Second Court

Directors of Studies

Other fellows in English

Number of students admitted each year: 6 - 8

Length of course: 3 years

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Welcome to the English section of Christ's College's website. If you're interested in applying to read English at Cambridge, we have lots of information here for you.

Click on the links to browse the sections:


For five hundred years people from Christ's College have contributed to English literature. Lady Margaret Beaufort, the foundress, translated books from French, and sponsored early printers of English books. Thomas Wyatt, who introduced the sonnet into English in the 1530s, was thought to have been at Christ’s. In the 1550s or 1560s the students 'in Christes Colledge in Cambridge' acted one of the earliest English comedies, the bawdy Gammer Gurton's Needle (printed in William Tydeman, Four Tudor Comedies, Penguin Classics). In the 1950s a recent fellow, C.P. Snow, wrote a set of psychological novels, including The Masters, set in a college suspiciously like ours. In between the college was famous for its writers such as Henry More and William Paley who wrote generously on philosophy - a subject which some students still opt to study within the history of English 'writing'. Poets in college included the modern comic poets C.S. Calverley and Gavin Ewart, the avant-garde poet and publisher Andrew Crozier, the seventeenth-century royalist John Cleveland and – most famously of all - his contemporary John Milton, who went on to write the greatest long poem in English, Paradise Lost. There is also a long tradition of the study of English literature by people from our college. Among the earliest students was John Leland who was employed by Henry VIII to study the medieval literature in the monastic libraries that Henry was destroying. Leland went mad under the strain of the job of being the first English literary historian. Another Christ's student, George Puttenham, wrote the first major work of literary criticism in English, The Art of English Poesy, published in 1589 (excerpted in Gavin Alexander, Sidney's 'The Defence of Poesy' and Selected Renaissance Literary Criticism, Penguin Classics). When people began studying English literature in universities in the Victorian period, one of the pioneers was a fellow of the college, W.W. Skeat - in whose honour we give a prize for the best first-year results. Skeat was the first person to study Chaucer's and Langland's poems in a methodical way. More recently, critics who have been fellows of the college have included L.C. Knights and Christopher Ricks (who remains an honorary fellow). We hope that you will join us in this tradition.

English at Cambridge

The English course at Cambridge (called a 'tripos') is a course of literary criticism, of reading, thinking about and writing about great drama, verse, fiction and non-fiction. In the first two years (called Part IA and Part IB), you will follow the thread of literature in English from the writers of the fourteenth century who first dared to write in their mother tongue to those who sought new ways of representing reality in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. You will be required to range widely from the Middle Ages to the present, studying a range of periods, but within that range there are few 'set texts': for each period you will work with your 'supervisor' (a sort of personal tutor) to choose the literary works or philosophical or cultural questions which seem most of interest. Alongside this story, you study the theory and practice of literary criticism.

In the third year (Part II) you will study tragedy from ancient Greece through Shakespeare and Racine to Edward Albee and Sarah Kane. And you will then have many options for further study: specialist options on (say) medieval dream-visions, material culture in the Renaissance, Romantic lyric or modernist short-stories; literature from America, India, Africa and elsewhere; moral philosophy or aesthetics; or the links between literature and theatre or the visual arts. Finally, you will write one or two dissertations on a literary topic of your choice - a chance to pursue really original research and thinking. The dissertation can relate English literature to foreign literature, another art-form or linguistics if you so wish. Recent topics have included travel in medieval drama, prostitutes in the eighteenth century and Auden's poetry about animals.

The course is hard work but exhilarating, combining a thorough training in the essentials of English literature with freedom to explore your own interests. This freedom to explore works and ideas comes because it is not until the end of the second year that you have examinations and write assessed coursework. In the third year there are examinations on tragedy, practical criticism (the close analysis of unseen passages) and your chosen optional papers. A list of all the papers is given in the English course information (see the course outline tab).

