The Cambridge English course is distinctive for its combination of a solid grounding in the essentials of the discipline, and the opportunity to specialize and to innovate. The course is divided into two parts: Part I, largely historical in focus, occupies the first two years of study, and is assessed by coursework and examinations at the end of the first and second years (known as Parts IA and IB); while Part II, in the third year, includes more independent work on a range of optional modules.

Years 1 and 2 - Part I- A broad range 

The first two years of the Cambridge English course focus on four historical papers, covering English literature and its contexts from 1300 to the present day. These papers occupy the majority of Part I students' time, and are examined at the end of the second year, though it's possible to submit a 5,000-word dissertation in place of one of the examinations for the Renaissance, Eighteenth-Century, or Modern paper. While preparing for these 'period' papers, students also in the first year study compulsory papers in Shakespeare and Practical Criticism; these two papers are examined at the end of the first year – the Shakespeare paper by a portfolio of supervision essays, and the Practical Criticism paper by an examination. While Part I is dominated by compulsory papers, there is great flexibility in how these papers are studied: it's possible to substitute work on early medieval, continental, and classical literatures, and even within compulsory papers it is possible (and encouraged!) to pursue independent interests with the guidance of your supervisor.

Year 3 - Part II- Deeper questions, new areas 

In Part II all students are obliged to take two compulsory papers: Practical Criticism and Tragedy. Final-year students must also write a compulsory dissertation (of 6,000 – 7,500 words) and either submit a second dissertation and take one optional paper, or choose two optional papers. The optional papers change regularly but cover a range of topics and periods. These include medieval papers, papers on early modern drama and Shakespeare, papers on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century topics, papers on historical, philosophical, interdisciplinary, and theoretical approaches to English literature, and both post-colonial and contemporary literature papers. The full list of options can be seen on the English Faculty‘s website.

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 (year 2) and Part II (year 3). Further details of these 'borrowable' papers are available on the Faculty's website. 

English at Queens’ 

In addition to lectures and occasional classes in the Faculty of English, students reading English at Queens’ will be supervised at least once a week on the main Tripos papers and will also take part in weekly classes on Practical Criticism and other topics. Supervisions, in which students are seen either individually or in small groups, provide an opportunity for detailed discussion of topics of a kind not possible within the Faculty context, and they enable the College to keep a careful check on each student's progress. A student usually prepares an essay for each supervision, and these essays form the basis of supervision discussion and teaching.

There is neither orthodoxy nor monotony in English studies at Queens'. We aim to bring students into contact with a wide range of critical approaches to literary study and to encourage them to judge and discriminate for themselves. Queens' has a high reputation for English, and gains very good Tripos results. The percentage of our students who have gained Firsts and Upper Seconds has usually been substantially above the University average. The Queens' English community is a diverse, inclusive, and experimental one, welcoming to students from all backgrounds and with all manner of interests and enthusiasms; we encourage applications from applicants from all educational backgrounds, and strive to engage students who bring a wide range of personal, intellectual, and political commitments. We only ask that you love to read, and to write.

Prior to interview applicants are asked to submit two pieces of written work completed during their normal studies; the essays should be recent, and if possible one should have been written in class. During the interview candidates will be asked to read and discuss a short, unseen poem, and to talk about the texts they have studied in class, as well as any books they enjoy reading outside class. The most important means of preparing for an undergraduate course in English literature is to read, and to read widely; the interview offers an opportunity, above all, to talk about this reading.

All applicants for Cambridge English will be required to take a Cambridge College Registered Admissions Assessment.

English subject prizes  

The Queens' College Estelle Prize for English is awarded annually to a student in the Lower Sixth (Year 12), or equivalent, for the best submitted essay on a set question. We are now inviting submissions for the Estelle English Prize 2021/22, sponsored by The Estelle Trust, which will be awarded to the best essay submitted student. 

£500 will be awarded to the best essay and, depending on the strength of the field of submissions, honourable mentions may also be made.

Questions & competition guidelines can be found here.


Queens’ English Fellows


Dr Andrew Zurcher, (Bruce Cleave Fellow in English) Director of Studies 

Andrew works on sixteenth and seventeenth century English literature, with a particular focus on the works of Edmund Spenser, Philip Sidney, and William Shakespeare. 

Dr Joanna Bellis, Bye-Fellow
Jo works on medieval and early modern literature, and is especially interested in historical/eyewitness writing.

Dr Sarah Haggarty, Fellow in English and University Lecturer 

Sarah works on eighteenth-century and romantic literature, with special interests in William Blake, cultural theory, religious writings, and economics.

English is a great subject, and Queens' is a great place to explore it. I have loved navigating my way through the challenges and joys of literature. English students at Queens' invariably have a lovely group dynamic and Andrew is an inspiring, encouraging and supportive Director of studies. English at Queens' gives you the chance to discover and develop your own interests and to share ideas with other people when you're still looking for your own critical voice.

– Lydia, 3rd year English