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English at Cambridge

Over the centuries, many writers have studied in Cambridge: Spenser, Marlowe, Milton, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Tennyson, Forster, Plath, Hughes, Byatt and Zadie Smith. When it was first established in the early twentieth century, the Cambridge English course was considered daringly innovative and this ethos continues to shape teaching and research today.

Today’s course balances a strong grounding in the core of English literature with the chance to explore literature from around the world, other art forms, the English language, and related intellectual traditions.

Cambridge English Tripos consists of two parts: for students taking the full English Literature course, Part I lasts two years, while Part II is the final year of the course. Either Part of the English Tripos may be combined with Parts of some other Triposes, subject to approval by the Directors of Studies concerned. Those changing to English from another Tripos are required to take Part II after two years, subject to approval by the Director of Studies in English.

The course outline will be changing for those applying to start the course in 2020.

Course outline for 2020 entry

You’re introduced to the full range of English literature from the Middle Ages to the present day. There are few set texts, so that while you must study widely, you can also focus on topics of interest to you.

Teaching is provided through lectures, seminars, and small-group supervisions and classes.

You typically attend at least six hours of lectures or seminars, and two to three hours of individual, paired or small-group supervision each week. You normally write one or two short essays per week which you then discuss with your supervisor.

Year 1 (Part IA)

You take two compulsory papers:

•             Paper 1: Practical Criticism and Critical Practice;

•             Paper 2: Shakespeare (assessed by a portfolio of essays submittedin

Easter Term).

You also start work on two of the period papers, which will be examined in Part IB.

Year 2 (Part IB)

You take one compulsory paper (Paper 4: English Literature and its Contexts 1300-1550), and a further three papers from the following list:

•             Paper 3: Early Medieval Literature and its Contexts 1066-1350;

•             Paper 5: English Literature and its Contexts 1500-1700;

•             Paper 6: English Literature and its Contexts 1660-1870;

•             Paper 7a: English Literature and its Contexts 1830-1945 or Paper 7b: English Literature and its Contexts 1870-Present

One of Papers 4 – 7b can be replaced by a dissertation.

Year 3 (Part II)

You take two compulsory papers:

•             Practical Criticism and Critical Practice II

•             Tragedy, which ranges from ancient Greek drama to contemporary writing

You also write a compulsory dissertation (of 6,000-7,500 words) and either submit a second dissertation (of 6,000-7,500 words) and take one optional paper, or choose two optional papers. The optional papers change regularly, and the following are available in 2018-19:

•             Chaucer;

•             Medieval English Literature 1066-1500: The Medieval Supernatural;

•             Early Modern Drama 1588-1642;

•             Material Renaissance;

•             Lyric;

•             Special Period of English Literature 1847-72;

•             Modernism and the Short Story;

•             Contemporary Writing in English;

•             Postcolonial and Related Literatures;

•             American Literature;

•             The Ethical Imagination;

•             History and Theory of Literary Criticism;

•             Literature and Visual Culture.

Subject to certain restrictions, it’s possible to take papers from the Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic; Classics; or Modern and Medieval Languages courses in Part IB and Part II. Further details of these papers are available on the Faculty website.

English at Sidney

English students and Fellows at Sidney are a diverse community, with interests across the breadth of the Cambridge degree course (our Fellows research and teach literature from the medieval period to the modern day). We feel that this contributes both to our students' learning experience at Sidney, and to their strong exam performance in recent years. There are also many opportunities at Sidney for extracurricular engagement with the subject, including our New Arcadians drama society, a popular annual reading competition, and the new Sidney Greats lecture series.

Hear from a student... 

    The first thing to say is that Cambridge is an unbelievable place to live and Sidney is a really welcoming college which will make you feel at home straight away. We are such a small community that you will get to know the second and third year English students quickly.

English at Cambridge is a very balanced degree in comparison to other courses. We have the opportunity to receive one to one teaching from world experts (supervisions), but we also have a lot of time for independent study, so you can take your interests and run with them pretty much.

In terms of work spaces, there is a 24 hour library in College, but a particularly spacious and well stocked option is the English faculty library. The University Library (UL) has a more serious feel than the Faculty, and can be a nice place to get some private study done without the distraction of lots of other English students around.

ThMishal Bandukda, English undergraduate at Sidneyroughout the year, there will be lectures, along with a weekly essay, and your supervisions will be based on whatever you have chosen to write on. In between reading for essays, however, it is a good idea to get involved with other things to fill your time. Lots of English students do theatre, journalism, poetry readings but there’s also student politics and sports teams. It doesn’t have to all be ‘organised fun’; Cambridge is a city with cute old coffee shops to read in, and the Fitzwilliam Museum has some amazing pieces which might even help you with an essay on Visual Culture.

Mishal Bandukda, Sidney English undergraduate


Director of Studies (DoS)

Dr Edward Wilson-Lee, whose research is on late-medieval and early modern English and European literature, including the works and posthumous reception of Philip Sidney.


Dr Tania Demetriou

Professor Christopher Page, whose interest is in medieval literature, both English and French, and including medieval Latin and Anglo-Saxon. He is also professionally involved in the performance of medieval music, giving concerts and producing recordings. His books include Voices and Instruments of the Middle Ages, and The Owl and the Nightingale: Musical Life and Ideas in France 1100-1300.

Mr Clive Wilmer, a poet and translator whose research and teaching lies in Victorian and modernist literature, with emphasis on John Ruskin, William Morris, and Ezra Pound. His books include editions of Ruskin, Morris, and D.G. Rossetti; and five books of poetry, including Selected Poems and The Falls.

All of our undergraduate students are allocated a Director of Studies and learn from specialists in particular areas of their subject. From time to time, individual teaching staff may be away on leave.

Typical Intake

5 - 6

Standard Entry Requirements

A*AA at A Level

41-42 points in the IB, with 776 at Higher Level

Please see the University website for standard entry requirements in other qualifications.

Please note that offers are set on an individual basis using all of the information available to us in context of the entire field of applicants.

All Colleges require A-level/IB Higher Level English Literature. At Sidney, we would accept English Language and Literature as a substitute. We consider Classics, Modern Languages and History to be useful subjects for our English course, but students are admitted from a wide range of subject combinations.

Admissions Process

Written work

Two essays, written for A-level (or equivalent) English Literature. We will send out more specific information about what is required after the UCAS deadline.

Admissions Assessments

Pre-interview assessment. Read more about the admissions assessment on the University website.


Two interviews, both focussed on English literature. There will be a passage to read 1 hour before the first interview.

Find out more

Faculty of English

University website English course page

The Virtual Classroom

Cambridge Authors






Skype interviews may be considered for international applicants on a case-by-case basis in certain subjects. If you wish to enquire further, please contact the Admissions Office (