How to cite Shakespeare in MLA

The works of Shakespeare, like many plays, have consistently numbered acts, scenes, and lines. These numbers should be used in your MLA in-text citations, separated by periods, instead of page numbers. The Works Cited entry follows the format for a book.

Format Shakespeare, William. Play Title. Edited by Editor first name Last name, Publisher, Year.
Works Cited entry Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Edited by G. R. Hibbard, Oxford UP, 2008.
In-text citation (Shakespeare 5.2.201–204)

Quoting Shakespeare in MLA

Shakespeare quotations may take the form of prose, verse, or dialogue.

Quoting verse

To quote up to three lines of verse from a play or poem, just treat it like a normal quotation. Use a forward slash (/) to indicate a new line.

Short verse quotation
Melun implores them to “Unthread the rude eye of rebellion, / And welcome home again discarded faith” (Jn. 5.4.11–12).

If there’s a stanza break within the quotation, indicate it with a double forward slash (//).

Short verse quotation with stanza break
Shakespeare refers to a man who “desires to know / In brief the grounds and motives of her woe. // So slides he down upon his grainèd bat” (LC 62–64).

If you are quoting more than three lines of verse, format it as a block quote (indented on a new line with no quotation marks).

Quoting dialogue

Dialogue from multiple characters should be treated as a block quote.

Include the characters’ names in block capitals, followed by a period, and use a hanging indent when one character’s speech runs onto a second line. Place the citation after the closing punctuation.

Dialogue quotation
Oberon berates Robin Goodfellow for his mistake:

OBERON. Of thy misprision must perforce ensue
Some true love turned, and not a false turned true.
ROBIN. Then fate o’errules, that, one man holding troth,
A million fail, confounding oath on oath. (MND 3.2.90–93)

Play titles and abbreviations

When you only cite one Shakespeare play in your paper, begin the in-text citations with “Shakespeare”:

Citing one play
(Shakespeare 5.2.201–204)

When you cite multiple Shakespeare plays within the paper, MLA recommends starting each citation with an abbreviated version of the play title, in italics. You don’t include “Shakespeare” in this case. For example, the following is a citation of Macbeth:

Citing multiple plays
(Mac. 1.3.6)

A list of the standard abbreviations can be found here. Use the full title of the play when you mention it outside of parentheses.

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MLA Works Cited entries for Shakespeare plays

Shakespeare plays are referenced in a similar way to other books.

Play published as a standalone book

An individual edition of a particular play will usually list an editor; include their name if so.

Format Shakespeare, William. Play Title. Edited by Editor first name Last name, Publisher, Year.
Works Cited entry Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. Edited by Stephen Orgel, Oxford UP, 2008.
In-text citation (Shakespeare 1.2.321–324)

Play published in a collection

If you use a collection of all or several of Shakespeare’s works, but only cite one of them, you can specify which one in your Works Cited entry.

Format Shakespeare, William. Play Title. Collection Title, edition, edited by Editor first name Last name, Publisher, Year, pp. Page range.
Works Cited entry Shakespeare, William. Twelfth Night. The Norton Shakespeare, 3rd ed., edited by Stephen Greenblatt, Norton, 2016, pp. 1907–1971.
In-text citation (Shakespeare 3.2.20–25)

If you use a collection and cite several different works within it, just include one Works Cited entry and specify the individual works cited in your in-text citations.

Format Shakespeare, William. Collection Title. Edition, edited by Editor first name Last name, Publisher, Year.
Works Cited entry Shakespeare, William. The Norton Shakespeare. 3rd ed., edited by Stephen Greenblatt, Norton, 2016.
In-text citation (TN 3.2.20–25)

Frequently asked questions about MLA citations

Should I use page numbers in a Shakespeare citation in MLA?

No, do not use page numbers in your MLA in-text citations of Shakespeare plays. Instead, specify the act, scene, and line numbers of the quoted material, separated by periods, e.g. (Shakespeare 3.2.20–25).

This makes it easier for the reader to find the relevant passage in any edition of the text.

How do I cite multiple Shakespeare plays in an MLA paper?

If you cite multiple Shakespeare plays throughout your MLA paper, the in-text citation begins with an abbreviated version of the title (as shown here), e.g. (Oth. 1.2.4). The edition(s) you used (possibly a collection, or individual editions of different plays) should be listed in your Works Cited.

If you cite only one Shakespeare play in your paper, you should include a Works Cited entry for that play, and your in-text citations should start with the author’s name, e.g. (Shakespeare 1.1.4).

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Jack Caulfield

Jack is a Brit based in Amsterdam, with an MA in comparative literature. He writes and edits for Scribbr, and reads a lot of books in his spare time.

1 comment

Jack Caulfield
Jack Caulfield (Scribbr Team)
January 22, 2021 at 8:01 PM

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