MSt in English (1550-1700)
About the course
The English master's programmes are designed to serve both as an autonomous degree for students wishing to pursue more advanced studies in English literature, and as a solid foundation for doctoral research.
The MSt in English (1550-1700) offers students the opportunity both to explore their own interests within this remarkably rich period in English literary history, and to develop the skills necessary for pursuing these interests with real breadth and depth. Its varied components allow students to study texts in careful detail, and to pursue large and ambitious concepts: as such, the MSt is well-suited both to those who want an additional, stand-alone year of coherent literary study, and those who are interested in going on to undertake doctoral research. The mixture of interpretative, scholarly, and writerly skills that the course helps to foster are ideal for applicants interested in a range of subsequent paths, both inside and outside the academy.
The MSt programme consists of four main components. In the first two terms, you will take a core course (A), in which specialists in Early Modern literature from across the English Faculty will introduce you to key concepts and debates within the period 1550-1700. You will also take a second core course (B), in book history and the materiality of the text, which will allow you to engage closely with the unparalleled collections of the Bodleian Libraries. You will additionally choose two courses from a wide range of thematic options (C courses), which might focus on a given author in depth, or explore a broader theme. Finally, under the guidance of a specialist supervisor you will also research and write a dissertation on a topic of your choosing, which is submitted in the final term.
A. Core course: Critical Questions in Early Modern Literature
This is the core course for this MSt, and introduces students to key texts and current debates on the literature and cultural history of the period. It is intended both to help students find their feet as they begin advanced literary study, and to allow them to sample discussions taking place at the cutting edge of the field. It is formally non-assessed but compulsory.
Each seminar of this course is led by a different scholar with expertise in the area being discussed, ensuring your exposure to a wide range of texts and approaches. Recent sessions include: ‘Meddling with Allegory’, ‘Travel, Race, Power’, and ‘The Female Signature’.
B. Core course: Bibliography, Theories of Text, History of the Book, Manuscript Studies
On this course you will explore the materiality of texts: drawing on the unparalleled early modern holdings of the Bodleian Library, you will consider the production, circulation and reception of texts as physical objects. This means examining, among other things, the ways in which manuscripts moved between scribes and readers; annotated books and the history of reading; palaeography; editing and ideology; and the roles of publishers and printers in the period. Seminars will offer a blend of critical reflection alongside first-hand access to rare print and manuscript materials.
Alongside its rich holdings of printed books, the Bodleian Library contains large collections of manuscript prose and poetry which have yet to be fully charted, as well as many hybrid books that combine both print and manuscript in diverse ways. Its resources include collections in Latin, Greek and Hebrew, as well as autograph manuscripts by John Donne, John Milton and Elizabeth I. The Centre for the Study of the Book also offers MSt students a hands-on understanding of the material, intellectual and social history of Early Modern print and manuscript culture, while the Bibliography Room offers students the chance to learn how to set type and to print by hand.
Recent student work has included an edition of early modern letters (never before edited); an account of post-Reformation collecting and library-building; and a study of recently discovered women’s manuscripts. The course is taught via seminars and tutorials in each of the first two terms. It forms an integral part of the skills with which the MSt equips its students, and it is compulsory and assessed.
C. Special options
The special option courses present an excellent opportunity for you to develop and pursue your research interests. Each year the special options that are offered reflect the diversity of interest and approach within the English Faculty itself, and will encompass various methodologies and degrees of focus. Recent and future options include: ‘Slow Reading Spenser’, ‘Early Modern Life Writing’, ‘Of Essays: Origins and Afterlives’ and ‘Twelfth Night’.
You are not constrained to follow option courses within the designated period and, indeed, option courses often traverse the boundaries of the broad periods. The courses are taught in weekly, small group seminars.
You will write a 10,000- to 11,000-word dissertation on a subject of your choice, but related to the work you have been doing over the year. You will be assigned to a member of academic staff who will act as your supervisor, and will have the opportunity to work closely with them over an extended period of time while developing your work. Like all of the teaching for the MSt, the dissertation supervision is intended to help students develop both their skills as researchers, and their fluency as writers.
The allocation of graduate supervision for this course is the responsibility of the Faculty of English and it is not always possible to accommodate the preferences of incoming graduate students to work with a particular member of staff. Under exceptional circumstances a supervisor may be found outside the Faculty of English.
The MSt programme is assessed via the submission of four pieces of coursework. In addition to the dissertation, you will submit three essays – one at the end of the first term, and two at the end of the second term – relating to the B and C courses that have been taken.
All course work will be completed by the end of the second term (Hilary term), leaving the summer term (Trinity term) to complete the dissertation, which is submitted in June.