A typical workload in years 1-2

  • one supervision (in pairs or alone), for which you write an essay of about 1,500-2,000 words most weeks
  • one class in practical criticism or critical theory (in a group of three or four), for which you write one or two short timed essays each term
  • one fortnightly class on a foreign literature or on English linguistics (in a group of six to twenty), with some preparatory homework
  • one seminar for wider study (in a group), for which you prepare one or two short oral presentations each term
  • roughly five or six lectures, chosen from any on offer that interest you
  • about thirty hours of reading and private study to complete the above

English at Christ's

Teaching is normally based in college, although for some papers it is conducted by somebody from another college with a special interest. You will be taught in one-to-one and two-to-one 'supervisions', or meetings rather like conversations, for each of which you prepare a short essay or other piece of work as a talking-point. We pride ourselves at Christ's on our supervisions, especially in taking care over people's writing skills. You will also have classes in groups of 6-8 in college and of 10-20 in the central Faculty of English for some papers (for example Shakespeare), giving you the chance to debate with other students. The Faculty of English runs further lectures and seminars, from which you choose the ones most interesting to you or most relevant to the reading you are doing. However, this teaching will fill only a few hours of the week. You will spend most of your time - we expect about thirty hours a week - reading and researching, following the guidance of your supervisor.

Enthusiasm for literature and cultural life underpins everything that we do, for literary studies merge work and play to a curious degree. We have had summer supervisions on Milton's prose-style beneath the mulberry tree planted in the year of his birth. We have had evening seminars with guests telling us about Tolstoy or with recent films for discussion. We have an annual Middle English mistranslation competition, an annual trip to The Globe and more bacchanalian revels at our annual dinner, Christmas party and garden party. In 2008 we celebrated Milton's four-hundredth birthday with lectures, plays and a reading aloud of all of Paradise Lost in one day (!). The students launched a website for year 12 and 13 pupils who want to learn about Milton, called Darkness Visible and themselves taught classes on Milton to visiting year 12 pupils, and we now run an annual Year 12 Taster Day on Milton.

The English students also independently act in plays, such as Romeo and Juliet in the Master's garden, design theatrical costumes professionally, sell their paintings and hold grants for the visual arts, sing or play in orchestras and musicals, read Dryden aloud on Radio 4, or participate in University Challenge. Some have energized student politics or written journalism for student newspapers and occasionally the national press. Many English students write creatively, and some have even won prizes and been published. They are also frequently awarded travel grants - of which Christ's College has many - to do social work in India or visit Italy to brush up a language or visit museums. After graduation one or two stay at Christ's for MPhils and PhDs, recently in subjects from Renaissance literature and painting to Nabokov's novels; others study topics further at other universities, from the Enlightenment in Harvard to postcolonial writing in Belfast. Most, of course, go into all manner of other professions: barristers and business people, PR consultants for diamond dealers, radio journalists, kindergarten teachers in Italy, schoolteachers in inner cities, and many other things. All take with them the memory of three years of reading the works of some of the greatest minds, and of stretching their own minds to be independent, creative and searching in work and play.

Who we are

Edward AllenDr Edward Allen works for the most part on literature of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. His research focusses on things that have to do with sound - voices, ears, melodic lines, song lyrics, radio, telephony, the BBC - and on the ways such things might be thought to influence, complicate or colour habits of reading and interpretation. He has just completed a book about the technology of early twentieth-century poetry, and is now making small steps towards a study of earworms (that is, tunes or poems that get stuck in your head). He teaches various papers for both parts of the English Tripos, including Lyric and American. 

Kylie MurrayDr Kylie Murray works on the literature of Medieval Britain in English, Latin, French, and Scots, with a particular focus on the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. She has written a book on the Medieval Scottish dream-vision (forthcoming: Oxford University Press, 2017) , and is completing a second book about the reception of the philosopher, Boethius, in Medieval and Renaissance Scotland. Her other principal interest is book history: that is, how texts were produced, how they circulated in manuscript and early printed form, and what this can tell us about who was reading these works, when, and how. Cambridge itself houses many manuscript and print treasures, which we incorporate into your study of Medieval literature at Christ's. Kylie teaches literature from c.1066-c.1550, on Papers 2 and 3 (Part I) and Paper 1, Paper 5, and Paper 6 (part II).

Sophie ReadDr Sophie Read worked formerly as a publisher. Her main research interests are religious language in seventeenth-century poems and sermons, rhetoric and the history of the senses in the renaissance; she also works on and teaches eighteenth- and nineteenth-century literature. She has written one monograph, Eucharist and the Poetic Imagination in Early Modern England, and essays on Shakespeare and Lancelot Andrewes. Her other academic interest is contemporary poetry of the Cambridge school.

Student Profiles

Esme, Becca and Charlotte all study English here at Christ's College. They have written about their experiences of studying English in their student profiles:

If you would like to read more accounts from Christ's students, please see the student profiles page.

