Part One: Suggested Reading For Spanish Oxbridge Applicants

Crafting a compelling personal statement plays a vital role in your university application since it gives you the chance to demonstrate your love of modern languages and distinguish yourself from other candidates. You can stand out as a candidate by participating in extracurricular language activities and reading more widely outside of lessons. 

Literature holds a special significance in Oxbridge universities, so showing an interest in literature not only demonstrates your eligibility for the degree but also emphasises your capacity for independent study. It’s crucial to not only have read the works mentioned in your personal statement but also to have a critical knowledge of them, because the works mentioned may well be a prompt for critical discussion during the interview stage. Engaging with the additional works on the A-level specification beyond the texts that you may have already studied could be one way of demonstrating further reading. 

However, it’s important to note that these works are frequently encountered by tutors and interviewers. Therefore, to provide alternative options for Oxbridge applicants in Spanish Studies who aspire to engage with texts beyond the A-level specification, here are recommended plays and films along with analytical questions to support your analysis. 

If plays and films are not your preference, please refer to the suggested list of Spanish prose and poetry for Oxbridge applicants of Spanish Studies here.

Spanish plays to read when applying to Oxbridge

Yerma by Federico García Lorca

The only play out of Lorca’s “Rural Trilogy” that is not featured in the A-level specification, this play shows the journey of Yerma – a young woman who has been married for two years and yearns for a child. Her husband, Juan, focuses on his work, leaving Yerma to fantasise about motherhood. Desperate to conceive, Yerma encounters intriguing characters and wrestles with her own desires and aspirations. After three years, Yerma’s yearning grows stronger. As the characters around her gossip and spread rumours about Yerma, her marriage turns bitter, and her house feels like a prison. As tensions rise, Yerma’s desperation leads to a shocking act that results in a haunting confession. Yerma’s tragic journey unveils the depths of her suffering and the devastating consequences of unfulfilled desires. The play explores themes of isolation, passion, frustration, motherhood, power, and marriage.

This play would be a memorable addition to your personal statement as it is a great introduction to the works of Lorca; the vivid stagecraft and rich symbolism in the play add layers of multi-dimensional meaning to his works and can be readily unpicked, making this play a great choice for those not particularly confident with analysingdramatic works.

Federico García Lorca, a member of the Generation of 1927, is considered to be one of Spain’s most widely celebrated modern writers. His interest in addressing the social and political issues of his time alongside his mastery of poetic language and form results in an adroit blending of poetry and theatre. This creates a unique theatrical experience which incorporates elements of the avant-garde movements that were inspiring European countries in his time. 

Critical questions:

  • How does the theme of honour interact with the theme of appearances? The characters in the play seem to be deeply concerned with the opinions of others.
      • Consider the gender roles depicted in the play
      • Consider how settings and spaces are utilised in the play
  • What is the significance of the play’s title? Lorca is known for attributing meaning to the names of characters
      • Consider the title in relation to its titular character
      • Consider the word’s relationship with the symbols of water
  • How is Victor characterised and how does his characterisation contrast Juan’s? 
      • Consider what they symbolise and what role they play in Yerma’s life right now
      • Consider what they symbolise and what role they played in Yerma’s life in the past 

Luces de Bohemia by Ramón del Valle-Inclán

In this gripping one-act play, the blind poet Max Estrella sets out on a harrowing adventure through the streets of Madrid. Max faces the harsh realities of life while interacting with numerous characters and dealing with his own despair. The drama explores profound themes of existence, alienation, disillusionment, death, and art itself, as it follows his journey to a shocking decision, coming to a poignant and surreal climax.

This dramatic work would bring originality and depth to your personal statement as it is not only intensely concerned with societal critique but also with art itself. As an introduction to Valle-Inclán, the play is an excellent representative of his work, as it is the first to showcase the pioneering dramatic genre which Valle-Inclán himself established called esperpento. The genre, esperpento, is one that offers societal critique through a distorted presentation of reality, exploring themes of death, the grotesque, and dehumanisation with an incisive sense of irony.

