A Level English Literature


What is it about at sixth form level?

The pleasure of seeing what is under the surface of a literary text is something you will have experienced at GCSE. You thus already possess a skill which you will be able to develop at AS and still further at A level. You have been exposed to Shakespeare at GCSE and it is now time to build on this firm basis by adding to your repertoire of his plays, while also tracking English literature to its sources by making the acquaintance of the first poet to choose to write poetry in English: Geoffrey Chaucer. The first year of English studies also takes account of two exciting mid-to-late twentieth century writers: the playwright Harold Pinter and his shocking and controversial play, The Homecoming; and Angela Carter’s adventurous and definitively adult re-telling of fairy tales in her collection of Gothic short but interlocking stories The Bloody Chamber which draw on psychoanalytical interpretations of what these stories really mean!

Lower sixth

In the first year, you will study four texts in relation to two exam papers. The first is Shakespeare and Poetry pre-1900. You will look at Shakespeare’s The Tempest and ‘The Merchant’s Tale’ by Geoffrey Chaucer. The second is Drama and Prose post-1900. You will study The Homecoming by Harold Pinter and The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter.

Upper sixth

In the second year, you will build on the topics studied in the first year. You will continue your study of The Tempest and develop your familiarity with early modern drama by adding Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi and comparing and contrasting it with ‘The Merchant’s Tale’. You will similarly develop your understanding of the Gothic genre by studying Bram Stoker’s Dracula alongside Carter’s The Bloody Chamber. You will also study three literary texts, one being a prose text, one a poetic text and one a dramatic text. These texts will be confirmed at a later date.

Why study it and what skills does it develop?

English Literature is a challenging and rigorous academic subject that will be well-respected by any university. It will develop your skills of textual analysis and critical interpretation. You will understand how to look beneath the surfaces of texts to draw out layers of meaning and how to express your thoughts in a clear and precise written form. It is a perfect complement to other essay-based subjects.

What prior knowledge and skills are required?

You will need at least a B in GCSE English. You will need a love of literature and the desire to study it in depth. Not all students beginning the course are particularly keen readers; it is hoped that they will become so by the end of the course!

How is the course assessed?

AS level

The AS is assessed by two exams. The exam for Part 1 (Shakespeare and Poetry pre-1900) has two sections. Section 1 is on The Tempest. You will answer a question on the whole play. Section 2 will examine your understanding of ‘The Merchant’s Tale’. You will respond to an extract from the text and relate it to the whole poem. The exam for Part 2 (Drama and Prose post-1900) likewise has two sections. In Section 1, you will answer a question on The Homecoming. In Section 2, you will be examined on your understanding of The Bloody Chamber. You will be required to respond critically and creatively to it and to an unseen prose passage linked thematically to it. The Part 1 exam lasts 1 hour 30 minutes and the Part 2 exam lasts 1 hour 45 minutes. Each is worth 50% of the AS level.

A2 level

The A2 is assessed by three exams. The exam for Part 1 (Shakespeare and Poetry pre-1900) has two sections. Section 1 is on The Tempest. You will answer a question on the whole play. Section 2 will examine your understanding of The Duchess of Malfi and ‘The Merchant’s Tale’. The exam for Part 2 (Drama and Prose post-1900) will examine your understanding of The Bloody Chamber and Dracula. You will be asked to compare and contrast them. Part 3 is a coursework unit requiring you to engage in a close reading totaling 1,000 words of a passage chosen from one text in the first instance and in the second instance to compare and contrast two texts which have connected themes with one another in an essay totalling 2,000 words. The Part 1 and Part 2 exams last 2 hours 30 minutes and are each worth 40% of the A level. The Part 3 component is worth 20%.


The Tempest and its Travels
By P. Hulme, W. Sherman
Published by Reaktion Books, ISBN 978-1861890665

The Life and Work of Harold Pinter
By M. Billington
Published by Faber and Faber, ISBN 978-0571234769 

Flesh and the Mirror: Essays on the Art of Angela Carter
Edited by L. Sage
Published by Virago, ISBN 978-1844084715

The Duchess of Malfi
By L. Marcus
Published by Methuen, ISBN 978-1904271512

Exam Board and Specification Codes

AS: OCR H072, A level: OCR H472 

Richard Martin
Head of Department