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, but varies depending on whether you cite from a standalone edition or a collection. The example below is for a standalone edition of Hamlet.

If you cite multiple Shakespeare plays in your paper, replace the author’s name with an abbreviation of the play title in your in-text citation.

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) or (Ham. 1.2.321–324)

Citing a play from a collection

If you use a collection of all or several of Shakespeare’s works, include a Works Cited entry for each work you cite from it, providing the title of the individual work, followed by information about the collection.

Note that play titles remain italicized here, since these are works that would usually stand alone.

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, W. W. Norton, 2016, pp. 1907–1971.
In-text citation (Shakespeare 3.2.20–25) or (TN 3.2.20–25)

If you cite several works by Shakespeare, order them alphabetically by title, and replace “Shakespeare, William” with a series of three em dashes after the first one.

Citing multiple Shakespeare plays

If you cite more than one Shakespeare play in your paper, MLA recommends starting each in-text citation with an abbreviated version of the play title, in italics. A list of the standard abbreviations can be found here; don’t make up your own abbreviations.

Introduce each abbreviation the first time you mention the play’s title, then use it in all subsequent citations of that play.

Abbreviating play titles
Shakespeare’s Macbeth (Mac.) is a play full of remarkably violent imagery, exemplified by Lady Macbeth’s assertion that she would have been willing to “dash [her child’s] brains out” (Mac. 1.7.58) in service of her ambition.

Don’t use these abbreviations outside of parentheses. If you frequently mention a multi-word title in your text, you can instead shorten it to a recognizable keyword (e.g. Midsummer for A Midsummer Night’s Dream) after the first mention.

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Quoting Shakespeare in MLA

Shakespeare quotations generally take the form of 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 (/) with spaces around it 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 two or more characters should be presented as a block quote.

Include the characters’ names in block capitals, followed by a period, and use a hanging indent for subsequent lines in a single character’s speech. 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)

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). Each play should have its own Works Cited entry (even if they all come from the same collection).

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 4:01 PM

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