The MPhil in Medieval and Renaissance Literature


Monk's Tale

If you want a Master’s in medieval or early modern English literature, or indeed if you want to work across these two periods, the Cambridge MPhil programme offers a great combination of diverse expert teaching and abundant resources for research. With both taught elements and opportunities for independent study, it enables you to acquire substantial technical skills and a broad range of knowledge within the field as well as pursuing your own interests. Over the year, you will have the chance to meet scholars from within Cambridge, as your teachers, and from further afield in the fortnightly research seminars. The MPhil attracts a first-class intake of students from the UK and abroad, and its postgraduates have an outstanding record in gaining employment in the academic world and beyond.

Students on the MPhil work closely with a Faculty supervisor on their chosen dissertation topic, as well as participating in seminars and classes that focus on a wide variety of texts and traditions, drawing on a range of historical, critical and theoretical approaches. Integral to the MPhil are research training components that make extensive use of the rich collections of manuscripts and early printed books in the University Library and the College libraries. Cambridge has a distinguished international reputation in English and in many other fields in the humanities (including Classics, Modern and Medieval Languages, History, Music, Philosophy, and History of Art), and you can attend lectures and seminars offered by any Faculty: this creates a learning environment that naturally enables interdisciplinary work. The course lasts nine months, with the last few months being devoted to intensive work on the dissertation.


Most students choose either the Medieval or the Renaissance strand, but to some degree it is possible to move between the two (see below). Each course is designed to appeal both to those wishing to develop their knowledge of the period in a free-standing one-year course, and to those seeking a foundation year before proceeding to research for the PhD Our students exercise a high degree of choice over the areas on which they concentrate their energies, developing their written research projects to suit their individual interests, while also engaging with Faculty members in their own areas of expertise.

The course begins in the first week of October. If you wish to learn or improve your Latin, however, you can take optional elementary Latin classes that run during the last three weeks of September, immediately before the start of the official course. Seminars (taught classes) run throughout the Michaelmas and Lent terms (the first and second terms of the academic year), and you write essays and textual studies exercises in relation to these seminars. You also pursue individual research throughout the year on a topic you have chosen, in consultation with your supervisor. This research becomes the sole focus of your work after you have completed the taught element of the course during the Lent (second) term. You submit the fruits of your research in the form of a 15,000 word dissertation in June.

All candidates for the Cambridge PhD who intend to write doctoral dissertations concerning the period from 1066 to 1700 are required to take either the Cambridge MPhil or an equivalent postgraduate course elsewhere before being permitted to register for the higher degree.



Chaucer's ABC

The various distinctive interests and expertises of the medievalists in the Cambridge English Faculty are reflected in the range of teaching on offer. We all combine historical, critical and theoretical approaches to medieval writing in different ways. Our particular historical objects of study include early Middle English, Chaucer, Langland, drama, romance, the mystics, Malory, lyrics (including their musical aspect), beast literature, satire, Scottish literature, the visual arts, medieval literary theory, the transition to the Reformation, editing and the study of manuscripts and early printed books. But, providing we can supervise it, we will consider any proposal for a dissertation project falling within the general field of Medieval English studies very broadly defined, from 1066-c. 1550. The opportunity to pursue your individual research project under the guidance of an expert supervisor is one of the high points of the course. Recent titles of MPhil dissertations include ‘Wolves, kings, and the hybrid narrative of Arthur and Gorlagon’, ‘“We see now bi a myrour in derknesse”: The Mirror in the Medieval Mind’, ‘Profitable Poetics: Form and Function in Fourtheenth-Century Didactic Literature’, ‘Penance in Thomas’s Tristan and Gui de Warewic’, ‘“Virginis formidinem”: Versions of the Annunciation in Medieval Lyric, Drama and Thought’.

In the course of the degree you also attend classes on bibliography, manuscripts and textual studies, as well as a participatory seminar on the critical and historical interpretation of literary texts. These elements continue through the Michaelmas and Lent terms (the first two terms of the year). If you are interested in combining Medieval with Renaissance work, you may also attend seminars in the later period. There is abundant provision for acquiring and developing language skills. A Medieval Latin reading class will meet throughout the year. You will also have the opportunity to learn any of a range of languages by taking advantage of the teaching offered by other University faculties and departments such as Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic, Modern and Medieval Languages and Classics. If you have interdisciplinary interests, you can also attend lectures and classes in faculties and departments such as Classics, History, Philosophy, Law and the History of Art.