Many English taught-course students go onto doctoral research, both at Oxford and at other universities worldwide. Other graduates pursue careers in occupations including teaching, journalism, law, publishing and the civil service.
Changes to this course and your supervision
The University will seek to deliver this course in accordance with the description set out in this course page. However, there may be situations in which it is desirable or necessary for the University to make changes in course provision, either before or after registration. The safety of students, staff and visitors is paramount and major changes to delivery or services may have to be made in circumstances of a pandemic (including Covid-19), epidemic or local health emergency. In addition, in certain circumstances, for example due to visa difficulties or because the health needs of students cannot be met, it may be necessary to make adjustments to course requirements for international study.
Where possible your academic supervisor will not change for the duration of your course. However, it may be necessary to assign a new academic supervisor during the course of study or before registration for reasons which might include illness, sabbatical leave, parental leave or change in employment.
For further information please see our page on changes to courses and the provisions of the student contract regarding changes to courses.
Other courses you may wish to consider
If you're thinking about applying for this course, you may also wish to consider the courses listed below. These courses may have been suggested due to their similarity with this course, or because they are offered by the same department or faculty.
All graduate courses offered by the Faculty of English Language and Literature
Entry requirements for entry in 2023-24
Proven and potential academic excellence
As a minimum, applicants should hold or be predicted to achieve the following UK qualifications or their equivalent:
- a first-class or strong upper second-class undergraduate degree with honours in English literature and/or English language, or exceptionally a related subject.
For applicants with a degree from the USA, the minimum GPA sought is 3.75 (with at least 3.85 in the major) out of 4.0.
If your degree is not from the UK or another country specified above, visit our International Qualifications page for guidance on the qualifications and grades that would usually be considered to meet the University’s minimum entry requirements.
GRE General Test scores
No Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or GMAT scores are sought.
- Publications are not required and the English Faculty does not expect applicants to have been published.
- There is no automatic transfer from a taught to a research course. Current students wishing to be considered for the DPhil programme submit applications that are assessed and considered alongside applicants with master's degrees from other universities.
English language proficiency
This course requires proficiency in English at the University's higher level. If your first language is not English, you may need to provide evidence that you meet this requirement. The minimum scores required to meet the University's higher level are detailed in the table below.
|Test||Minimum overall score||Minimum score per component|
|IELTS Academic (Institution code: 0713)||7.5||7.0|
TOEFL iBT, including the 'Home Edition'
(Institution code: 0490)
*Previously known as the Cambridge Certificate of Advanced English or Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE)
†Previously known as the Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency in English or Cambridge English: Proficiency (CPE)
Your test must have been taken no more than two years before the start date of your course. Our Application Guide provides further information about the English language test requirement.
Declaring extenuating circumstances
If your ability to meet the entry requirements has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic (eg you were awarded an unclassified/ungraded degree) or any other exceptional personal circumstance (eg other illness or bereavement), please refer to the guidance on extenuating circumstances in the Application Guide for information about how to declare this so that your application can be considered appropriately.
You will need to register three referees who can give an informed view of your academic ability and suitability for the course. The How to apply section of this page provides details of the types of reference that are required in support of your application for this course and how these will be assessed.
You will be required to supply supporting documents with your application, including an official transcript and a CV/résumé. The How to apply section of this page provides details of the supporting documents that are required as part of your application for this course and how these will be assessed.
Performance at interview
Interviews are not normally held as part of the admissions process.
How your application is assessed
Your application will be assessed purely on your proven and potential academic excellence and other entry requirements published under that heading. References and supporting documents submitted as part of your application, and your performance at interview (if interviews are held) will be considered as part of the assessment process.
An overview of the shortlisting and selection process is provided below. Our 'After you apply' pages provide more information about how applications are assessed.
Shortlisting and selection
Students are considered for shortlisting and selected for admission without regard to age, disability, gender reassignment, marital or civil partnership status, pregnancy and maternity, race (including colour, nationality and ethnic or national origins), religion or belief (including lack of belief), sex, sexual orientation, as well as other relevant circumstances including parental or caring responsibilities or social background. However, please note the following:
- socio-economic information may be taken into account in the selection of applicants and award of scholarships for courses that are part of the University’s pilot selection procedure and for scholarships aimed at under-represented groups;
- country of ordinary residence may be taken into account in the awarding of certain scholarships; and
- protected characteristics may be taken into account during shortlisting for interview or the award of scholarships where the University has approved a positive action case under the Equality Act 2010.
Whether or not you have secured funding will not be taken into consideration when your application is assessed.
Processing your data for shortlisting and selection
Admissions panels and assessors
All recommendations to admit a student involve the judgement of at least two members of the academic staff with relevant experience and expertise, and must also be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies or Admissions Committee (or equivalent within the department).
