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A Level English Literature

A Level English Literature


Literary Genres: Aspects of Tragedy

In Literary genres, the texts are connected through a mainstream literary genre: Aspects of tragedy. Tragedies have a long tradition in literature, with their origins in the ancient world and with a specific emphasis on drama. We look at older historical forms and measure later texts and their approaches to tragedy against a literary genre which is long established.

At the core of all the set texts is a tragic hero or heroine who is flawed in some way, who suffers and causes suffering to others and in all texts there is an interplay between what might be seen as villains and victims. Some tragic features will be more in evidence in some texts than in others and students will need to understand how particular aspects of the tragic genre are used and how they work in the three chosen texts. The absence of an ‘aspect’ can be as significant as its presence. Some ‘aspects’ of tragedy that can be explored include:

  • The type of the tragic text itself, whether it is classical and about public figures, like Othello, or domestic and about representations of ordinary people, like Tess.
  • The settings for the tragedy.
  • The journey towards death of the protagonists.
  • The role of the tragic villain or opponent.
  • The presence of fate.
  • How the behaviour of the hero affects the world around him.
  • The significance of violence and revenge, humour and moments of happiness.
  • The structural pattern of the text.
  • The use of plots and sub-plots.
  • The way that language is used to heighten the tragedy.
  • Ultimately, how the tragedy affects the audience.

Texts and Genres:

Elements of Crime Writing

In Texts and genres, in contrast to the literary genre of tragedy, the texts are grouped together as having elements of a more modern genre: crime writing. This genre, which is heavily influenced by culture, is continually evolving.

In the case of Elements of crime writing, many of the texts pre-date the crime fiction genre that emerged as a recognisable literary genre in the mid-19th century and with academic recognition in the 20th century. However, in all the texts a significant crime drives the narrative and the execution and consequences of the crime are fundamentally important to the way the text is structured.

All set texts are narratives which focus on transgressions against established order and the specific breaking of either national, social, religious or moral laws. The focus in this component must be on ‘Elements’ and students need to consider the elements that exist in each of their texts. The elements that might be explored, depending on the individual text, include:

  • The type of the crime text itself, whether it is detective fiction, a post-modern novel, a revenge tragedy, an account of a life lost to crime.
  • The settings that are created as backdrops for criminal action and for the pursuit of the perpetrators of crime.
  • The nature of the crimes and the criminals.
  • The inclusion of violence, murder, theft, betrayal.
  • The detection of the criminal and the investigation that leads to his or her capture or punishment.
  • How far there is a moral purpose and restoration of order.
  • Guilt and remorse, confession and the desire for forgiveness.
  • The creation of the criminal and their nemesis, the typical detective hero.
  • The sense that there will be a resolution and the criminal will be punished.
  • The victims of crime and the inclusion of suffering.
  • The central motifs of love, money, danger and death.
  • Punishment, justice, retribution, injustice, accusation, the legal system, criminal trials and courtroom dramas, imprisonment, death.
  • The structural patterning of the text.
  • The specific focus on plotting.
  • The way that language is used in the world that is created.
  • The way that crime writing is used to comment on society.

Ultimately, how crime stories affect audiences and readers, creating suspense, repugnance, excitement and relief.

Theory and Independence

This component is designed to allow students to read widely, to choose their own texts and to understand that contemporary study of literature needs to be informed by the fact that different theoretical and critical methods can be applied to the subject. This area of the course provides a challenging and wide-ranging opportunity for an introduction to different ways of reading texts and for independent study. The title 'Theory and independence' highlights the important idea that, within a literature course, students should have the opportunity to work as independently as possible.

This process is supported by the AQA Critical anthology, which has accessible extracts on the following critical methods and ideas:

  • Narrative theory
  • Feminist theory


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Aspects of Tragedy:

Students study three texts: one Shakespeare play, a second drama text and one further text.

Othello – William Shakespeare


Death of a Salesman – Arthur Miller

“You can't eat the orange and throw the peel away - a man is not a piece of fruit.”

Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy

“A strong woman who recklessly throws away her strength, she is worse than a weak woman who has never had any strength to throw away.”

Elements of Crime Writing:

Students study three texts from the following list: one post-2000 prose text, one pre-1900 poetry text and one further text. They also respond to an unseen passage in the exam. The unseen extract can come from any of the genres of poetry, prose or drama and can include literary non-fiction.

Post-2000 prose text -

When Will There Be Good News? – Kate Atkinson

“Their mother was cut down where she stood, the great silver knife carving through her heart as if it was slicing butcher’s meat.”

Poetry –

Peter Grimes – George Crabbe

“He knew not justice, and he laughed at law.”

The Laboratory – Robert Browning

“Brand, burn up, bite into its grace---
He is sure to remember her dying face!”

My Last Duchess – Robert Browning

“  “That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,

Looking as if she were alive.”

Porphyria’s Lover – Robert Browning

“In one long yellow string I wound

Three times her little throat around,

And strangled her.”

The Ballad of Reading Gaol – Oscar Wilde

“And blood and wine were on his hands

  When they found him with the dead,”

Further text -

Brighton Rock – Graham Greene

“It didn't matter anyway...he wasn't made for peace, he couldn't believe in it. Heaven was a word: hell was something he could trust.”

Theory and Independence:

Narrative theory:

Students are taught a selection of narrative poems by Christina Rossetti.

Areas of study:

  • Story types
  • Structure
  • Beginnings
  • Endings
  • Time
  • Setting
  • Narrators
  • Characterisation
  • Flat and round characters
  • Narrative Gaps

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Feminist theory:

Students choose their own novel to study.

Areas of study:​​​​​​​

  • Feminism
  • Feminist Criticism
  • What feminist critics do
  • Gender

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For enthusiastic readers, word lovers, poets and theatre buffs, English Literature is the perfect choice.

Studying literature feeds the imagination. It allows you to travel back in time, share the experiences of others, take on new perspectives, explore ideas, beliefs and values, challenge or discover your own and learn the literary skills to express yourself in original and creative ways through dialogue, argument, prose and poetry.

The analytical, interpretative and discursive skills you develop by studying literature will also prove excellent preparation for university. A Level English Literature is a highly regarded qualification by universities.

We require a grade 6 or above in both English Language and English Literature to study A Level English Literature.