Period)
  • M.St. World Literatures in English

Prospective graduate students are welcome to contact the English fellows for an informal discussion about the College.


Why choose Jesus College for graduate study?

The College is unique in its financial provision for postgraduates: it provides generous allowances for research trips and book purchase, and its housing and food are heavily subsidised and among the best value in Oxford. English postgraduates are allocated one of the English tutors as a College advisor, who will serve as a pastoral and intellectual point of contact within Jesus College.

Our graduate students take an active part in the intellectual life of the College and participate in the English Society meetings and poetry readings. These involve dinner for students, tutors and guests, a talk or reading, questions, and then informal drinks. Thus they offer an opportunity to socialise with tutors and students, while also engaging with speakers of the highest calibre (including novelists, cultural historians, poets, and literary critics). There are also numerous other social and intellectual events based in College such as joint speaker evenings with members of the Senior Common Room or annual Graduate dinners to which students invite their supervisors.

In 2018, one group of Jesus DPhil students convened a Graduate Seminar on Early Modern England held at Jesus; another DPhil student hosts a Middle English reading group at Jesus; and yet another organised a speaker event with Pulitzer-prize winning contemporary playwright, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, at Jesus.

If you have any questions about entrance requirements, or about applying to study at Jesus College, please contact the Admissions Officer: