How to cite a play in MLA

When citing a play with numbered lines, the MLA parenthetical citation should include the author name and the act, scene and line number(s). If the lines are not numbered, include the page number instead.

When quoting dialogue, include the character names in all capitals followed by a period, and pay attention to indentation.

Example of quoting and citing a play
ROSS. I’ll see it done.
DUNCAN. What he hath lost noble Macbeth hath won. (Shakespeare 1.2.94–95)

Citing plays in MLA

An MLA in-text citation contains the author’s last name and a page number:

(Beckett 8)

If the text of the play includes line numbers, replace the page number with the act, scene, and line numbers, separated by periods:

(Shakespeare 1.3.188–90)

Citing multiple plays by one playwright

In papers focusing on multiple works by one playwright (for example, the works of Shakespeare), use the italicized play name instead of the author name in each citation:

(Macbeth 1.3.188–90)

To avoid repeating play names throughout your dissertation, the MLA style guide recommends writing the full name in the first citation, then using abbreviations for subsequent mentions.

If your research is focused on Shakespeare, there are universally accepted play name abbreviations you can use. Do not devise your own, as your supervisor will be expecting these standard abbreviations:

(Mac. 2.1.25)

How to quote dialogue from a play

When quoting multiple lines of dialogue from a play or screenplay:

  • Set the quote on a new line, indented half an inch from the left margin.
  • Start the dialogue with the character’s name in capital letters, followed by a period.
  • If a character’s dialogue runs over one line, indent subsequent lines a further half inch.
  • Add the citation at the end, after the punctuation mark.
Example of quoting dialogue in MLA

Throughout the play, memory is connected with both religion and fantasy:

VLADIMIR. Do you remember the gospels?
ESTRAGON. I remember the maps of the Holy Land. Coloured they were. Very pretty. The Dead Sea was pale blue. The very look of it made me thirsty. That’s where we’ll go, I used to say, that’s where we’ll go for our honeymoon. We’ll swim. We’ll be happy.
VLADIMIR. You should have been a poet. (Beckett 5)

Plays in an MLA Works Cited list

The Works Cited section is where you list the full references for sources cited in the text. The reference for a play looks different depending on whether it was published as a whole book, collected in an anthology, or performed live.

Book

If the play is published as a stand-alone book, it looks the same as a standard MLA book citation.

FormatAuthor surname, Author first name. Play Title. Publisher, year of publication.
ExampleFriel, Brian. Translations. Faber & Faber, 1981.

Collection or anthology

If the play is published in an anthology or collection, place a period after the play’s title, followed by full details of the book in which it appears.

FormatAuthor surname, Author first name. Play Title. Collection or Anthology Title, edited by Editor name, Publisher, year of publication, page numbers.
ExampleShakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Macbeth. The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works, edited by John Jowett et al., 2nd ed., Oxford University Press, 1998, pp. 2501-2565.

If there is no named editor, simply omit this part and proceed straight from the anthology name to the publisher information.

Live performance

FormatAuthor first name, Author surname. Play Title. Directed by Director first name Director surname, date of performance, Theatre, City of performance. Performance.
ExampleParker, Trey, et al. The Book of Mormon. Directed by Casey Nicholaw and Trey Parker, 20 Feb. 2019, The Prince of Wales Theatre, London. Performance.

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Courtney Gahan

Courtney has a Bachelor in Communication and a Master in Editing and Publishing. She has worked as a freelance writer and editor since 2013, and joined the Scribbr team as an editor in June 2017. She loves helping students and academics all over the world improve their writing (and learning about their research while doing so!).

2 comments

angela
October 24, 2019 at 8:30 AM

Hello,
How do you cite stage directions within a play?

Reply

Shona McCombes
Shona McCombes (Scribbr-team)
October 24, 2019 at 6:01 PM

Hi Angela,

This post on the MLA style blog answers your question. Hope that helps!

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