English students having lunch at the outside tables in Chetwynd Court
Welcome to the English subject page at King’s! Here you will find an overview of English at King’s, what it is like from a student perspective, the Cambridge English course, the people who teach and research in English at King’s, plus information about applying to study here as an undergraduate.
- English at King's
- The Cambridge English Tripos
- Student perspectives
- Fellows in English at King's
- Applying to study English at King's
- Resources and events
- Further information
English at King’s
Nicky Zeeman (Director of Studies) chatting with Kate (2nd year)
English has long been a strongly represented subject in King's, and has a history of innovative teaching and research. The substantial number of teaching Fellows combined with a thriving graduate community make King’s a vibrant place for undergraduates committed to the study of English literature.
Recent Fellows of the College who have helped to shape the discipline include John Barrell, Norman Bryson, Maud Ellmann, Colin McCabe, Frank Kermode, and Tony Tanner.
King's College Library is well-stocked, available 24/7, and provides a very pleasant environment for studying and writing essays and dissertations. You can look around it using the virtual tour (when you're using it, note the button top left which lets you move to different parts of the library). Students also have easy access to further libraries, as the College is one of the closest to the Faculty of English and English Library on the Sidgwick Site, as well as the University Library by the Garden Hostels (see map).
EM Forster in his rooms in King's
King's Archive Centre is particularly strong in the field of early twentieth century literature. Rupert Brooke, EM Forster and TS Elliot are especially well documented there.
Our graduates go on to pursue successful careers in a broad range of fields. In recent years, these have included publishing, the art market, journalism, Hollywood, international development, creative writing (you will have heard of Zadie Smith), law, drama, corporate recruiting, arts administration, and teaching at both school and University level.
The Cambridge English Tripos
The Faculty of English is on the Sidgwick Site, very close to King's
In the Faculty of English, undergraduates enjoy an outstanding programme of lectures and seminars. In addition, Cambridge’s distinctive supervision system allows English students to write and discuss a weekly essay with an expert in the field. The Fellows at King’s provide supervisions for the majority of compulsory elements in the English Tripos, and we can draw on expert supervision from across the University.
The English Tripos starts with an intensive two-year programme of reading (called Part I) that extends continuously from Chaucer well into the twentieth century. It then continues with a third year (or Part II) in which each undergraduate designs much of their literary curriculum by choosing from a wide array of subject- or period-based options.
Part I also includes a term devoted to Shakespeare, plus substantial work on practical criticism (i.e. detailed readings of previously unseen literary texts) and, for those with good existing skills, optional work on a foreign literature and language. Students also research and write a Part I dissertation, i.e. a long essay, on a subject of literary interest.
The two compulsory elements in Part II of the Tripos are practical criticism and a term’s work on tragedy (in its Greek and Shakespearean dramatic forms as well as in other media and cultural traditions). Beyond that, students pursue a combination of optional papers and write one or two substantial dissertations.
Though the course does not involve continuous assessment, the place of dissertations in Parts I and II ensures that English students undertake extensive and independent literary research. Details of the course and its options are available on the Faculty of English website.
Bryony and Arran have written about their experiences of studying English at King's, including their reasons for applying, what it was like starting at King's, the course and different kinds of teaching, extra-curricular activities, and the application process. These accounts are well worth reading to get a sense of what studying English at King's is really like.
Fellows in English at King’s
See below for details of the English fellows at King’s and their areas of teaching and research.
Peter de Bolla (Director of Studies) is a Professor of Cultural History and Aesthetics and teaches for both Part I and Part II of the Tripos. His publications are primarily focused on eighteenth-century British culture. He is a sponsor of the Part II papers on Literature and Visual Culture and the History and Theory of Literary Criticism.
David Hillman (Director of Studies) is a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of English, and teaches Shakespeare at King’s. He has published on Shakespeare and Renaissance drama; psychoanalytic theory; scepticism; and the history of the body. He is particularly interested in the ways in which ideas of embodiment can bring together literary, historical, philosophical and psychoanalytic interpretations of early modern culture.
Malachi McIntosh studies migrant and minoritised communities in contemporary Caribbean, British and American literature. He is interested in ideas of 'authenticity' in the assessment of the arts, and is co-founder of the Faculty Contemporaries research group.
Aleksandar Stević studies the 19th and 20th century novel, and is particularly interested in the intersections of literary form and developments in social, intellectual and political history. He is currently studying the development of the European Bildungsroman between 1830 and 1930. Other interests include the history and theory of tragedy from the Greeks to contemporary cinema, political contexts of European modernisms, problems of Holocaust representation, and the history of literary criticism and aesthetics.
Nicolette Zeeman teaches medieval literature in Part I, and is Director of Studies for Part II at King’s. She works on medieval literature and devotional writings in English, French and Latin: Piers Plowman, spiritual and pastoral works, allegorical narrative, medieval ‘literary theory’, song and lyric, Chaucer, theories of idolatry and embodiment in the later Middle Ages.
To apply to study English at King’s
To apply you should already have a strong background in literary reading (whether in or outside your school curriculum), though we will also be interested in what you may have read in other fields (e.g. in history, philosophy, or the other arts). It is equally important that you have the curiosity and motivation needed to develop your abilities during this demanding course of study.
Although we have no fixed expectations about your range of reading at the point of application, you should have read and considered materials from several different periods and genres, including prose, drama, and poetry.
We welcome candidates from all kinds of schools all over the world and our most common offers for different qualification systems are listed on the entrance requirements page. Applicants should be studying a literature subject at school. English Literature provides the best preparation for the Cambridge course, but A level candidates at schools which do not offer this course can apply with the combined English Language and Literature A level. Further advice on subject choices is available on the Faculty website and in our Subject Matters leaflet.
The application process is explained on our how to apply page, which we advise you to read thoroughly. Once candidates have applied through UCAS, they are asked to submit two recent essays or equivalent pieces of school work on a subject of literary interest. Most applicants will then be asked to come to Cambridge for an interview with two Fellows in English, and they will also sit a written test. Before the interview, they will be asked to discuss a specified literary text in a small class with other English candidates.
Numbers vary, but we make roughly eight offers in a typical year.
Resources and events
King's has a large garden - popular for quiet reading in the summer
- King's provides general advice about developing your interests.
- The English Faculty virtual classroom will give you a taste of some of the approaches to literary criticism used at Cambridge, and includes suggestions for further thought and reading.
- The English Faculty has produced a website called Cambridge Authors, which was mostly written by Cambridge undergraduates, and offers a variety of materials relating to ten authors who studied at Cambridge, from Marlowe to Zadie Smith.
- King's College Archive Centre has developed an online Introduction to Archives, using the Papers of Rupert Brooke as a case study. The website allows you to explore and interpret the life, poetry, and myth of the First World War poet and equips you to undertake archival research of your own.
- The subject resources page has a tag for posts on Literature and Languages, which you might like to browse.
- Events which may be of interest in the year before you apply (year 12 in the UK) include Oxford and Cambridge Student Conferences, CU Masterclasses and King's Open Days. Students from backgrounds where there is little tradition of entry to Higher Education might like to think about applying for the Sutton Trust Summer Schools or the CUSU Shadowing Scheme.
Group photo at 'halfway dinner'
- Course outline and film
- Faculty website
- Applying with limited support or advice
- International Students
- Extenuating circumstances form
- Students interested in English may also like to consider Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic, Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, or Modern and Medieval Languages.
If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact King's Admissions Office at .