How to cite a play in MLA

When citing plays in an MLA format academic paper, the parenthetical citation should include the author name, act, scene and line(s). When quoting, you must include the character names, in all capitals, and pay attention to indentation.

Example of quoting and citing a play
DUNCAN. What he hath lost noble Macbeth hath won (Shakespeare 1.2.95).

Citing plays in MLA

The parenthetical citation for a play must include the author name, act, scene and line(s).

Example of a play citation in MLA
Macbeth is first introduced to the idea of becoming king through a prophecy foretold by the three witches (Shakespeare 1.3.188-90).

In papers focusing on one particular playwright, for example, the works of Shakespeare, use the italicized play name rather than the author name in each citation.

Example of a play citation in a paper on one playwright
(Macbeth 1.3.188-90)

Format for line numbers

When citing multiple line numbers in your citation, any figure below 100 should appear in its standard and complete numerical form (e.g. 21-35). When indicating more than one line above 100, include the first number only once (e.g. 165-8).

Abbreviating play names

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.

Example of introducing an abbreviated play name
Romeo and Juliet (Rom.) is one of Shakespeare’s best-known works today, perhaps due to the number of film versions of the play.

How to quote a play

When quoting dialogue from a play or screenplay:

  • Start the quote with the character’s name
  • Write the character name in all capitals and follow the name with a period
  • Indent the entire quote half an inch from the left margin
  • After the first line, indent each line that does not include a character name further
  • Add the citation at the end, with the period after the close parenthesis
Example of quoting one character

The character Banquo was the first to draw attention to the perception of the three witches:

BANQUO. How far is’t call’d to Forres? What are these

So wither’d and so wild in their attire,

That look not like the inhabitants o’ the earth (Shakespeare 1.3.139-41).

If there is another character included in the quote you wish to use, start a new line for their dialogue using the original indentation.

Example of quoting multiple characters

MACBETH. Your children shall be kings.

BANQUO. You shall be king.

MACBETH. And thane of Cawdor too: went it not so? (Shakespeare 1.3.188-90)

Plays in an MLA Works Cited list

The Works Cited section is where you list the full references for sources cited in the text. Generally, references for plays include:

  • Author name(s)
  • Play name
  • Publisher name
  • Year of publication

The guidelines for citing plays differ by publication type or whether the reference is for a live performance.

Book

FormatAuthor surname, Author first name. Play Name, Publisher, year of publication.
ExampleMcCarter, Jeremy and Lin-Manuel Miranda. Hamilton: The Revolution, Little, Brown Book Group, 2016.

In MLA, the number of authors affects how you cite the source. To learn about arranging author names correctly, read our MLA Citation Quick Guide.

eBook

Follow the same format as a book, but add the database or website name and the permanent link to the book following the year of publication.

FormatAuthor surname, Author first name. Play Name, Publisher, year of publication. Database or Website Name, URL.
ExampleShakespeare, William. Hamlet. MIT, 1993. MIT: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, shakespeare.mit.edu/hamlet/full.html.

In a collection or anthology

FormatAuthor surname, Author first name. “Play Name.” Collection or Anthology Name, Editor name, Publisher, year of publication, page numbers.
ExampleShakespeare, William. “The Tragedy of Macbeth.” William Shakespeare: The Complete Works, edited by Stanley Wells, Gary Taylor, John Jowett, and William Montgomery, Oxford University Press, 1998, pp. 2501-2565.

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

Live performance

FormatPlay Name. Author first name, Author surname, directed by Director first name, Director surname, date of performance, Theatre, City of performance. Performance.
ExampleThe Book of Mormon. By Robert Lopez, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, co-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!).

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