How To Quote Shakespeare Lines In An Essay

Ask the MLAin-text citations

How do I quote stage directions?

There are different traditions for formatting stage directions, even in publications of the same play. When quoting stage directions, your aim should be consistency.

It is most common to find stage directions in italics, and you should replicate them:

After Levan states that Homais “faints,” the stage directions detail what happens next: “She sinks down in a Chair, he falls at her feet” (22).

If it’s not clear from context that you are quoting stage directions, indicate this in your in-text citation:

Manly’s scene concludes on a passionate image: “She sinks down in a Chair, he falls at her feet” (22 [stage direction])

To indicate that the quoted material is a stage direction, some scholars use the abbreviation sd after the line number: (120sd). But in an essay that is not specialized in theater history, it would be better to avoid mystifying your readers with that technical detail.

Stage directions typically appear in parentheses or square brackets. When quoting stage directions and dialogue together, follow your source’s use of parentheses or square brackets if you can:

“Her salt tears fell from her, and soft’ned the stones,
   Sing willow”—
Lay by these—
[Singing.] “—willow, willow”—
Prithee hie thee; he’ll come anon—
[Singing.]
“Sing all a green willow must be my garland.
Let nobody blame him, his scorn I approve.”

But if you quote from sources with variant practices, choose one method for enclosing stage directions and be consistent.

The names of the characters in stage directions are often given in different ways—roman and all capital letters, small capitals, or a combination—but in your manuscript simply make them italic, with the rest of the stage direction:

Enter Nurse wringing her hands, . . .

Works Cited:

  • To cite a Shakespeare play or poem from a book, anthology, or film on our works cited page we would use the same format as we would for any other author's work. That is the easy part. Here are the two books I am using:

Shakespeare, William, and Cyrus Hoy. Hamlet. New York: W.W. Norton, 1996. Print.

Shakespeare, William. Love Poems and Sonnets of William Shakespeare. New York: Doubleday, 1991. Print.

  • Here is how to cite a film, DVD, of VHS versionof a Shakespearean work:

Branagh, Kenneth, dir. William Shakespeare's Hamlet. U.K.: Castle Rock Entertainment, 1996. VHS.

  • In-text citation for a film, DVD, VHS:

We may not need one. It is possible to simply refer to Branagh's William Shakespeare's Hamlet in the text of our document as there are no page numbers to refer to. However, if we want to include a direct quote, we could use the in-text citation (Branagh, William Shakespeare's Hamlet).

  • Here is how to cite a live performance:

Hamlet. By William Shakespeare. Dir. Dominic Dromgoole and Bill Buckhurs. Shakespeare's Globe, London. 25 April 2014. Performance.

  • In-text citation for a live performace:

Dromgoole and Buckhur's Hamlet or (Dromgoole and Buckhur, Hamlet)

Play In-text (parenthetical) Citations:

If we are writing a paper that refers to more than one work, we will use the play name in our citation rather than the author. If we are writing about one play then we would replace the play title in the parenthetical citation for the author's last name. 

  • Italicize play titles: Hamlet (Ham.)
  • After we introduce the full play title and it's abbreviation in parentheses, we can use the abbreviation to refer to the play in the rest of our paper. Here is a list of abbreviations for play titles.
  • Use Arabic numerals to refer to act, scene, and line numbers (no page numbers are listed): 3.2.10 or 3.2.10-25 if we are covering information from lines 10 through 25. If the line number are 100 or higher, we use the first whole line number 265 and the last two digits of the second line number: 5.2.265-75.
  • If referring to an act and scene of a play in your the body of your text, format it as such: In 2.2, Hamlet's despondency becomes the subject of mockery amongst his peers.
  • If we are only referring to one work by Shakespeare in our paper than our parenthetical citation would look like this: (Shakespeare 3.2.115)
  • If we are referring to more than one work by Shakespeare in our paper, after we introduce our play Hamlet (Ham.)..., our first parenthetical citation will look like this: (Ham. 3.2.115)
  • If we have not  yet introduced the play in the body of our paper, the first parenthetical citation will look like this: (Hamlet 3.2.115)

Quoting Verse and Prose:

Many of Shakespeare's plays are in a combination of verse and prose. The lesser characters often are written in prose, while the primary characters are usually written in verse. There are different rules for formatting verse and prose.

