How To Cite Dialogue From A Play In An Essay

There are a few different ways it may be necessary to quote dialogue from a novel or other literary work in an essay.

1) If you are using any narrative or stage directions in your quote to prove your point along with your dialogue, the narrative will be surrounded by double quotation marks and the dialogue will be surrounded by single quotation marks.

For example: When Mr. Bennet spelled out the necessities of formal introduction, "The girls stared at their father. Mrs. Bennet said only, 'Nonsense, nonsense!'" (Austen, Pride and Prejudice, Pemberly.com). Note, that because the exclamation mark is a part of the dialogue, it goes inside to the single quotation mark. Also note that the quote is ended with a double quotation mark and there is no space between single quotation mark and the double.

2) If what you are quoting in your essay to prove your point is a line of dialogue by itself, then you can treat the dialogue like any other text quoted and only surround it with double quotation marks.

For example: Mrs. Bennet demonstrates her designs on Mr. Bingley when she declares, "Oh! single, my dear, to be sure! A single man of large fortune; four or five thousand a year. What a fine thing for our girls!" (Austen, Pride and Prejudice, Pemberly.com).

3) If to prove your point in your essay you want to quote a whole dialogue exchange, you can treat it as a block quote. For a block quote, you leave off the quotation marks, indent every line of the paragraph so that it stands alone in your essay as one single block, and add the reference after the period. For example:
In the novel Pride and Prejudice, the early exchange between Mr. and Mrs. Bennet demonstrates just how silly Mrs. Bennet is and how Mr. Bennet teases her:

What is his name?
Bingley.
Is her married or single?
Oh! single, my dear, to be sure! A single man of large fortune; four or five thousand a year. What a fine thing for our girls!
How so? how can it affect them?
My dear Mr. Bennet...how can you be so tiresome! You must know that I am thinking of his marrying one of them. (Austen, Pride and Prejudice, Pemberly.com)

Note, that in the third line I used an ellipse to cover up some narrative that, if left in the quote, would have made the punctuation more complex and awkward.

4) Finally, if you are quoting dialogue that is more than three lines long and from the same speaker, you would also use a block quotation.

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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