Valle-Inclán is renowned for his innovative approach to theatre, artistically pushing the practical limits of the theatre while satirising and critiquing society with the characteristic irony of esperpento; this play is no different in reflecting his revolutionary style and would make a compelling addition to your personal statement.

Critical questions:

  • What is the significance of art in this play?
      • Consider the literary references made in the play
      • Consider the societal treatment of art
      • Consider Max’s personal journey
  • How does classifying the play as a tragicomedy influence our understanding of the play?
  • What realist and expressionist features can you detect in the play and for what purpose are these features used?

Spanish plays to read when applying to Oxbridge

La historia official by Luis Puenzo

In 1983 during Argentina’s last military dictatorship, La historia oficial follows Alicia Maquet, a history teacher, and her husband Roberto Ibañez, a government official. Unaware of the regime’s atrocities, Alicia’s perspective is challenged by a fellow teacher and her students, prompting her to question the truth about her country’s history and the regime. As Alicia delves deeper into the country’s dark history, she uncovers shocking revelations about her adopted daughter Gaby’s origins. Tensions escalate, and secrets come to light, leading her to confront Roberto. The film explores themes of ignorance, identity, truth, and motherhood.

For history enthusiasts, including this award-winning film in your personal statement would demonstrate your broad interests as it addresses a sensitive and significant subject matter, shedding light on the human rights abuses during Argentina’s military dictatorship. By delving into the painful reality of the desaparecidos and confronting the collective denial and ignorance prevalent among the Argentine upper-middle class, the film exposes a dark yet crucial chapter of history.

Critical questions:

  • What is the significance of history in the film?
      • Consider how Alicia interacts with history as an educator 
      • Consider how Alicia interacts with history through her investigations
      • What allusion to the historical context can be pointed out from the film?
      • Consider the title’s significance and the dual meaning of the word historia 
  • How do public and private spaces interact with each other?
      • What are kept separate from each other and how are they represented?
      • Does the film portray these spaces to grow increasingly closer or further apart from each other? Do these spaces coincide successfully?

Los santos inocentes by Mario Camus

Set in a 1960s aristocratic estate in Extremadura, this award-winning film based on a novel follows the journey of landless laborers and their struggle to survive. Paco and Régula, with their children, endure their dependent position while aiming for a better life. The arrival of Régula’s brother, Azarías, who has a mental disability, brings a new dynamic. However, when the owner’s son, Ivan, crosses paths with them, a tragic event unfolds, resulting in Azarías being confined to an asylum. The story highlights the harshness of the class system and the consequences of one fateful act.

This piece is highly recommended for inclusion in your personal statement as the film offers a powerful critique of the social and economic inequalities in Spanish society, portraying the hardships faced by the lower class. Moreover, there is plenty of scope to analyse the role of the camera in this film as as its subtle depictions of the rural landscapes of Extremadura and the characters play a key role in how the story is told.

Critical questions:

  • What is the significance of love in the film?
      • Consider the role of family
      • Consider how the love depicted is used by the characters
  • How is the class system established and depicted by the camera?
      • Consider the lighting
      • Consider the types of shots used
      • Consider the mise-en-scène
  • Would it be correct to label the film as a tragedy?

Selecting what to read for your broader reading can be challenging due to the vastness of the topic, but what matters most is that you explore a diverse range of authors, genres, and literary forms that you will be interested in and will enjoy. It is crucial to have a solid understanding of the works, as this knowledge will serve as the foundation for your critical analysis, which, in many regards, holds more significant value in your interviews. Whilst Oxbridge tutors and interviewers will lay focus on your existing knowledge, they are also interested in your ability to critically think and engage with new information or literary works that are put in front of you. It is true that they want to see your commitment and determination in reading the works independently, but they more importantly want to see your critical engagement with these works.

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