The Middle English Postgraduate Seminar meets four times a term and provides postgraduate students, faculty members and academic visitors working in Cambridge with a regular opportunity to discuss recent work in the field, to develop interdisciplinary contact and to hear speakers from Cambridge and elsewhere. Papers have recently been given by Laura Ashe (Oxford), Alastair Bennett (RHUL), Kantik Ghosh (Oxford), Ryan Perry (University of Kent), A. C. Spearing (University of Virginia), Katie Walter (University of Sussex), Daniel Wakelin (Oxford), and Nicholas Watson (Harvard), Jorie Woods (University of Texas at Austin). This coming year, speakers will include Francesca Southerden (Oxford), Daniel Reeve (Institute of Cultural Inquiry, Berlin) and Jon Whitman (University of Jerusalem). There are drinks during question time at the seminar, and afterwards postgraduate students and staff have the option of joining the speaker for a convivial supper.

In addition, the postgraduates themselves run their own seminar series, the Medieval Reading Group, to alternate with the Faculty Postgraduate Seminar; they also publish an online journal, Marginalia.



Interpretation of Literary Texts


This course runs over two terms. It offers you an opportunity to explore literary texts written in the period 1066-c.1550 in conversation with each other and under the guidance of different Faculty members. Its aim is to enable you to encounter a diverse range of medieval texts, most but not all of them Middle English. You will acquire new understanding about the complex cultural background that lies behind these works and develop your understanding of the many different historical, critical and theoretical perspectives with which they can be approached and analysed. The Michaelmas course emphasizes more canonical texts with a view to deepening your awareness of the more pressing issues in current scholarship, and giving you a better grounding in the history of medieval literature. The course moves from early to late medieval literature across the term, but those students who wish to specialise in Medieval and Renaissance literature may spend the first half of term attending the Renaissance introductory course before returning to late medieval literature in the second half. In Lent, you can choose between two themed courses that reflect the research specialisms of Faculty members. These offer the opportunity to read less familiar texts, but also to build up an interactive body of understanding in an exciting area of new research. The courses on offer will vary each year. Themed courses in the past have included ‘Medieval Authorship: Interpretation and Confession’, ‘The Piers Plowman Tradition’, ‘East Anglian Literature’, ‘Images, Relics, idols and Iconoclasm in late Medieval England'; courses planned this year include: 'Love, Sex, and Desire', 'The City', 'Transcendent Bodies'.

Middle English Manuscript Studies

The course is intended primarily to give you a practical introduction to the study of English vernacular manuscripts in the period 1100-1500, although many of the techniques taught are equally applicable to manuscripts containing Latin and Anglo-Norman texts. Wherever possible, you will be working with original manuscripts from Cambridge collections, selected to illustrate various aspects of the subject. Principal components include the purpose and history of early English manuscript studies, physical bibliography and codicology, palaeography, the editorial process and textual criticism, manuscript studies and dialectology (with reference to the Linguistic Atlas of Late Medieval English), transmission from script to print, and current developments in Middle English editorial and manuscript studies.

Examined Work (Medieval)

• Two coursework essays, each of not more than 4,000 words. One of the essays to be written in relation to a Michaelmas Term seminar on the Interpretation of Literary Texts, or Texts, Contexts, Methods, the other essay written for one of the chosen Lent term courses. Each essay contributes 15% to the overall degree mark. In Easter term the teaching will be centred around supervisions for the dissertation.

.• An exercise in textual and related studies, including the transcription and description of a Medieval manuscript. This exercise contributes 20% to the overall mark.

• A dissertation of 12,000 to 15,000 words on a research topic of your choice, contributing 50% to the overall mark. Students work on the dissertation throughout the nine months of the course, in consultation with their personal supervisor. At the end of the Michaelmas Term, students are required to submit an essay of 2,200 to 2,500 words on a topic directly related to the dissertation, which they have devised in consultation with their supervisor. This essay is a formative exercise and does not contribute to the overall mark.


Members of the Faculty may be able to advise you over some details of your application (such as your proposed area of research). Those teaching for the course include:

Dr Jessica Berenbeim, Dr Alexandra da Costa, Dr Orietta da Rold , Dr Jane Hughes Dr Philip Knox, Dr Charles Moseley Dr Jacqueline Tasioulas Dr James Wade, Professor Nicolette Zeeman



The course allows you to deepen your knowledge of the Renaissance period by equipping you with vital skills, by allowing you to explore a range of critical approaches, and by supporting you in a substantial research project of your own devising. A large and lively Faculty, outstanding libraries, and a course designed to nurture individual critical perspectives as well as offering training in the fundamental techniques and methodologies of early modern literary studies, make Cambridge a superb place to study this period.

