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English Faculty Library Services: Plays and Poetry


MHRA makes a distinction between how to reference long poems and short poems. A long poem would be a substantial piece of a single poetic work that may be identified through the inclusion of multiple movements or parts, and could be published as a singular work (usually something like an epic poem). By contrast a short poem would be a discrete, individual part with its own title and internal structure, even if it is generally published as part of an overall sequence. So, for example, a sonnet in Edmund Spenser's Amoretti would be a short poem, while Spenser's The Faerie Queene would be a long poem.  

Long Poem

Long poems are cited like Plays, where if it is printed on its own then it is considered a whole, and if it is printed in a collection then it is still considered italicized, even though it is part of a larger collection. 
William Langland, The Vision of Piers Plowman, ed. by A.V.C. Schmidt, 2nd edn  (London: Everyman, 1995), XIV. 329-332. 
Beowulf, in Anglo-Saxon Poetry, ed. and trans. by S.A.J. Bradley (London: Everyman, 1982, 1995), pp.408-494, XVI. 1058-1062. 

For more details on long poems, see section 11.2.7 of the MHRA Style Guide or section vii of the Faculty Guide

Short Poem

Short poems are cited like short stories, or chapters in a book, where the title of the individual poem is in inverted commas, and the overall title of the publication is in italics.   
T. S.  Eliot, ‘The Rum Tum Tugger’, in Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (London: Faber & Faber, 1939), pp. 11-12, in Proquest One Literature  <https://www-proquest-com > [accessed 20 May 2020]. 
Teresia Teaiwa, ‘Fear of Flying (in Broken Gilbertese)’, in Poetry, July/August 2016, 9 < 
> [accessed 20 May 2020]. 
Aoife Lyall, ‘No flowers: by request’, in Mother, Nature (Hexham: Bloodaxe Books, 2021), p. 17. 


For more information on how to present titles of short poems, see section 7.3 of the MHRA Style Guide or the subsection ‘Titles’ of the Faculty Guide. For more examples of referencing poetry from databases, see section 11.2.14 of the MHRA Style Guide.  


Note Bene: 
MHRA does not provide specific guidance on quoting from short poems. However, multiple academic referencing guides such as Oxford Brookes and Monash University have adapted guidance from the referencing style specified for plays and long works.  There is not consensus on whether to use exclusively page numbers, exclusively line numbers, or a combination of both. For short poems, the English Library recommends using page numbers for references, and referring to the line number in discussion as necessary. However, you can use the methods recommended by Oxford Brooked or Monash if this does not feel specific enough, or if the work is "on the longer side" for a short poem. Just be consistent within your own work for how you reference short poems. Get in touch with the library if you have any questions. 


Plays can be relatively easy to format, but the reference can look somewhat different depending on where you are finding them.  

The basic format is: 
Playwright, Title of Play, Editor or Translator if applicable (Place of Publication: Publisher, Year) Act. Scene. Line. 

MHRA specifies to use Roman numerals for referring to the number of acts in a play, and Arabic numbers for subsequent scenes, cantos, chapters, lines, etc. This can seem confusing if the play which you are referencing doesn’t have any or all of those things. So just keep in mind that you are trying to point to where this line or section is located as specifically as possible, but that not all plays follow the same formatting. So when in doubt, use Roman numerals for the largest subsections of the play however it is formatted, and then Arabic numbers for as many further subsections as there are.

For more details, see section 11.2.7 of the MHRA Style Guide or section vii of the Faculty Guide.  

Plays published as a single title

William Shakespeare, Coriolanus (London: Methuen & Co, 1976), IV. 5. 29.

Tom Stoppard, Travesties (London: Faber Faber, 1975), I. p.15.

Marina Carr, By the Bog of Cats (London: Faber and Faber, 2004),  I.3 p.11 < www-dramaonlinelibrary-com > [Accessed 2 February 2022] 

Jack Davis, The Dreamers (Currency Press, 1996),  I.2.p.16,  Proquest Ebook Central. 

Plays in an anthology

William Shakespeare, The Merry Wives of Windsor, in The Norton Shakespeare, ed. by Stephen Greenblatt and others (New York: WW Norton & Co), pp.1225-1291, I. 1. 120. 

Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest, in The Norton Anthology of English Literature, ed. By M.H. Abrams and others, 7th edn (New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 2001), pp. 2177-2221, II. p.2195.


According to section 11.2.3 of the MHRA Guide, when larger works (such as complete plays) are reprinted in anthologies where they can be separately cited, the subdivision can be italicized as well, though this can differ as seems appropriate to the work. Get in touch with the library if you have questions. 

Quoting from Verse

Quoting from verse forms can come with some of their own tricks and nuances. 

According to section 9.5 of MHRA, quotes from a play or poem which exceeds forty words or two lines of verse count as long quotations and anything below that amount as a short quotation. These are important limits because long and short quotations are treated differently for the purpose of presentation in your writing. It is worth remembering, however, that long and short quotations have nothing to do with quoting from a long or short poem. 

Long quotations should be indented in the body of your work (this is faculty guidance, rather than strict MHRA), and appear without single quotation marks around them. Particularly relevant for plays and poems, long quotations should also mimic the display of the text within the work as much as possible (formatting, stage directions, speakers names, etc). You can find examples and more details in section 9.5

Short Quotations of verse which include two lines of poetry should indicate where the line break is. You can mark this with a spaced upright stroke ( | ). You can find this in section 9.3

'I like a look of Agony, | Because I know it's true --'

[The key for the upright stroke on a British English keyboard is above the forward slash ( \ ) next to the Z.]


Omissions are when you selectively edit a quote for length or relevancy to your argument as detailed in section 9.6. When omitting text from prose quotes it is usually denoted with an ellipses enclosed in square brackets to indicate where text was removed. For example:

'As traditionally a popular and even an oral form, [...] the ballad was frequently used as a vehicle for the articulation of political radicalism'. 

When omitting lines in verse, you use the ellipses to indicate where the missing lines are. For example:

The Mermaids in the Basement
Came out to look at me --
But no Man moved Me -- till the Tide
Went past my simple Shoe --


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