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Home > Courses > Courses for 2017 > Postgraduate > English Literature
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English Literature MA

UCAS code
Year of entry 2017
View 2018 entry »
Course Length
1 year full time
2 years part time
Department English »


If you want to undertake further English literature study with an MA, but don't want to specialise in any one area, MA English Literature may be the perfect course for you.  With such a wide range of expertise in the department, you have the option to choose units from the MAs in Medieval Studies, Shakespeare, Victorian Literature, Art and Culture and specialist options in Modernism and Contemporary Literature. The course is ideal if you are interested in more than one period of English literature, or if you want to combine or juxtapose the literatures and genres of different periods.

You'll choose the equivalent of two whole courses from across the four MA literature programmes and research a 12,000-15,000 word dissertation as well as the unifying course of the MA, 'Methods and Materials of Research'.

Join a department that's joint 2nd in the UK for outstanding and world-leading research environments (REF 2014). You'll benefit from our incredible research: over two thirds of our research was judged ‘world leading and internationally excellent’ in REF 2014.  All staff in the department are highly regarded scholars, writers and critics who are engaged in research, writing ground-breaking books, talking to or writing in the national media, and providing expert advice to organisations including the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Department for Education and other national and international bodies.

Students are able to study this course full-time for one year or part-time for two years.

Core modules

Methods and Materials of Research

This module is designed to introduce you to a number of key topics related to the methods of postgraduate research, and to some of the resources and materials that will be useful to your studies.

Dissertation

This will be a piece of original written work, of between 12,000 and 15,000 words. The topic of the dissertation will be agreed between you and whichever member of staff is allotted as supervisor and is normally required to be submitted by the beginning of September in the year of the completion of the programme.

Optional modules

Modernism, Modernity and History

This module introduces you to recent thinking on Modernism, and to a range of issues within the study of modernism, in particular its historical location and the relationship between literary modernism and social modernity. You will relate the texts studied to developments in the visual arts, music, and cinema. The choice of texts is designed to reflect the topics covered, and the reading is often contextual (a series of short extracts from the course reader) rather than literary. You will examine of some of the foundational modernist movements, manifestoes, and crucial moments before looking at more general issues relating to modernism’s cultural and historical context.

Contemporary Literature

This module introduces you to aspects of contemporary literature, giving a detailed insight into two contemporary movements, one in prose, the other developing from (and critiquing) poetry.

Modernist Special Topics

This module provides you with an advanced introduction to a selection of experimental prose fiction of the 1930s, either British or published in Britain. The 1930s are associated with the Depression Era (following on from the Wall Street Crash in October 1929) and the rise of totalitarian politics in Europe (i.e. Fascism, Nazism and Stalinism), leading together to the cataclysm of World War 2. You will also explore the re-appropriation and re-tooling of modernist aesthetic strategies by a range of contemporary African writers to address the crises of the postcolonial state and subjectivity, tracing the various genealogies of African literary modernism.

Contemporary Special Topics

You will be introduced to the writing of selected contemporary women poets (post-2000). These texts will be placed in the context of contemporary debates in innovative poetics and also considered in relation to modernist strategies of avant-garde practice by previous women writers. You will then look at the literary-cultural significance of globalization as it relates to the movement of people, commodities and capital in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century. You will evaluate key theorisations of these global phenomena and examine how they are reflected thematically and formally in contemporary literature.

The Works - Plays and Poetry

This module spans Shakespeare’s entire career as a playwright and poet, analysing in detail his nineteen major plays – including histories, comedies, tragedies, romances and problem plays – and the Sonnets. The theatrical, historical and theoretical issues raised by the works will be addressed as they emerge out of individual response and class discussion.

King Lear and The Tempest - Critical Debate and Creative Response

This course aims to engage you in a sustained, intensive study of Shakespeare’s supreme tragic masterpiece, the controversies it has provoked, and the diverse ways in which it has been adapted and transformed by poets, dramatists, novelists, and by film and theatre directors, since Shakespeare’s time. You will begin with detailed discussion of the play itself before turning to critical debate and then exploring the creative impact of King Lear on later poetry, drama and fiction. The second term is devoted to studying the creative response to King Lear in the theatre and the cinema, tracking its performance history on stage and screen through in-depth analysis of landmark productions and film adaptations. 

Victorian London

This module provides a point of coherence for the interdisciplinary study of Victorian Culture. You will be introduced to the theories and methods of a variety of humanities disciplines through the medium of an in-depth study of the literature, history, geography, and visual culture of nineteenth-century London. You will be asked to reflect critically on your own approach to the material studied, through engagement with both primary materials and a variety of recent secondary sources.

Aestheticism and Decadence in Nineteenth-Century Literature and Culture

This module aims to provide an advanced understanding of the complex field of aestheticism in nineteenth-century literature and culture, with particular attention to concepts of ‘decadence’ and the relationship between the written word and the visual arts. Classes cover key theoretical and critical interventions into nineteenth-century aesthetic debates, from Ruskin and Pater through to Oscar Wilde and selected women writers of the 1880s and 1890s. 

