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How to Quote and Cite a Play in an Essay Using MLA Format


MLA style provides guidelines for citing both small and large passages of plays in the body of your text. In addition, MLA requires you to note any plays you reference on a separate works cited list. How you include quotes from a play in your text will depend on how whether you're quoting a single character or dialogue between multiple characters.

Quoting a Play in Your Essay

Whenever you quote a play in your essay, MLA style requires you to include an in-text citation showing where the quote came from. For a play, this will include the abbreviated title of the play, and the section of the play in which the quote is found. If you are quoting a single character's dialogue, or stage directions, in your paper, you can simply include the quote within quotation marks as part of your sentence. If quoting a verse play, lines are separated by a slash /. Take the following from Shakepeare's "Measure for Measure":

In asking for his pardon, Claudio states "the miserable have no other medicine/But only hope" (Measure, 3.1.2-3).

In the in-text citation, "Measure" show's the play's title, "3" is the act number, "1" the scene number, and "2-3" the lines on which the quote appears. Note that each item in the play's division is separated by periods. If you're quoting a play that does not have scenes or lines, include the act, and note it as such, so it is not confused with a page number. For example, Caryl Churchill's "Cloud 9" has no scenes, so you might cite it as follows:

Betty's anxiety is shown by her worry toward Tommy. "He's going to fall in. Make Martin make him move back" (Cloud, act 2).

Quoting Dialogue From Multiple Characters

One of the features of plays is that multiple characters speak to each other in dramatic form. If you quote two characters speaking to each other this way in your paper, it is formatted as a block quote. Include a blank line between the body of your paper and the first line of your quote. When dialogue switches characters, include a blank line between each character's lines. Each line in the block quote must be indented 1 inch from your the rest of your paper's text, and if a character's speech runs more than one line, each additional line is indented an additional 1/4-inch. The names of characters are written in full caps -- don't forget to include an in-text citation after the quote. This quote is from Aristophanes's "The Birds":

PISTHETAIROS: I never saw so many birds! They make me nervous.

EUELPIDES: You said it. When they lift their wings you can't see where you're going. ("Birds", párodos)

Greek plays are divided into named subsections, such as episodes and strophes -- the name of each subsection should be included when citing a Greek play. In this case "párodos" is the choral section including the quote.

Including a Play on Your Works Cited List

In MLA style, an additional page is added after the last page of your paper to include all items that were cited in your essay. When you quote or reference a play in your writing, you place a reference on this page to give the information of the book or anthology in which you found the play. Your reference will include the name of the author, the play title, the publication information, and the format in which it was found. MLA arranges this information in the following order:

Author Lastname, Firstname. Title of Play. Publication Location: Publisher, Year of Publication. Format.

For example:

Churchill, Caryl. Cloud 9. New York: Theater Communications Group, 1985. Print.

If you are referencing a play that has been translated and/or edited, include the translator's and/or editor's name after the title of the play:

Pirandello, Luigi. Six Characters in Search of an Author. Trans. Edward Storer. Ed. Adam Frost. Mineola: Dover Publications, 1998. Print.

Plays in Anthologies

Plays will often be included in a multivolume work or anthology. If you are citing a specific play that is included in an anthology, the anthology name should be included in italics after the play title. In addition, the pages the play appears on within the anthology should be included after the year of publication. Here's an example of an anthology citation:

Aristophanes. The Frogs. Four Comedies. Trans. and Ed. Dudley Fitts. New York: Harcourt, 1962. 69-156. Print.

Note that if the translator and editor are the same person, you list "Trans." first.

Plays Found Online

To include a play found online your reference list, you will replace the publisher information with the name and date of the Web page on which you found the play. Also note the source format as "Web." You do not need a URL to cite a Web source in MLA, but you need to indicate the date you last accessed the Web page. Format your citation as follows:

Author Lastname, Firstname. Title of Play. Name of Web page. Name of website, last date Web page was updated. Web. Date you accessed Web page.

Here's an example:

Shakespeare, William. Measure for Measure. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, n.d. Web. 16 March 2015.

Note that "n.d." means "no date." You can use this in place of the update date for a webpage, or publication date for a book, if no date is available.

About the Author

Jon Zamboni began writing professionally in 2010. He has previously written for The Spiritual Herald, an urban health care and religious issues newspaper based in New York City, and online music magazine eBurban. Zamboni has a Bachelor of Arts in religious studies from Wesleyan University.

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