BA English Literature: modules and course structure

The below information is relevant for both our single honours English Literature course (Q306) and any dual honours courses with English Literature (QR50, QV31, QW33 and QV35).

Over the course of each academic year at Sheffield, you will need to study modules that equate to the value of 120 credits. Some of these credits will be taken up by our core modules, which are designed to give you the breadth of knowledge and ways of thinking necessary to the degree being awarded. For your remaining credits, you will be able to choose from an extensive range of optional modules, allowing you to shape your degree to the topics that interest you.

In your first year all students (single and dual honours) take the core module: Renaissance to Revolution (40 credits). Remaining credits can be chosen from the list of optional English modules listed below (all 20 credits) or you can take up to 80 credits in guided modules from across the University. Dual students must also fulfil the core requirement for their other subject.

Core modules

Renaissance to Revolution

Core module, 40 credits

This module surveys the poetry and prose from the early modern period in England.  We will look at different genres, from court complaint to sonnets, prose fiction, erotic verse, restoration drama and the works of writers such as Donne, Herbert, Spenser, Marlowe, Dyrden, Milton and Pope. The texts studied will be related to critical methods that help us understand the relationships between literature and its cultural, political and historical contexts.

Optional modules

Early Englishes

Optional module, 20 credits

Early Englishes works backward over a whole millennium of English, 1600 to 600. Each week's lectures and seminar focus on one century and one text representative of that century (for example, Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and Beowulf). We will use a variety of techniques - literary, linguistic, anthropological, cultural historical - to analyse each text, thereby opening up discussion of the issues that preoccupied the English of the time, from glorious monster-slaying to the slow surrender of pagan belief to terror at the imminent arrival of Antichrist and on to the first expressions of love and desire. Texts will initially be studied in translation so no prior knowledge of Old or Middle English is necessary, but students will also be given the opportunity to examine texts in the original language.

Contemporary Literature

Optional module, 20 credits

This module introduces students to a diverse range of contemporary texts in English (prose, poetry, and film). Texts will be chosen to provoke thinking and debate on topics that might include: globalisation and neoliberalism; ecology and animal lives; artificial intelligence and the post human; political activism and social justice; migration and displacement; state violence and armed conflict. We will discuss formally and conceptually challenging works, raise ethical and philosophical questions and begin to discover how current critical and theoretical approaches can help us to engage with literature of ‘the now’.

Introduction to Creative Writing

Optional module, 20 credits

The aim of this module is to help students to develop their expressive and technical skills in writing poetry and prose, and to improve their abilities as an editor and critic of their own and other people's writing. Students will be guided in the production of new work and encouraged to develop an analytical awareness of both the craft elements and the wider cultural and theoretical contexts of writing. This module explores poetic techniques for creating new poems and narrative techniques for generating some prose work through the critical study of published examples, imaginative exercises, discussion and feedback on students' own writing. This exploration will help students to develop their own creative work while sharpening critical appreciation of published poetry and modern and contemporary fiction. The course is designed to give students the experience of being workshopped as well as to establish basic creative writing techniques to prepare students for creative writing modules in years two and three. 


Optional module, 20 credits

This module introduces students to the plays and poetry of William Shakespeare. Students will read a wide range of his works and will analyse them in the context of the cultural and historical energies of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England.  We will consider the range of dramatic styles and genres that he engages, alongside the conditions of performance, kinds of publication, and the characteristics of the language in which he worked.  We shall also relate the texts to critical methods that help illuminate the relationships between drama and the culture, politics, and religion of the period.

History of English

Optional module, 20 credits

This module traces the history of the English language from the fifth century AD through to the present day. Students will learn about the development of English over this period, looking at the factors which have shaped the language, and learning a variety of techniques for studying the language. The module will also introduce students to the range and variety of the English language at all periods, and to the ways in which English influences, and is influenced by, other languages.

Practical Stylistics

Optional module, 20 credits

On this module, we will explore the language of literary texts and find out how we can use a range of linguistic models to investigate different textual effects. We will look at a wide variety of prose fiction, dramatic, and poetic texts, taken from a range of literary genres and periods. The module also investigates the language of newspaper journalism and politics. In particular, we will think about:

  • The linguistic patterns contained within literary texts
  • How literary worlds are created and structured
  • The development of narrative and how different perspectives are presented in texts
  • How power is communicated and manipulated through language.

Among other things, you will learn how Jane Austen constructs voices and personalities for her characters, how Tony Harrison uses pronouns to move his readers, how Kurt Vonnegut manipulates our expectations of narrative structure, and how politicians use language to win the trust of disillusioned voters. The module takes a practical and hands-on approach and it will equip you with the linguistic and analytical tools you need to undertake your own stylistic analyses and uncover the inner workings of literary language.

Introduction to Cinema

Optional module, 20 credits

This module gives the student the opportunity to study a series of films from a variety of national cinemas of the 20th and 21st centuries. In a series of weekly lectures and seminars, students will develop an understanding of the fundamental institutional and industrial characteristics of film history and production well as of the conventions of style in a range of contrasting national cinemas.

Studying Theatre: A History of Dramatic Texts in Performance

Optional module, 20 credits

This module introduces you to key dramatic texts from Ancient Greece to the present. Each week you will study a particular play, and the historical, ideological and social contexts that informed its composition, its first performances, and its theatrical afterlife. We will talk about the play in performance, and the processes that underlie its production - about acting, directing, design and economics – with the emphasis on theatre as a complex and practical discipline. In recent years the course texts have included work by playwrights such as Sophocles, John Vanbrugh, William Shakespeare, Alfred Jarry, Bertolt Brecht, Samuel Beckett, Caryl Churchill and Debbie Tucker Green. The aim is to develop your understanding of a range of seminal Western theatre texts and further your ability to analyse the connections between different styles and forms of theatre and the societies out of which they have emerged. This relationship is something you will return to throughout your degree as we examine how theatre and performance represent, critique and illuminate the society that produces them.

