MLA Citations in a Literary Analysis

As an English major, I have spent most of my time at Case analyzing texts, from Plato's Republic through Zadie Smith's White Teeth. While you may not spend as much time writing about books as I have, you may still have to analyze a text — perhaps even a literary text — at some point. In this article, I will provide a few guidelines for doing so, as well as a brief sample essay on William Shakespeare's Hamlet.

MLA Citations

In most literary analyses, you should use MLA citation format. You can choose from several style guides (listed on our Additional Resources page) to help you implement this system. When you cite poems and plays, you will often have to provide line numbers or act and scene numbers instead of page numbers; I will be using act, scene, and line numbers in discussing Hamlet.

One difference between literary analyses and more technical papers is that, in analyzing a text, you will find yourself using direct quotations more often than you do when discussing scientific or technical matters. This is because you will need to point to specific words used by the author, rather than merely the ideas such words express.

For instance, you would be quite right to paraphrase a speech from Hamlet thus:

Horatio admits that he saw the Ghost and that, despite his initial skepticism, the ghost is quite real (1.1.54-6).

However, it may be important to your paper to note the specific words used in the play:

Horatio admits that the Ghost of Hamlet's father is "something more than fantasy" (1.1.54).

Be prepared to break out quotation marks in such situations.

Literary Analysis

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