A History of British Poetry from Shakespeare to Blake


Have you ever wanted to know more about poetry but didn't know where to start? If so, this lively and accessible course is for you.

Together, we will close read a selection of poems in English from the mid 16th to the late 18th centuries, in relation to their wider contexts and in terms of formal issues such as metaphor, rhyme, metre, rhetorical patterning, and allusion. This course will give you the skills and knowledge to talk confidently about different kinds of poems in different periods, and to participate in some of the serious games that poets play.

We will discuss the following poets: Thomas Wyatt and Sir Philip Sidney; Shakespeare; John Donne; George Herbert and Henry Vaughan; Edmund Spenser and John Milton; Aemilia Lanyer, Ben Jonson and Andrew Marvell; Alexander Pope and William Cowper; and William Blake. The course will offer these poets and their work as a springboard to reading further into different periods, and exploring your own interests.

Programme details

Courses starts: 24 Jan 2024

1. Introduction: a guide to reading poetry in English

2. Thomas Wyatt and Sir Philip Sidney: the sonnet 1

3. William Shakespeare: the sonnet 2

4. John Donne: heterometric verse

5. George Herbert and Henry Vaughan: poetic allusion and imitation

6. Edmund Spenser and John Milton: the pastoral elegy

7. Aemilia Lanyer, Ben Jonson, and Andrew Marvell: the country house poem

8. John Milton: the epic

9. Alexander Pope and William Cowper: the mock epic poem

10. William Blake: the ballad measure

Digital Certification

To complete the course and receive a certificate, you will be required to attend at least 80% of the classes on the course and pass your final assignment. Upon successful completion, you will receive a link to download a University of Oxford digital certificate. Information on how to access this digital certificate will be emailed to you after the end of the course. The certificate will show your name, the course title and the dates of the course you attended. You will be able to download your certificate or share it on social media if you choose to do so.


Description Costs
Course Fee £257.00
Take this course for CATS points £10.00


If you are in receipt of a UK state benefit, you are a full-time student in the UK or a student on a low income, you may be eligible for a reduction of 50% of tuition fees. Please see the below link for full details:

Concessionary fees for short courses


Dr Edward Clarke

Edward Clarke's latest collection of poems is called Cherubims (Kelsay Books, 2022). A Book of Psalms was published by Paraclete Press in 2020. His critical books include The Vagabond Spirit of Poetry (Iff Books, 2014) and The Later Affluence of W.B. Yeats and Wallace Stevens (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012). He is poetry editor of the magazine Cassandra Voices and teaches English literature and art history at numerous colleges in Oxford.

Course aims

To explore a range of poems in English in terms of different forms and contexts

Course objectives:

  • To allow students to gain knowledge of a range of English poets.
  • To provide introductions to different kinds of poems.
  • To help students understand through close textual analysis different poetic techniques.

Teaching methods

Tutor talk followed by discussion; small group work; analyses of extracts provided.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course students will be expected to:

  • have detailed knowledge of a range of English poets;
  • identify different kinds of poems;
  • produce well-contextualized and effectively close critical analyses of poems.

Assessment methods

Formative: oral presentations on poems

Summative: 1500 word essay

Students must submit a completed Declaration of Authorship form at the end of term when submitting your final piece of work. CATS points cannot be awarded without the aforementioned form - Declaration of Authorship form


To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee per course. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an enrolment form (Word) or enrolment form (Pdf).

Level and demands

Students who register for CATS points will receive a Record of CATS points on successful completion of their course assessment.

To earn credit (CATS points) you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee per course. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Coursework is an integral part of all weekly classes and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework in order to benefit fully from the course. Only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard.

Students who do not register for CATS points during the enrolment process can either register for CATS points prior to the start of their course or retrospectively from the January 1st after the current full academic year has been completed. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee.

Most of the Department's weekly classes have 10 or 20 CATS points assigned to them. 10 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of ten 2-hour sessions. 20 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of twenty 2-hour sessions. It is expected that, for every 2 hours of tuition you are given, you will engage in eight hours of private study.

Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS)