Quoting Plays and Poetry in MLA

The rules for quoting drama and/or poetry in Modern Language Association (MLA) Style differ from those for quoting the genre of prose. This article discusses rules for using MLA style to format quotes from drama and poetry. Consult the MLA Handbook to learn more.

Quoting Poetry

The MLA Handbook offers specific guidelines for quoting poetry.

Quoting part or all of a line of a verse If it does not require special emphasis, put it in quotation marks within your text (77). Example: Many students enjoy William Yeats’s poem titled “A Prayer for My Daughter”; one of its most tender lines appears in the second stanza: “I have walked and prayed for this young child and hour” (line 9).
Quoting two or three lines Follow the rule for quoting one line, and use a forward slash with a space on each side ( / ) to indicate where the line breaks fall (77). In the first two lines of the poem  “Break of Day,” John Donne presents two questions: “’Tis true, ‘tis day, what though it be? / O wilt thou therefore rise from me?” (lines 1-2).
Quoting more than three lines of verse Set these lines off from your text as a block. Indent the block half an inch from the left margin. Do not add quotation marks. Many students find the first four lines of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 39 puzzling:

Oh, how thy worth with manners may I sing
When thou art all the better part of me?
What can mine own praise to mine own self bring
And what is’t but mine own when I praise thee?

In addition to the amount quoted and line breaks, other factors that matter include stanza breaks, and unusual layouts.

Special Issues: Stanza Breaks, Unusual Layouts

Stanza Breaks: Mark stanza breaks that occur in a quotation with two forward slashes, with a space before and after them ( / / ) (78).

William Carlos Williams depicts a vivid image in “The Red Wheelbarrow”: “so much depends / / upon / / a red wheel / / barrow / / glazed with rain / / water / / beside the white / / chickens” (“Williams”).

Unusual Layouts: If the layout of the lines in the original text is unusual, reproduce it as accurately as you can (79).

The English metaphysical John Donne uses indentation in some of his poems to create unusual layouts, as the first stanza of including “A Valediction: of Weeping” demonstrates:

Let me pour forth
My tears before they face, whilst I stay here,
For thy face coins them, and thy stamp they bear,
And by this mintage they are something worth,
For thus they be
Pregnant of thee;
Fruits of much grief they are, emblems of more,
When a tear falls, that thou falls which it bore,
So thou and I are nothing then, when on a divers shore. (lines 1-9)

Quoting Plays

When you must quote dialogue from a play, adhere to these rules:

  • Set the quotation off from your text.
  • Begin each part of the dialogue with the appropriate character’s name.
    • Indent each name half an inch from the left margin and write it in all capital letters.
    • Follow the name with a period and then start the quotation.
    • Indent all other lines in the character’s speech an additional amount.
    • When the dialogue shifts to another character, start a new line indented half an inch.
  • Maintain this pattern throughout the quotation (80).

One of the flashbacks in Margaret Edson’s Wit suggests Vivian Bearing’s illness causes her to question some of her previous interactions with students:

STUDENT 1. Professor Bearing? Can I talk to you for a minute?

VIVIAN: You may.

STUDENT 1: I need to ask for an extension on my paper. I’m really sorry, and I know your policy, but see—

VIVIAN: Don’t tell me. Your grandmother died.

STUDENT 1: You knew.

VIVIAN: It was a guess.

STUDENT 1: I have to go home.

VIVIAN: Do what you will, but the paper is due when it is due. (63)

Special Issues

Omissions: Follow the rules for omissions in quotations of prose (83).

Although some of the rules for quoting plays and poetry in MLA differ than those for quoting prose, understanding the guidelines will help you apply them in any scenario.


Donne, John. “The Bait.” The Complete English Poems. Penguin Books, 1971, pp. 43-4.

—. “The Break of Day.” The Complete English Poems. Penguin Books, 1971, pp. 45-6. Edson, Margaret. Wit. Faber and Faber, 1993.

Shakespeare, William. Sonnet 39. The Pelican Shakespeare: The Sonnets. Penguin Books, 1970, p. 59.

Williams, William Carlos: “The Red Wheelbarrow.” Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation, www.poetryfoundation.org/resources/learning/core-poems/detail/45502.

Yeats, William. “A Prayer for My Daughter.” The Collected Poems. Ed. Richard Finneran. Scribner, 1983, pp. 188-190.

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