How to Cite Shakespeare in MLA – Format with Examples

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How-to-cite-Shakespeare-in-MLA-Definition

The MLA (Modern Language Association) is a citation style that uses the last name of the author and the page from which the quotation is taken to make a citation.1
However, when citing Shakespeare, the page numbers are replaced with the act, verse, and line numbers, separated by periods. This article gives a clear guide on how to cite Shakespeare in MLA in different circumstances.

How to Cite Shakespeare in MLA – In a Nutshell

  • Cite Shakespeare in MLA using the act, verse, and line numbers instead of page numbers
  • Use slashes (/) when quoting three or fewer verse lines, and set them as a block quote for more than three lines of verse.
  • You must include the collection’s name, editor, and publisher if you are referencing the play from a collection or an anthology.

Definition: How to cite Shakespeare in MLA

Shakespeare’s works have numbered lines, scenes, and acts that you should use in your MLA citations instead of page numbers. The entries in the Works Cited section vary depending on the source you are citing.

The table below shows how to cite Shakespeare in MLA:

MLA format
Shakespeare, William. Title of the Play. Edited by editor's first name, Last name, Publisher, Year
MLA Works Cited entry
Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. Edited by Stephen Orgel, Oxford UP, 2008.
MLA in-text citation
Shakespeare 1.2.322-326 or (Tem. 5.2.201-204)

How to cite Shakespeare in MLA: Collection

When referencing a collection of several or all of Shakespeare’s works but only citing one of them, you can specify the actual work in the Works Cited entry. You will need to provide the title of the specific work and information on the collection.

It is essential to note that since these works would usually be standalone, the titles are italicized. The table below shows how to cite Shakespeare in MLA for a play from a collection:

MLA format
Shakespeare, William. Title of Play. Title of Collection, edition, edited by editor's first name, Last name, Publisher, Year, pp. Page range.
MLA Works Cited entry
Shakespeare, William. Twelfth Night. The Norton Shakespeare, 3rd ed., edited by Stephen Greenblatt, Norton, 2016, pp. 1907-1971.
MLA in-text citation
(Shakespeare 3.3.20-25) or (TN. 3.2.20-25)

If you are citing several of Shakespeare’s works, arrange them by title alphabetically. After the first “Shakespeare, William,” replace his name with s series of three em dashes.

How to cite Shakespeare in MLA: Multiple plays

If you are citing more than one of Shakespeare’s plays, MLA recommends starting every in-text citation with an italicized abbreviation of the play’s title.

The first time you use an abbreviation for a play’s title, introduce it thoroughly, and then you can use it in the following citations of the play.

Below is an example of how to cite Shakespeare in MLA for multiple plays.

Example:

Shakespeare’s Othello (Oth.) is a play about…(Oth. 2.6.49)

Below is an example of how to cite Shakespeare in MLA after the first mention when using a multi-word title.

Example:

Midsummer to replace A Midsummer Night’s Dream after you first mention it.

How to cite Shakespeare in MLA: Quotations

The guidelines on how to cite Shakespeare in MLA vary depending on the quotation type. i.e., a verse or a dialogue, as highlighted below.

Quoting a verse

Treat it like a typical quote if you are quoting up to three lines from a poem or play and use a forward slash to indicate a new line (/).

Below is an example of how to cite Shakespeare in MLA for a verse of up to three lines.

Example of a short verse quotation:

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

Indicate a stanza break in the quotation using a double slash (//). Below is an example of how to cite Shakespeare in MLA when indicating a stanza break.

Example:

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 a verse of four lines or more, you will need to format it as a block quote and indent the quotation.

Below is an example of how to cite Shakespeare in MLA for a verse in four or more lines.

Example:

All the world’s a stage

And all the men and women merely players:

They have their exits and their entrances;

And one man in his time plays many parts,

His acts being seven ages (AYL 2.7.138-42).

The example above demonstrates how to cite Shakespeare in MLA while maintaining the original spacing.2

Quoting a dialogue

Present dialogue from two or more characters as a block quote.

Here are some guidelines on how to cite Shakespeare in MLA when quoting a dialogue:

  • Start every part of the dialogue with the name of the appropriate character indented an inch from the left margin.
  • Write the name in all capital letters.
  • Write a period after the name, and then start the quotation
  • For all subsequent lines in the speech of the character, indent them an extra quarter inch.
  • Indent a new line an inch from the left margin whenever the dialogue has shifted to another character.
  • Keep the pattern throughout the entire quotation.

The example below shows how to cite Shakespeare in MLA when quoting a dialogue.

How to Cite Shakespeare in MLA - Quoting dialogue

FAQs

If you’re citing multiple Shakespeare plays, start the in-text citation with an abbreviation of the title and ensure that you give each play its entry in the Works Cited section.

Use a forward slash (/) if the lines are in verse. However, if they are lines of prose, you do not need to separate them with a slash.

The MLA style guide demonstrates how to cite Shakespeare in MLA when abbreviating the play’s name instead of shortening the title yourself.

Sources

1 Purdue Online Writing Lab. “MLA In-Text Citations: The Basics.” Purdue University. Accessed January 3, 2022. https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/mla_style/mla_formatting_and_style_guide/mla_in_text_citations_the_basics.html.

2 James, Clive. “How to Cite Shakespeare in MLA.” South Plains College. Accessed January 3, 2022.  https://www.southplainscollege.edu/exploreprograms/artsandsciences/english/HowtoCiteShakespeareinMLA.pdf.