Admissions panels or committees will always include at least one member of academic staff who has undertaken appropriate training.
Other factors governing whether places can be offered
The following factors will also govern whether candidates can be offered places:
- the ability of the University to provide the appropriate supervision for your studies, as outlined under the 'Supervision' heading in the About section of this page;
- the ability of the University to provide appropriate support for your studies (eg through the provision of facilities, resources, teaching and/or research opportunities); and
- minimum and maximum limits to the numbers of students who may be admitted to the University's taught and research programmes.
Offer conditions for successful applications
If you receive an offer of a place at Oxford, your offer will outline any conditions that you need to satisfy and any actions you need to take, together with any associated deadlines. These may include academic conditions, such as achieving a specific final grade in your current degree course. These conditions will usually depend on your individual academic circumstances and may vary between applicants. Our After you apply pages provide more information about offers and conditions.
In addition to any academic conditions which are set, you will also be required to meet the following requirements:
If you are offered a place, you will be required to complete a Financial Declaration in order to meet your financial condition of admission.
Disclosure of criminal convictions
In accordance with the University’s obligations towards students and staff, we will ask you to declare any relevant, unspent criminal convictions before you can take up a place at Oxford.
The facilities for English graduate students in Oxford are outstanding. In the faculty building you will find superb computing resources, a graduate common room, a café and an excellent discipline-specific library.
The English Faculty Library holds over 110,000 volumes and a wide range of print journals; it also provides regular information skills training to support teaching and research in English. Graduate students have access to all of Oxford's libraries, numbering over one hundred and including the world-famous collections of the Bodleian Library.
You will have the opportunity to hear lectures and papers by leading writers, critics, and theorists from inside and outside the University. You are encouraged to participate in the many research seminars and reading groups that run throughout term time, many of which are coordinated by graduates themselves.
There is an active and lively graduate organisation funded by the faculty, English Graduates at Oxford (EGO), that organises study skills, training and career development seminars, as well as social events and conferences.
Oxford’s Faculty of English Language and Literature is by far the largest English department in the UK and has a very distinguished research record, awarded top grades in the 2021 Research Excellence Framework. The faculty leads the Complete University League Tables (2023) and QS World University Rankings (2022) for English Language and Literature. Teaching has been graded ‘excellent’ in every quality assurance review.
The faculty currently has 80 permanent members of academic staff, including 9 statutory professors. This is in addition to a further 100 or so members teaching in the colleges and temporary members of staff. There are currently around 900 undergraduate students (with roughly 260 admitted each year to the single honours school and a further 20 to joint honours school programmes). The Oxford English Faculty has the largest graduate school in the country, with approximately 95 master's students, with a further 120 graduate research students. For the publications and research interests of particular faculty members, please consult their individual webpages.
The University expects to be able to offer around 1,000 full or partial graduate scholarships across the collegiate University in 2023-24. You will be automatically considered for the majority of Oxford scholarships, if you fulfil the eligibility criteria and submit your graduate application by the relevant December or January deadline. Most scholarships are awarded on the basis of academic merit and/or potential.
For further details about searching for funding as a graduate student visit our dedicated Funding pages, which contain information about how to apply for Oxford scholarships requiring an additional application, details of external funding, loan schemes and other funding sources.
Please ensure that you visit individual college websites for details of any college-specific funding opportunities using the links provided on our college pages or below:
Please note that not all the colleges listed above may accept students on this course. For details of those which do, please refer to the College preference section of this page.
Further information about funding opportunities for this course can be found on the faculty's website.
Annual fees for entry in 2023-24
Annual Course fees
Further details about fee status eligibility can be found on the fee status webpage.
Information about course fees
Course fees are payable each year, for the duration of your fee liability (your fee liability is the length of time for which you are required to pay course fees). For courses lasting longer than one year, please be aware that fees will usually increase annually. For details, please see our guidance on changes to fees and charges.
Course fees cover your teaching as well as other academic services and facilities provided to support your studies. Unless specified in the additional information section below, course fees do not cover your accommodation, residential costs or other living costs. They also don’t cover any additional costs and charges that are outlined in the additional information below.
Where can I find further information about fees?
The Fees and Funding section of this website provides further information about course fees, including information about fee status and eligibility and your length of fee liability.
There are no compulsory elements of this course that entail additional costs beyond fees and living costs. However, as part of your course requirements, you may need to choose a dissertation, a project or a thesis topic. Please note that, depending on your choice of topic and the research required to complete it, you may incur additional expenses, such as travel expenses, research expenses, and field trips. You will need to meet these additional costs, although you may be able to apply for small grants from your department and/or college to help you cover some of these expenses.
In addition to your course fees, you will need to ensure that you have adequate funds to support your living costs for the duration of your course.
