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: ‘Drama on Stage and Page’, ‘Meddling with Allegory’ and ‘Early Modern Violence’.
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: ‘Milton and the Philosophers’, ‘Early Modern Life Writing’, ‘Shakespeare, History, and Politics’ and ‘Literature, Travel, and Cross-Cultural Encounters’.
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 of 5,000 to 6,000 words – 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.
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 2021-22
Proven and potential academic excellence
As a minimum, applicants should hold or be predicted to achieve the equivalent of the following UK qualifications:
- 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.
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.
English language requirement
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 (Institution code: 0490)||110||Listening: 22|
*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.
You will be required to supply supporting documents with your application, including references and an official transcript. See 'How to apply' for instructions on the documents you will need and how these will be assessed.
Performance at interview
Interviews are not normally held as part of the admissions process.
Any offer of a place is dependent on the University’s ability to provide the appropriate supervision for your chosen area of work. Please refer to the ‘About’ section of this page for more information about the provision of supervision for this course.
How your application is assessed
Your application will be assessed purely on academic merit and potential, according to the published entry requirements for the course. Students are selected for admission without regard to gender, marital or civil partnership status, disability, race, nationality, ethnic origin, religion or belief, sexual orientation, age or social background. Whether you have secured funding will not be taken into consideration when your application is assessed.
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.
After an offer is made
If you receive an offer of a place at Oxford, you will 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.
The 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 2014 Research Excellence Framework. The department was voted the top university for English language and literature in the Independent’s Complete University Guide 2011 and in the 2016 QS World University Rankings. 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 up to 1,000 full or partial graduate scholarships across the collegiate University in 2021-22. 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 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 college-specific funding opportunities using the links provided on our college pages.
Further information about funding opportunities for this course can be found on the faculty's website.
Annual fees for entry in 2021-22
Annual Course fees
|Home (UK, Republic of Ireland,|
Channel Islands & Isle of Man)
|Overseas (including EU)||£27,460|
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 likely increases 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.
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 2021-22 academic year, the range of likely living costs for full-time study is between c. £1,175 and £1,710 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 2021-22, you should allow for an estimated increase in living expenses of 3% each year.
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):
How to apply
You are not expected to contact an academic member of staff before you apply.
The set of documents you should send with your application to this course comprises the following:
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 one essay of a maximum of 4,000 words or two essays of a maximum of 2,000 words each
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.
References/letters of recommendation:
Three overall, generally academic
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.
Start or continue an application
Step 1: Read our guide to getting started, which explains how to prepare for and start an application.
Step 2: Check that you meet the Entry requirements and read the How to apply information on this page.
Step 3: Check the deadlines on this page and plan your time to submit your application well in advance.
Step 4: Our Application Guide will help you complete the form. It contains links to FAQs and further help.
Step 5: Submit your application as soon as possible (you can read more information about our deadlines).