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How to quote and cite a play in an essay using MLA format

Updated April 17, 2017

The Modern Language Association (MLA) has very specific guidelines for quoting and citing information from a play within the text of an essay. While the citation is the same no matter who or what you are quoting, the method of quoting the play depends on several factors.

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  1. Remember that any exact wording from the play must be properly formatted as a quote and cited. Failing to adequately quote and cite material is a form of plagiarism and can have dire consequences, depending on the guidelines of your instructor and school.

  2. Use a lead-in for all quotations. A lead-in is a short explanation of the quote and who is saying it. For example: When she saw the car crash, Jane turned to Steve and said, "Look what happened." Do not use floating quotations--do not just stick quotes into a paragraph with no set-up or lead-in.

  3. Cite all quotations from a play using the author's last name and the act number, scene number and speech number. A speech is each time a character speaks; if your copy of the play is not numbered, you'll have to count the speeches to get this number. Some plays do not have scene numbers; if so, simply omit it. Place everything in parentheses at the end of the sentence that contains the quotation. Follow this construction if you want to cite a quote from Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman" that comes from Act 2 and speech 15 (this play does not have scenes): (Miller 2.15).

  4. Quote a monologue (one character's speech) or one side of a piece of dialogue by simply including a lead-in, enclosing the exact wording in quotation marks and adding a citation. Add a comma before the quotation. Example: To impress the successful Bernard, Willy exaggerates his son Biff's success, "Well, he's been doing very big things in the West. But he decided to establish himself here" (Miller 2.281).

  5. Quote a long monologue (four or more lines) delivered by a character by setting it off in block format. This means that, instead of enclosing it in quotation marks, you put the quotation on a separate line from the lead-in and indent it 10 spaces. For block quotes, end the lead-in with a colon. Don't forget to cite it. Example:

  6. Willy continues his delusional discussion with the nonexistent Ben:

  7. Without a penny to his name, three great universities are begging for him, and from there the sky's the limit, because it's not what you do, Ben. It's who you know and the smile on your face! It's contacts, Ben, contacts! The whole wealth of Alaska passes over the lunch table at the Commodore Hotel, and that's the wonder, the wonder of this country, that a man can end with diamonds here on the basis of being liked! (Miller 2.202)

  8. Quote sets of dialogue between two or more characters by also using block format and putting the characters' names in all capital letters. Don't forget a lead-in and a citation that includes all speeches being quoted. Example:

  9. Willy's delusions consistently show how much Happy and Bernard idolised Biff, especially when they argue over who will carry his football gear:

  10. Tip

    Citations should always clearly show which work you are quoting from. But if your essay is only discussing "Death of a Salesman," for example, you would not need to put "Miller" in every citation. You could simply put the act and speech number: (2.213-216). Use an ellipsis (...) if you just want to quote part of a character's speech. This shows that you have left out something from the quote. Example: "... the sky's the limit, because it's not what you do, Ben. It's who you know...It's contacts, Ben, contacts!" (2.202).

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About the Author

Erica Sweeney is a freelance writer and editor based in Little Rock, Ark. She has a master's in journalism from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Her work has been published at, Arkansas Times, Aging Arkansas and Arkansas Business.

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