For the 2023-24 academic year, the range of likely living costs for full-time study is between c. £1,290 and £1,840 for each month spent in Oxford. Full information, including a breakdown of likely living costs in Oxford for items such as food, accommodation and study costs, is available on our living costs page. When planning your finances for any future years of study in Oxford beyond 2023-24, it is suggested that you allow for potential increases in living expenses of 5% or more each year – although this rate may vary significantly depending on how the national economic situation develops. UK inflationary increases will be kept under review and this page updated.
All graduate students at Oxford belong to a department or faculty and a college or hall (except those taking non-matriculated courses). If you apply for a place on this course you will have the option to express a preference for one of the colleges listed below, or you can ask us to find a college for you. The Colleges section of this website provides information about the college system at Oxford, as well as factors you may wish to consider when deciding whether to express a college preference. Please note that ‘college’ and ‘colleges’ refers to all 45 of the University’s colleges, including those designated as Permanent Private Halls (PPHs).
For some courses, the department or faculty may have provided some additional advice below to help you to decide. Whatever you decide, it won’t affect how the academic department assesses your application and whether they decide to make you an offer. If your department makes you an offer of a place, you’re guaranteed a place at one of our colleges.
The following colleges accept students on the MSt in English (1550-1700):
Before you apply
Our guide to getting started provides general advice on how to prepare for and start your application. Check the deadlines on this page and the information about deadlines in our Application Guide. If it's important for you to have your application considered under a particular deadline – eg under a December or January deadline in order to be considered for Oxford scholarships – we recommend that you aim to complete and submit your application at least two weeks in advance.
Application fee waivers
An application fee of £75 is payable per course application. Application fee waivers are available for the following applicants who meet the eligibility criteria:
- applicants from low-income countries;
- refugees and displaced persons;
- UK applicants from low-income backgrounds; and
- applicants who applied for our Graduate Access Programmes in the past two years and met the eligibility criteria.
You are encouraged to check whether you're eligible for an application fee waiver before you apply.
Do I need to contact anyone before I apply?
You do not need to make contact with the department before you apply but you are encouraged to visit the relevant departmental webpages to read any further information about your chosen course.
Completing your application
You should refer to the information below when completing the application form, paying attention to the specific requirements for the supporting documents. If any document does not meet the specification, including the stipulated word count, your application may be considered incomplete and not assessed by the academic department. Expand each section to show further details.
Three overall, academic preferred
Whilst you must register three referees, the department may start the assessment of your application if two of the three references are submitted by the course deadline and your application is otherwise complete. Please note that you may still be required to ensure your third referee supplies a reference for consideration.
The Faculty of English expects three academic references in all but exceptional cases, and never fewer than two academic references.
Your references will support intellectual ability, academic achievement and motivation.
Your transcripts should give detailed information of the individual grades received in your university-level qualifications to date. You should only upload official documents issued by your institution and any transcript not in English should be accompanied by a certified translation.
More information about the transcript requirement is available in the Application Guide.
A CV/résumé is compulsory for all applications. Most applicants choose to submit a document of one to two pages highlighting their academic achievements and any relevant professional experience.
Statement of purpose/personal statement:
A maximum of 1,000 words
Your statement should be written in English and explain your motivation for applying for the course at Oxford, your relevant experience and education, and the specific areas that interest you and/or you intend to specialise in.
If possible, please ensure that the word count is clearly displayed on the document.
Your statement will be assessed for:
- evidence of motivation for and understanding of the proposed area of study and the nature of the course applied to
- commitment to the subject
- evidence of a defined set of research interests.
Your statement should indicate your academic interests rather than personal interests, achievements and aspirations.
Either two essays of a maximum of 2,000 words each or one essay of a maximum of 4,000 words
Academic essays or other writing samples from your most recent qualification, written in English, are required. Extracts from longer pieces are welcome but should be prefaced by a note which puts them in context.
It is preferable for your work to be related to the subject area you intend to study. The word count does not need to include any bibliography or brief footnotes.
If possible, please ensure that the word count is clearly displayed on the document.
This will be assessed for:
- analytical and critical acumen
- ability to construct and defend an argument
- powers of expression.
Instructions for submitting one long piece of work instead of two short pieces
To submit one longer piece of work in your application instead of two shorter pieces, you should upload this document in the first 'Written work' slot on the 'Supporting Documents' tab of the Application Form. In the second 'Written work' slot, you should upload a PDF document with the following statement:
'I have included one long essay in lieu of two short essays. I have checked the course page to confirm this is permitted for this course.'
Start or continue your application
You can start or return to an application using the relevant link below. As you complete the form, please refer to the requirements above and consult our Application Guide for advice. You'll find the answers to most common queries in our FAQs.