What we are looking for

We are looking for your enthusiasm for literature and for signs that you are a 'self-starter', ready for independent study. Most importantly, you should be a keen reader. You should want to spend a week reading four or five plays by Shakespeare or Beckett (say). You should already read good books - and decide what you think count as good books - beyond the 'set texts' of school. In whatever genres or periods interest you, you should enjoy thinking exactly about the ways in which writers use words, with intelligence, with sensitivity and with a sense of humour.

You should have intellectual curiosity. You should relish the opportunity to have a 'supervision' or conversation about your interests, whether with a professor sharing her years of knowledge or with a brilliant young graduate student developing radical new ideas, hoping to learn from them and to teach them something in turn. You should enjoy a whole class uncovering the language, metre and politics of one poem in depth. And you should enjoy a research project in which, over weeks in the rare book library, you become the expert on whatever curious question you choose.

How to apply

We welcome applications from all backgrounds and school types. Details and a timeline for the application process can be found on the how to apply page, and if you'll be applying from outside the UK, there is also a dedicated section for international students. The information below provides the additional details specific to applicants for English.

School subject advice for English

Neither we nor the Faculty of English in Cambridge overall have any fixed rules about which other subjects you should have studied, beyond the requirement to study some English Literature at A-level or equivalent. At Christ's College, we select each of you on your abilities in English studies alone. We are happy to consider students who have taken a "combined" A-level (or equivalent) in English Language and Literature, though if you have the choice between the "combined" A-level and a "single" A-level in English Literature, we would encourage you to choose the "single" A-level.

There is no need to study English Language A level separately as well as English Literature, out of only three subjects, as that might be a slightly narrow preparation.
Overall, we tend to find that successful applicants study traditionally academic rather than practical or vocational subjects, in order to improve their ability to read widely in independent study, to conduct critical analysis of primary texts or scientific data, and to engage with long and complex traditions of intellectual thought. A foreign language at A level - no matter what language – is an excellent way to sharpen your ability to understand the English language and its literature, as well as being a useful tool for the student of the humanities and a useful skill for life. But we welcome applicants with less conventional sets of qualifications – science, maths, music – too.

The ELAT (Pre-interview Admissions Assessment)

All students applying to the University of Cambridge for English Literature must sit a pre-interview admissions assessment called the English Literature Admissions Test (ELAT). This will take place in your school, college or local testing centre on 30 October 2019. The same assessment is used regardless of which College you have applied to. The English Literature Admissions Assessment examines your academic abilities, knowledge-base and potential, and forms part of our holistic admissions process: there is no set score that we are looking for. When applying, it is important to be aware of the registration and assessment dates:

  • All English Literature applicants applying in 2019 must be registered to take the English Admissions Assessment by 18:00 UK time on 15 October 2019. See how to be registered.
    Please note that open centres may set an earlier deadline for accepting entries, and it is your responsibility to check if this applies at your centre.
  • All English Literature applicants applying in 2018 sit the assessment on 30 October 2019.

Information about the assessment including preparation information, example papers and subject content is available on the University Admissions website and the ELAT website from March each year.

Written work

When we receive your application, we will ask you to send to us two marked essays that you feel accurately reflect your abilities and interests. In most cases, these would be written for English teachers at school and marked by them. These essays should be samples of your normal schoolwork and not specially prepared projects. We recommend that you keep copies of your essays for your own reference. One or both of these essays may be discussed at interview. Full written work guidelines will be provided as part of the current applicants section on this website (published by 20 September each year).


When you submit your application, on your personal statement tell us mostly about your literary, academic and other cultural interests, so that we can discuss them with you at the interview. These interests are of most concern to us in judging your preparedness for the course.

It is likely that you will be invited for interview in December. Candidates invited for interview at Christ's normally have two interviews with academic in English. In your interviews we might well discuss your essays, as we would in a 'supervision'. We may also offer you a short passage or poem to read and discuss on the spot ('unseen' or 'practical criticism'). We will certainly ask you about your interests in literature in general beyond your set schoolwork. Further, more general information about interviews (including two useful films) is available in the Cambridge interviews section.

We also hold interviews in a number of locations overseas. If this may be relevant for you, please see the international students section.


We aim to admit between 6 and 8 students in English each year. Our conditional offers are usually A*AA at A Level including English Literature (or English Language and Literature), or 42 points overall in the IB with 7,7,6 at Higher Level including English, or the equivalent in other qualifications. Occasionally we may specify that the A* or equivalent should be in English Literature.

The international students section has further information about typical offers for other qualifications. If you will have already finished school when you apply, please see the page for post-qualification applications


Further Information