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 two texts in preparation for the exams to be sat in the second year of A level studies. These are: The Tempest (Shakespeare), The Bloody Chamber (Angela Carter). In addition students will be offered an induction to Chaucer’s The Merchant’s Tale. This will take the form of a study of Chaucer’s The General Prologue and The Merchant’s Tale in preparation for the study of the latter work in year 13.

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. This latter text will be compared and contrasted to 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 in respect of the coursework option, one being a prose text, one a poetic text and one a dramatic text. We will be comparing and contrasting Ted Lewis’ Jack’s Return Home to and with Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming. The centre will opt for one poetry text chosen from recent collections by Sean O’Brien, Frederick Seidel, Damian Walford Davies or Helen Dunmore.

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?

A level

The A level is assessed in a linear way in the Summer term of year 13 by two exams and the submission of a coursework folder. 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 in relation to 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 totalling 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 two exams are 2 hours 30 minutes in duration and are each worth 40% of the A level. The Part 3 coursework component is worth 20%.


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

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

A level: OCR H472 

Richard Martin
Head of Department


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Royal Veterinary College (Veterinary Medicine)

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University of Bristol (Law)

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University of Edinburgh (History and Politics)

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King's College London (Biology)

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Grades achieved at MPW

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University of Bath (Mechanical Engineering)

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