How to Quote Shakespeare

Here is a quick guide on how to quote Shakespeare according to the standards set by the Modern Language Association (MLA). For more comprehensive information, consult the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 7th edition (2009).

Formatting References

  • Italicize the titles of plays.

    Richard III or Othello.

  • Place a parenthetical reference after each quotation containing its act, scene, and line numbers separated by periods. Do not use page numbers.

    Cite line-number ranges under 100 like this: 34–37. Above 100, repeat only the last two digits of the second number: 211–12 (but of course, 397–405 and 96–102). Place an en dash [ – ], not a hyphen [ - ], between the range numbers.

    Twelfth Night (1.5.268–76).

  • Use arabic numerals for all reference numbers. (Some older texts used roman numerals for act and scene references—like this: III.viii.7–34—but modern scholars use arabic numerals.)

    You may refer to a scene in the text with the act and scene numbers—in arabic numerals—separated by a period.

    In 3.1, Hamlet delivers his most famous soliloquy.

    Do not say: “In Act III, scene i, Hamlet delivers his most famous soliloquy.”

  • Periods and commas always go inside quotation marks:

    “Periods and commas,” says Dr. Womack, “always go inside quotation marks.”


Quoting Prose

  • If a prose quotation runs four lines or less, put it in quotation marks and incorporate it in the text.

    The immensely obese Falstaff tells the Prince: “When I was about thy years, Hal, I was not an eagle’s talon in the waist; I could have crept into any alderman’s thumb ring” (2.4.325–27).

  • Format prose quotations that run more than four lines as block quotations. Start on a new line and set the quotation one inch in from the left margin. Do not add quotation marks. A colon generally introduces a block quotation.

    In Much Ado About Nothing, Benedick reflects on what he has overheard Don Pedro, Leonato, and Claudio say:

    This can be no trick. The conference was sadly borne. They have the truth of this from Hero. They seem to pity the lady. It seems her affections have their full bent. Love me? Why, it must be requited. I hear how I am censured. They say I will bear myself proudly if I perceive the love come from her; they say too that she will rather die than give any sign of affection. (2.3.217–24)


Quoting Verse

  • If you quote all or part of a single line of verse, put it in quotation marks within your text.

    Berowne’s pyrotechnic line “Light, seeking light, doth light of light beguile” is a text-book example of antanaclasis (1.1.77).

  • You may also incorporate two or three lines in the same way, using a slash with a space on each side [ / ] to separate them.

    Claudius alludes to the story of Cain and Abel when describing his crime: “It hath the primal eldest curse upon’t, / A brother’s murder” (3.3.37–38).

  • Verse quotations of more than three lines should be set as block quotations: start a new line and set each line one inch in from the left margin, adding no quotation marks not appearing in the original. If the quotation starts in the middle of a line of verse, reproduce it that way, don’t shift it to the left margin.

    Jaques begins his famous speech by comparing the world to a theater:

                                            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. (2.7.138–42)

    He then proceeds to enumerate and analyze these ages.

  • If you quote dialogue between two or more characters in a play, set the quotation off from your text as described above. Begin each part of the dialogue with the appropriate character’s name indented one inch from the left margin and written in all capital letters. Follow the name with a period, and start the quotation. Indent all subsequent lines in the character’s speech an additional quarter inch. When the dialogue shifts to another character, start a new line indented one inch from the left margin. Maintain this pattern throughout the entire quotation.

    A short time later, Lear’s daughters try to dismiss all of their father’s servants:

    GONERIL.                         Hear me, my lord.
         What need you five-and-twenty, ten, or five
         To follow in a house where twice so many
         Have command to tend you?
    REGAN.                                   What need one?
    LEAR. O, reason not the need! (2.4.254–58)

How to Quote

Page Last Updated: 1 December 2013