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.

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:

In-text citation for a play
(Beckett 8)

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

In-text citation with act, scene, and line numbers
(Shakespeare 1.3.188–90)

If the text uses lines only, clarify what the numbers mean by writing “line(s)” beforehand in the first citation of that play, separated from the author name or title with a comma. Subsequent citations of the same play can omit “line(s).”

In-text citation with line numbers
(Aeschylus, lines 15–26)
(Aeschylus 35–40)

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:

In-text citation with play title
(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:

In-text citation with abbreviated play title
(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.
Quoting dialogue from a play

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.

Format Author last name, First name. Play Title. Publisher, Year.
Works Cited entry Friel, Brian. Translations. Faber and Faber, 1981.
In-text citation (Friel 57)

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.

Format Author last name, First name. Play Title. Collection/Anthology Title, edited by Editor first name Last name, Publisher, Year, Page range.
Works Cited entry Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Macbeth. The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works, edited by John Jowett et al., 2nd ed., Oxford UP, 1998, pp. 2501–2565.
In-text citation (Shakespeare 1.2.20)

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

Live performance

Format Author last name, First name. Play Title. Directed by Director first name Last name, Publisher, Day Month Year, Theater Name, City. Performance.
Works Cited entry Parker, Trey, et al. The Book of Mormon. Directed by Casey Nicholaw and Trey Parker, 20 Feb. 2019, Prince of Wales Theatre, London.
In-text citation (Parker et al.)

MLA  citation generator

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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!).

10 comments

Samuel Kugbiyi
June 21, 2021 at 3:58 PM

Hi,
Please I want to confirm if its MLA 8th edition that you're referring to here.

Thank you.

Reply

Jack Caulfield
Jack Caulfield (Scribbr Team)
June 23, 2021 at 4:37 PM

Hi Samuel,

We've recently updated these articles to reflect new information from the 9th edition of MLA. But if you're told to use the 8th edition, don't worry—the rules are the same, the 9th edition just provides some additional information and examples, so the information here is still accurate to the 8th edition too.

Reply

Lawrence
April 25, 2021 at 10:34 PM

How do you cite a play found on a website, such as Susan Glaspell's Trifles, which is found on one-act-plays.com?

Reply

Jack Caulfield
Jack Caulfield (Scribbr Team)
April 27, 2021 at 3:14 PM

Hi Lawrence,

I'd suggest the following citation format for that play, based on the information provided on the page:

Glaspell, Susan. Trifles. Frank Shay, 1916. One-Act Plays, www.one-act-plays.com/dramas/trifles.html.

Reply

Sam
April 2, 2021 at 6:26 PM

How do I quote just one line from the play? Do I still start it on a new line and indent it? Or do I cite it like a book in MLA?

Reply

Jack Caulfield
Jack Caulfield (Scribbr Team)
April 6, 2021 at 3:29 PM

Hi Sam,

If you're just quoting a single line spoken by one character, then it's fine to just integrate the quote into your sentence in the same way as you would for a prose quotation.

Reply

Jaya
January 13, 2021 at 8:34 AM

1. How do we in-text cite if the play is divided only into acts, but has page numbers instead of line numbers?

2. If the play is translated and does not include any acts, scenes, line or page numbers, how do ee in-text cite it?

Reply

Jack Caulfield
Jack Caulfield (Scribbr Team)
January 26, 2021 at 2:45 PM

Hi Jaya,

If the play does not use line numbers, it's best to just use page numbers alone, e.g. (Beckett 8) for page 8 of a play by Beckett.

For a translated text, include the translator's name in your Works Cited entry, as shown here. In the in-text citation, however, use the original author's name, not the translator's.

If a text has no page numbers or other locators, the in-text citation just consists of the author's name, as covered here.

Reply

Bea
June 19, 2020 at 6:32 PM

How do you cite line numbers when a play doesn't have acts or scenes (I'm doing Medea)? Would it just be (Euripides 152) or does there have to be some indication that you're citing a line number and not a page?

Reply

Shona McCombes
Shona McCombes (Scribbr Team)
June 25, 2020 at 8:18 PM

Hi Bea,

In this case, you can take the same approach as you would when citing a poem – specify that you're referring to line numbers in the first citation: (Euripides, line 152).

In subsequent citations, you don't need to include the word "line".

Reply

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