From the outset, you will be working under the guidance of a supervisor whose interests are close to your own. The interests of Faculty members range widely through the early modern period, engaging in literary-critical and historical terms with the major English writers of drama, poetry, and prose, and much else besides. Textual studies are strong, with many faculty members involved in editing projects, but so are interdisciplinary approaches, in fields including material culture and music, cognition and the senses, theories of knowledge, the body, performance, and theory. There is a list of early modernists in the Faculty at the end of this outline, linked to their Faculty webpages where you will find more details about their research and supervision interests.

Providing we can supervise it, we will consider any proposal for a dissertation project falling within the general field of early modern English studies from c.1500 to c.1700. Recent MPhil dissertation titles have included “The Trinitie of musicke, parts, passion, division”: rhetoric and music in early modern England’, ‘“In tract of time”: contingency, contemporaneity and the six-year gap in The Faerie Queene (1590-96)’, ‘“Among a minerall of mettals base”: alchemical purification of the body in Hamlet’,‘“Time … goes upright with his carriage”: The Tempest and epic romance’, ‘“A melancholy of mine own”: disclosing melancholia in the seventeenth century’, ‘The reach of hands in Hutchinson’s Order and Disorder and Milton’s Paradise Lost’ and ‘“With the eye behold the siege”: Stuart illustrated news broadsides, 1620-1640’, and ‘Paul’s walkers: keeping time in the early modern city’.

Students work on their dissertation, in conjunction with their supervisor, all year, submitting it in mid-June. Teaching for the course’s other elements is concentrated in the Michaelmas and Lent terms. In the first term, there are classes on palaeography and textual bibliography, and a seminar course, ‘Texts, contexts, methods’, which continues in the second term. (More details of both of these elements are given below.) MPhil students are encouraged to attend lectures in the English Faculty and elsewhere in the University, and to take the opportunity to work on their language skills (for example, via the Latin reading group or the University Language Centre).

The Renaissance Postgraduate Seminar meets fortnightly, and is attended by members of the Faculty as well as postgraduate students. An hour-long paper is followed by questions and discussion over drinks, after which the speaker is entertained for dinner at a local restaurant (to which postgraduate students are always welcome). Recent speakers have included Colin Burrow (Oxford), Patricia Parker (Stanford), Jane Grogan (University College Dublin), Debora Shuger (UCLA), Raphael Lyne (Cambridge), Michael Schoenfeldt (Michigan), Jonathan Sawday (St Louis), and Julie Sanders (Newcastle).

In addition to the Renaissance Postgraduate Seminar, the University also hosts a variety of seminars relevant to students working in this period, including the Tudor/Stuart Seminar in the Faculty of History, the Interdisciplinary Early Modern Seminar, the History of Material Texts seminar (hosted by the Centre for Material Texts, and the CRASSH seminar on ‘Things’. You can find out more about early modern research in the English Faculty here: Renaissance Research Group


Texts, Contexts, Methods


This course runs over two terms, exploring texts from the period, as well as a variety of different critical approaches; many members of the Faculty are involved in teaching it.

The Michaelmas part of the course will be structured chronologically. Each week’s seminar will be organised around a particular text or group of texts, many of which might be called canonical; some weeks may be particularly concerned with specific issues and debates in current scholarship. It will be possible for students who wish to work across the Medieval-Renaissance ‘divide’ to attend the first half of the Renaissance course and the second half of the Medieval equivalent.

The Lent course allows you to choose from a number of themed modules reflecting the current research specialisms of Faculty members; you will be expected to participate fully in one and audit another. These courses will involve reading a much wider range of texts, many of which will be less familiar; the modules offered will vary each year. It will be possible to borrow modules from other MPhils. The TCM course provides a basis for your written work, and allows you to make contact with a variety of academics in the Faculty who can supply advice, inspiration and encouragement.

Introduction to Textual Studies

Donne Manuscript

These classes explore the history of the early modern book in order to focus on the ways in which texts are changed in their transmission from author to reader. The course teaches the essentials of bibliographic analysis and offers an opportunity for specialised work in textual studies; it also empowers you to engage first-hand with the magnificent resources of Cambridge’s University and College libraries. You will explore the implications of printing and the historical development of print culture, along with the theory and practice of modern editing. This element of the course enables you to understand how, and for what purposes, texts were produced, and how they functioned in relation to the wider material culture of the period. Its interests overlap with those of the Faculty’s thriving Centre for Material Texts. The Centre has its own seminar, which will also often be of interest to early modernists.

Reading Renaissance Manuscripts

Sidney Psalms

This class equips you to read the scripts in which Renaissance literature was written. It introduces techniques for analysing manuscripts and for making deductions of literary consequence from handwritten material. New areas of research opened up by manuscript studies will be introduced and discussed. You are also advised how to locate and gain access to manuscript holdings relevant to your research. The course is supported by an excellent website (the English Handwriting: Online Course was created by two teachers on the MPhil, and is now part of the Faculty’s Scriptorium resource).