  • For quoting both verse and prose remember to always introduce the scene or character who is speaking. I will not be including those transitions prior to my quotations here, but that does not mean we don't need them in our papers. 
  • If quoting three lines or less of verse use the short quotation format and use a / to indicate line breaks. Keep all original punctuation and incorporate it into the text of your paper. 
  • If quoting four lines or more of verse break the lines as they are shown in the text of the play. Do not use / to indicate line breaks. Keep all original punctuation and format as a block quote.
  • If you would like to quote verse or prose, but want to leave out parts of a sentence or phrase, simply use ellipses to mark the left out text: "Heaven make me free of it! I follow thee / ...Wretched queen, adieu!" 

Play Quotations (short verse):

  • For quotations that refer to one character and are under four lines of verse, we can use "Quotation Marks." The citation will come between the last quotation mark and the period.
  • We will want to use slashes / to indicate line breaks.

"Doomed for a certain term to walk the night, / And for the day confined to fast in fires, / Til the foul crime done in my days of nature"

(Shakespeare 1.5.10-13).

  • Of course we would use (Hamlet 1.5.10) depending on the number of works by Shakespeare being referred to in our paper. For instance if we were comparing his tragedies and comedies and relying on several different works for source material, we would want to follow the MLA citation rule for citing several works by one author.

Play Quotations (short prose):

"Happily he is the second time to come to them, for they say an old man is twice a child" (Shakespeare 2.2.354-55)

Play Quotations (long verse):

  • For quotations that refer to one character and are longer than three lines of verse or four lines of prose we will want to double indent (1" or two taps of the tab key) and create a block quote. 
  • We will not use quotation marks or italicize the quote, the indentation will be indication enough:

                              He took me by the wrist, and held me hard, 

                              Then goes he to the length of all his arm,

                              And with his other hand thus o'er his brow, 

                              He falls to such perusal of my face

                              As  'a would draw it. Long stayed he so.

                              At last, a little shaking mine arm,

                              And thrice his head thus waving up and down,

                              He raised a sigh so piteous and profound 

                              As it did seem to shatter all his bulk, 

                              And end his being. (Shakespeare 2.1.86-95)

  • Notice that the parenthetical citation comes after the period in a long quote and that there is not a period after the citation.

Play Quotations (long prose):

  • We still will not use quotation marks or italicize the quote, however, we will not worry about line breaks and only take into account the double indentation and citation style.

                            Here lies the water; good. Here stands the man;

                            good. If the man go to this water and drowns himself,

                            it is,will he, nill he, he goes--mark you that. But if the

                            water come to him and drown him, he drowns not

                            himself. Argal, he that is not guilty of his own

                            death shortens not his own life. (Shakespeare 5.1.13-15)

Play Quotations (dialogue between two or more characters):

  • Double indent the names of the characters.
  • Capitalize each letter in the name of the character.
  • Indent the text of the quote one quarter inch further than we indent the character's name.
  • Keep original formatting and punctuation.

                              HAMLET. Then is doomsday near. But your news is not

                                   true. Let me question more in particular. What have you,

                                   my good friends, deserved at the hands of Fortune,

                                   that she sends you to prison hither?

                              GUILDENSTERN. Prison, my lord?

                              HAMLET. Denmark's a prison.

                              ROSENCRANTZ. Then is the world one. (2.2.231-37)

Poem and Sonnet Quotations:

  • Follow the same guidelines set by the plays for prose and verse.
  • Remember to use line numbers and not page numbers.

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