If you're working on an MLA paper and need to cite Shakespeare, you may wonder how to include lines, scenes, and acts in your citations properly. It requires attention to style, including in-text citations, creating quotes, and formatting Works Cited entries. To ensure that your citation style is up to par, it’s important to follow step-by-step instructions that cover all of Shakespeare's works, from “Romeo and Juliet” to “Hamlet.” Read this guide to learn how to cite Shakespeare in MLA and find the best examples of proper citations.
General citing rules
Shakespeare's plays, like many others, are divided into lines, scenes, and acts that are consistently numbered. When citing Shakespeare in MLA, use these numbers in your in-text citations. They have to be separated by periods rather than page numbers.
The format for citing Shakespeare's works in the Works Cited entry is similar to that for a book and includes the following:
- Author’s name;
- Play’s title;
- Editor or translator;
- Date of publication;
Still, the format may vary depending on whether you cite a standalone edition or a collection. Discover how to format a Works Cited entry and in-text citation according to the MLA 9th edition standard.
Works Cited entry:
Shakespeare, William. The Norton Shakespeare. Edited by Stephen Greenblatt, 2nd ed., W.W. Norton & Company, 2008.
(Shakespeare 2.2.36-39) or (Romeo and Juliet 2.2.36-39)
How to cite a Shakespeare play from a collection
When citing from a collection of Shakespeare's works, you must create a separate Works Cited entry for each work you reference. In this entry, you should provide the title of the work you cite, followed by information about the collection.
The titles of the plays should remain italicized in the citation, as they are works that would typically be standalone pieces. If you cite multiple works by Shakespeare, they should be listed alphabetically by title. You can replace the author's name with a series of three em dashes after the first one.
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. The Norton Shakespeare, edited by Stephen Greenblatt, 2nd ed., W.W. Norton & Company, 2008, pp. 1402-1488.
How to cite multiple Shakespeare plays
Suppose instead of citing a short story in MLA, you have to cite multiple plays by Shakespeare in your assignment. In that case, using an abbreviation of the play title in italics is recommended to start each in-text citation. It is important to use the standard abbreviations for Shakespeare's plays rather than create your abbreviations.
According to the guidelines about how to cite Shakespeare MLA, for each play title you mention, you should introduce the abbreviated version the first time it appears in your paper and then apply it consistently in all succeeding citations of that masterpiece. These abbreviations should only be used within parentheses.
If you apply a multi-word title in your paper, you can transform it into a recognizable keyword after the first mention, such as “Midsummer” instead of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
Benedick says, “I will live as a bachelor” (Ado, 1.1.232), but his resolve is quickly tested when he meets Beatrice at the masquerade ball.
In this example, the in-text citation is placed in parentheses after the quotation. It includes a recognizable keyword of the play's name (“Much Ado About Nothing”), the quoted material's act, scene, and line numbers. Note that the punctuation mark appears after the citation.
MLA abbreviations for plays by Shakespeare
To better understand how to cite Shakespeare in MLA, knowing the most frequent abbreviations for in-text citations of William Shakespeare's works and how to use them is necessary. The first citation should include the full name, while subsequent mentions can be abbreviated. For this, it’s necessary to shorten the title to its primary noun phrase. Let’s see some examples:
- Ham. ─ Hamlet;
- TN ─ Twelfth Night;
- Son. ─ Sonnets;
- Lr. ─ King Lear;
- Tmp. ─ The Tempest;
- LLL ─ Love’s Labour’s Lost;
- Rom. ─ Romeo and Juliet.
When abbreviating titles to initials or using full words like “ado,” placing a period in the end is unnecessary. To ensure you use abbreviations correctly, you may see their full list here.
How to quote Shakespeare MLA?
If you have to cite the epilogue of a Shakespeare play, you should understand that Shakespeare's quotations can be in verse or dialogue.
Treat quotations up to three lines of verse from a poem or play like a regular quotation and indicate a new line with a forward slash (/) and spaces around it.
Hamlet famously contemplates life’s greatest questions when he says, “To be, or not to be, / that is the question” (Hamlet 3.1.64).
Use a double forward slash (//) if there's a stanza break. For quotations exceeding three lines of verse, present it as a block quote without quotation marks and indented on a new line.
For quoting dialogue between two or more people, present it as a block quote with the names of characters in block capitals and a period. For subsequent lines in a single character's speech, you have to use a hanging indent, and after the closing punctuation, you should insert the citation.
Macbeth and Banquo discuss the strange happenings of the day, with Macbeth noting the contradiction of it being both “foul and fair”:
MACBETH. So foul and fair a day I have not seen.
BANQUO. What sights, my lord?
MACBETH. A falcon, towering in her pride of place,
Was by a mousing owl hawked at and killed. (Macbeth 1.3.38-41)
Is it needed to use page numbers in a Shakespeare MLA citation?
When citing Shakespeare's plays in MLA in-text citations, it's recommended to avoid using page numbers. Instead, it’s better to indicate the act, scene, and line numbers of the text you quote, which should be separated by periods. For example, write (Shakespeare 2.3.10–15). This approach enables readers to locate the relevant passage in all book editions more easily.
What should a Hamlet MLA citation example look like?
Let’s see how to cite Shakespeare line MLA from the play “Hamlet.”
Works Cited entry:
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Edited by Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine, Folger Shakespeare Library, 1992.
How to cite Romeo and Juliet in MLA?
To cite William Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet in MLA format, you should follow the general format for citing a play.
Works Cited entry:
Shakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet. Edited by Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine, Folger Shakespeare Library, 2003.