The Nineteenth-Century Novel - Contexts, Theories and Readers

This module aims to equip you with a systematic understanding of the scope and range of the mid nineteenth-century novel in the context of Victorian publishing, reading and critical practices. In the first half you will read three Dickens novels in depth, and while in the second half you will concentrates on theories of realism and the 19th Century novel. The module seeks to integrate reflections on recent critical approaches to the texts in order to provide you with a comprehensive understanding of the critical techniques and discourses that will be applicable to your own advanced scholarship in the assessed essay and final dissertation.

The Pre-Raphaelite Revolution - Poetry and Painting

This module aims to equip you with a systematic understanding of the scope and range of the Pre-Raphaelite Movement in the context of Victorian art criticism, attitudes to gender and poetics. The first five-week block concentrates on poetry and the visual arts in the first decade of the movement; the second five-week block of the course deals with second generation of Pre-Raphaelites and their links with Aestheticism.

Medieval Narratives

This module explores traditions and forms of narrative in the light of historical record and medieval and modern critical approaches. Texts will be chosen to illustrate the development and relationships between the various narrative genres of the period, in Old and Middle English and also in French and Italian (non-English and Old English texts may be read in translation).

The Visual and The Verbal - Approaches to Medeival Art and Literature

This module provides you with an opportunity to explore the mutually illuminating relationship between art and literature in the medieval period. This is a literary rather than an art-historical module, using the procedures of literary study and the interpretation of texts. You will study manuscript art in conjunction with other visual arts. Classes centre on specific texts or themes and you will be encouraged to seek out visual material around these, whether from museum collections, facsimiles, the Web or library collections. You will become familiar with the terminology of iconography and with the techniques and study of manuscript production. You will be able to use the resources of the Museum of London, the Palaeography Room of the Senate House Library, as well as the libraries of Royal Holloway, Senate House and the British Library.

Arthurian Literature and Tradition in England

This module examines the development of Arthurian literature and legend across four centuries and three languages. Beginning with Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain, it focuses on the different ways in which Arthur’s reign was represented and understood in the Middle Ages.

Students on the MA in English Literature choose the equivalent of two whole courses from across the four MA programmes and write a 12,000-15,000 word dissertation, submitted early in the September of the year following their enrolment on the MA.

The courses chosen may be made up of combination of full and half-units (one 'course' equals one full-unit, or two half-units). Some of the available MA programmes are comprised entirely of full-units, as is the case with the MA in Shakespeare, and some of half -units, as is the case with the MA in Victorian Literature, Art and Culture. In addition, all students are registered for the compulsory unassessed course 'Methods and Materials of Research'. 

The MA may be taken on a full-time, as a one year basis, or part-time, over two years; in the latter case, the dissertation would be written in the second year of study.

For a more in depth look at the MA courses offered in conjunction with MA English Literature, please click the relevant link below:

Entry criteria:

UK Upper Second Class Honours degree (2:1); or equivalent in relevant subjects ; Candidates with professional qualifications and work experience in an associated area may be considered. 

English language requirements:

IELTS score of 7.0 with 7.0 in writing and no sub-score below 5.5, for non-native English speaking applicants.


If you require Royal Holloway to sponsor your study in the UK, your IELTS must be a UK government-approved Secure English Language Test (SELT).

International and EU entry requirements

Please select your country from the drop-down list below




Students from overseas should visit the International pages for information on the entry requirements from their country and further information on English language requirements. Royal Holloway offers a Pre-Master’s Diploma for International Students and English language pre-sessional courses, allowing students the opportunity to develop their study skills and English language before starting their postgraduate degree.

 A successful applicant will usually have the following qualities:

  • an existing interest in the works of at least two periods of English literature, and an interest in combining the study of these periods
  • proven skills in research and critical writing
  • a readiness to engage with a wide range of primary and secondary material from a variety of disciplines
  • fluent and precise written and spoken English
  • an enthusiasm for sharing and developing ideas through discussion, presentations and essay writing.

The Department has an impressive record for placing graduates in academic jobs and in prominent position outside academia. In the field of Shakespeare and Renaissance studies alone, our postgraduates have recently secured positions at the Universities of Edinburgh, Sussex and Leeds, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and the National University of Ireland. Recent postgraduates in America literature, modern and contemporary literature and theory have secured prestigious appointments in London.

The English Department also prepares postgraduates for successful careers in a variety of the other areas, such as:

  • teaching
  • writing and journalism
  • administration
  • marketing

Home and EU students tuition fee per year 2017/18*: £7,000

Overseas students tuition fee per year 2017/18*: £14,500

Other essential costs**: There are no single associated costs greater than £50 per item on this course

How do I pay for it? Find out more about funding options, including loans, grants, scholarships and bursaries.

* These tuition fees apply to students enrolled on a full-time basis. Students studying part-time are charged a pro-rata tuition fee, usually equivalent to approximately half the full-time fee. Please email student-fees@royalholloway.ac.uk for further information on part-time fees. All postgraduate fees are subject to inflationary increases. Royal Holloway's policy is that any increases in fees will not exceed 5 per cent for continuing students. For further information see tuition fees and our terms and conditions.

** These estimated costs relate to studying this particular degree programme at Royal Holloway. Costs, such as accommodation, food, books and other learning materials and printing, have not been included.

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