Examined Work (Renaissance)

  • Two coursework essays, each of not more than 4,000 words. One of the essays to be written in relation to a Michaelmas Term seminar on the Interpretation of Literary Texts, or Texts, Contexts, Methods, the other essay written for one of the chosen Lent term courses. Each essay contributes 15% to the overall degree mark. In Easter term the teaching will be centred around supervisions for the dissertation.
  • A palaeography examination and written exercise in textual and related studies, which together contribute 20% to the overall mark.
  • A dissertation of 12,000 to 15,000 words on a research topic of your choice, contributing 50% to the overall mark. Students work on the dissertation throughout the nine months of the course, in consultation with their personal supervisor. At the end of the Michaelmas Term, students are required to submit an essay of 2,200 to 2,500 words on a topic directly related to the dissertation. The essay is a formative exercise and does not contribute to the overall mark.


Those teaching for this MPhil might include:

Dr Gavin Alexander, Dr Christopher Burlinson, Dr Tania Demetriou, Dr Katrin Ettenhuber, Dr Paul Hartle , Dr David Hillman, Professor John Kerrigan, Dr Bonnie Lander Johnson, Dr Hester Lees-Jeffries, Professor Raphael Lyne, Dr Amy Morris, Dr Charles Moseley, Dr Subha Mukherji, Dr Sophie Read, Dr Jason Scott-Warren, Dr Andrew Taylor, Dr Christopher Tilmouth, Dr Edward Wilson-Lee, Dr Andrew Zurcher

Entry requirements and application procedures

You may find it helpful to find out about funding for home students or funding for overseas students before you apply. All postgraduate students in Cambridge are members of a College as well as of a Faculty of the University, and those applying through the Postgraduate Admission website for a place on the course will find themselves invited to list a number of Colleges in order of preference. It is a good idea to consult the prospectuses of a number of Colleges before you apply.

All applications must be made using the online Applicant Portal on the Postgraduate Admissions Office website. It is important that you read through the information available on this website before submitting your application. If you are seeking funding for your course, there are specific deadlines and eligibility criteria for each funding competition. Please check the funding webpages for details of eligibility and the Application and Funding Deadlines section of the Postgraduate Admissions Office website for application deadlines.

Please note that after submitting your online application form, there may be a delay of up to 48 hours before you are able to access your self-service account and submit supporting documentation

Applications are first considered by the Faculty. Potential supervisors are then consulted. Successful applications are then offered to the Colleges of the student's choice, and may be then passed on to the second or third choice.

*The final deadline for applications for entry in October 2021 is 7 January, 2021.*

Most of our postgraduate students have a first-class undergraduate degree or international equivalent. The Faculty is willing in principle to accept candidates with strong 2.1s, or mature students who have not pursued an orthodox pattern of higher education, provided that such applicants have strong backing from their referees, have a feasible topic, and are well qualified for their proposed course of research. We recognise both that things sometimes do not go candidates’ way in examinations and that a sparkling examination style is not always the best qualification for postgraduate work. Applicants should note, however, that the vast majority of those accepted onto the MPhil do have a first class BA degree or its overseas equivalent, and the vast majority of students accepted for the PhD have similarly strong MA marks. Applicants whose first degrees are in other disciplines are always considered, provided they can give an account of how their interest in literary study has developed. We welcome qualified UK, EU, and overseas applicants (those for whom English is not a first language will be required by the Postgraduate Admissions office to provide evidence of linguistic proficiency).

Applicants should include specific proposals for advanced study or research (of around 500 words). A piece of written work, of 5,000 - 7,000 words, should accompany a formal application. Applicants may submit any work they like, but it is worth choosing work which is recent and which relates to your proposed area of study, if this is available. Many applicants submit their undergraduate dissertation or similar extended piece of work.

You can submit one long piece or several shorter essays if you wish. In reaching decisions about applications the Degree Committee takes particular account of:

  • The applicant's academic record and references
  • Their suitability for the proposed course (including knowledge of foreign languages)
  • The applicant's research proposal, which should suggest a realistic program of work for a 15,000 word dissertation.
  • Whether a suitable supervisor can be found for the proposed research
  • The written work which a candidate submits in support of their application

Enquiries regarding the course content should be addressed to the appropriate course convenor:

Medieval: Dr Jessica Berenbeim

Renaissance: Professor Raphael Lyne

All other queries should be directed to Anna Fox (postgraduate secretary).