Foundations in Literary Study: Biblical and Classical Sources in English

Optional module, 20 credits

The Bible, Greek and Roman mythology, represent some of the central sources for European literary imaginations.  Their themes inform writing of all periods and genres, from Dante Alighieri to Philip Pullman, from phrases like 'a wolf in sheep's clothing' to Virginia Woolf. Their authors have inspired the creation of figures such as Aeneas, Beelzebub, Faustus, Odysseus and Satan; the representation of Eve and Judas, of 'sin', 'betrayal', 'the underworld' or 'hell'; of 'redemption', 'metamorphosis' and a variety of allegorical modes.  When we understand the ways in which biblical and classical writers shaped their narratives, and how creative authors revised, resisted or radicalised their themes, we have several important keys to unlock crucial facets of English literary tradition. When we appreciate the rich linguistic heritage of sources like the 1611 King James Bible we can recognise the origin of many familiar and reworked phrases (not all of them tasty): 'bite the dust'; 'forbidden fruit'; 'skin of my teeth'; 'fatted calf'.

Reviewing Theatre the Art of the Critic

Optional module, 20 credits

What is the role of the theatre audience, assuming it has one, and how might that alter from performance to performance or genre to genre? Why do we have theatre critics, specialists? Do they matter? What role do they play in developing theatre, if any? We talk about 'reading' performances, but what does that mean? Is it always a subjective experience, or can we apply useful criteria to assess and evaluate what we see, to measure one performance against another? If so, what kinds of critical theory might help us engage more deeply with the complexity of the live performance? Given the ephemeral nature of theatre, how can we 'read' past performances, and what kinds of theatre history do different approaches to the past make possible? These are some of the questions we will address through watching contrasting examples of live theatrical performance, which we will discuss, analyse, and respond to in a variety of ways.

In your second year, if you are a single honours student, you will take the following core modules worth 40 credits each. If you are a dual honours student, you will take a minimum of 40 core credits within the School of English. (You might choose to take one or both of the following core modules in its entirety, or you might take 20 credits from each core module in the Autumn semester.)

Core modules

Module title Credits Core/ Optional
Romanticism to Modernism 40 Core/Optional for Dual Honours
Literature and Critical Thought 40 Core/Optional for Dual Honours

Optional modules

Module Credits Core/ Optional
Road Narratives in American Culture 20 Optional
John Donne 20 Optional
Shakespeare on Film 20 Optional
Literature and Nonsense 20 Optional
Creating Fiction 20 Optional
Literature, Ecology, Capital 20 Optional
New Realisms: Contemporary British Cinema 20 Optional
European Gothic 20 Optional
Representing the Holocaust 20 Optional
Storying Sheffield 20 Optional
Good Books: Intertextual Approaches to Literature and the Bible 20 Optional
Satire and Print in Eighteenth-Century Literature 20 Optional
The Postcolonial Bildungsroman 20 Optional

In your third year, there are no core requirements. You will choose from a wide range of options: from short, intensive topics to year-long modules (including an optional dissertation). If you are a dual honours student, you will choose a minimum of 40 credits within the School of English.

All the optional modules available in your third year reflect areas of research by our world-leading academics and may include:

Module title Credits Core/ Optional
The Invention of Romanticism: Pride, Persuasion and the Modern Mind 20/40 Optional
Strange Forms: Diaries, Letters, Memoirs and Other Peculiar Genres 20/40 Optional
Radical Theory 20/40 Optional
Stories at the End of the World: From the Beginning of the End to Apocalypse Now 20/40 Optional
Textual Materialities: Archives, Editing and Literary Artefacts 20/40 Optional
What it Means Not to be Human: Animals, Ecology, Technology, Literature 20/40 Optional
Immodest Women: Lives and Lines 20/40 Optional
Creative, Experimental, Destructive (Writing) 20/40 Optional
Chivalry and Romance in the Middle Ages 20/40 Optional
Middlemarch 20/40 Optional
Power, Knowledge and Sexuality on Stage, 1580 -1700 20/40 Optional
Searching Selves: Voicing the Early Modern ‘I’ 20/40 Optional
Literature of the Black Atlantic 40 Optional
Dissertation 20/40 Optional


Throughout your degree, you will be taught through a mixture of lectures and seminars. Lectures are designed to give you a grounding in a particular topic and to introduce you to the surrounding theories, concepts and ideas. Seminars give you the chance to explore these topics in greater depth, to develop your own ideas and to share these through discussion with your tutors and fellow students. Our academic staff are experts in their field and use their cutting-edge research to inform their teaching and the content of the modules you will study.


Across your English Literature degree you will be challenged and rewarded via a diverse range of assessment methods.  These will include completing in-class and online assessments, creating individual and group presentations, and writing reviews, abstracts and learning journals. Central to your degree will be skills of organisation, argument and expression exemplified in academic writing,  in these assessment methods as well as in the traditional essay and in extended individual research. Throughout your studies the skills you acquire from assessed exercises will be developed refined through constructive, supportive feedback.

The content of our courses is reviewed annually to make sure it is up-to-date and relevant. Individual modules are occasionally updated or withdrawn. This is in response to discoveries through our world-leading research, funding changes, professional accreditation requirements, student or employer feedback, outcomes of reviews, and variations in staff or student numbers. In the event of any change we'll consult and inform students in good time and take reasonable steps to minimise disruption.

Information last updated: 6 August 2020