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Style Manual

Plays and poetry

Cite plays and poetry using the author–date system. Attribute works with correct references to help people find the play or poem.

Cite plays and poems correctly

You might need to refer to plays and poetry in information about events, in digital content and in other publications.

References to plays and poetry must be accurate and complete so that they:

  • provide all the information someone needs to identify the work properly
  • comply with copyright laws.

Examples of in-text citations and reference lists on this page follow the author–date system, as this is the most common way of citing plays and poetry in government content. If your organisation uses the documentary–note system, change the citation and reference list styles accordingly.

Copyright requirements

You must attribute copyright material you reference. This includes plays, poems and scripts.

Include all the details required by open access licences (read how to attribute Creative Commons).

Read the government copyright rules in the Australian Government intellectual property manual.

Reference play titles and quotes from plays

Style for play titles follows the same convention as for books but is based on details about the published edition. Quoted material from plays has distinct punctuation and formatting.

Use italics and sentence case for titles of plays

Write titles of plays in italics and use sentence case. This means the first word and any proper nouns have an initial capital letter.

Example

The theme of Williamson’s Emerald city is in stark contrast to that of The club.

Noni Hazlehurst played Kathy in the Sydney Theatre Company’s play No names … no pack drill.

Use a forward slash to show line breaks in plays

When you quote lines spoken by a character in a play, use a forward slash to show line breaks appearing in the original. Insert spaces around the forward slash. If there's a line break in your text, it can occur before or after the slash.

Example

Adita loved to quote Hamlet on days like this. ‘Tis now the very witching time of night / When churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out / Contagion to this world …’ Her colleagues found these performances tiresome.

Don’t use quotation marks in scripts of plays

In plays, you don’t need quotation marks if the direct speech follows the name of the speaker.

Example

RICHARDS: You’ve the luck of the devil.

NED: It’s not luck; it’s gumption. We don’t think with our boots as traps do.

Use divisions for in-text citations of plays

Citations to plays are more helpful if you use divisions – acts, scenes and lines. Readers who wish to read the quote in context can use the divisions to find it in any edition of the play.

Use the full name of the playwright, unless people can identify the playwright by the surname. Use roman type (not italics), lower case and numerals for divisions.

Example

In the words of Breaker Morant, ‘There are things adrift here … alien to justice.’ (Kenneth Ross Breaker Morant, act 1, scene 13)

Ancient and medieval dramatic works have specific citation rules: refer to classics.

Include plays if you’re using a reference list

In government content, you don’t need to create a reference list just to cite plays. If you have a reference list already, then add plays to your list. You can also add reviews of plays to the list.

Citing plays

Use the edition of the play you cited. If the play was written well before the edition, place the original date in parentheses with the edition’s publishing date.

Rule: Author A (Year of Original Publication/Year of Edition) Title of play: subtitle of play, Name of Publisher of Edition, Place of Publication.

Example

Murray-Smith J (2002) Rapture, Currency Press, Sydney.

Ross K (1979) Breaker Morant: a play in two acts, Edward Arnold Pty Ltd, Melbourne.

Yeats WB (1892/2018) The Countess Cathleen: a play, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, Scotts Valley.

Use the author–date system for in-text citations in documents with a reference list. Include a page number after a colon if you’re citing a specific page. Use the original and edition dates if citing an old work.

Example

(Murray-Smith 2002:5)

(Ross 1979:15)

(Yeats 1892/2018)

Citing reviews of plays

Follow the rules of citation for the source (for example, a newspaper) that published the review. Use italics for the title of the play.

Rule: Reviewer R (Day Month Year) ‘Title of review: subtitle of review’ [Review of Title of work by Creator], Name of Blog, Newspaper or Magazine, accessed Day Month Year.

Example

Wilkins P (5 April 2019) ‘How to rule the world a timely reminder of issues facing the nation’ [Review of How to rule the world by Nakkiah Lui], The Canberra Times.

Wakelin O (25 January 2019) ‘Review: The big time, Ensemble Theatre’ [Review of The big time by David Williamson], ArtsHub, accessed 18 December 2019.

Reference poem titles and parts of poems

Style for references to poem titles depends on how the poem was published. Refer to parts of poems using the right kind of punctuation. 

Use quotation marks for titles of poems

Enclose titles of poems in quotation marks. If the title is part of a quotation, enclose it in double quotation marks.

Example

MJ decided his draft was ‘huddled in clichés’ like the writer’s words in Gwen Harwood’s poem ‘Critic’s nightwatch’.

Melanie Mununggurr-Williams’s performance of ‘I run …’ is available to watch on YouTube.

‘Have you read “Sun orchids” by Douglas Stewart?’ asked Hayley.

Italicise titles of poems published as books

Poems can be published as a freestanding work in book form. In this case, follow the citation rules for books. Use italics for the poem’s title.

This means you italicise the titles of verse novels as you do for prose novels.

Example

Sky saga: a story of Empire airmen by Thomas White is a tribute to the men of the Empire Air Training Scheme.

Les Murray wrote Fredy Neptune: a novel in verse in 8-line stanzas.

Capitalise and punctuate the title of a poem as the author does

A poem’s title is part of its artistic integrity. Apply the author’s own style for capitalisation and punctuation. If the title is all lower case or all upper case, follow suit.

If you’re unsure of the author’s style, write the titles of poems using sentence case. Sentence case can usually replace title case (maximal capitalisation), which is often a publishing style rather than an artistic choice.

Example

Sue Nicholls’s anthology includes ‘The Moment’, ‘those black sunglasses’ and ‘Joan (ii)’.

George Ade’s poem ‘R-E-M-O-R-S-E’ begins with the lines, ‘The cocktail is a pleasant drink, / It’s mild and harmless, I don’t think.’

Italicise titles of filmpoems

Filmpoems are a combination of images and poetry (spoken or written) watched on a screen. Filmpoems also include people reciting poetry onscreen. Sometimes filmpoems have other names, such as ‘poetryfilms’, ‘videopoems’ or ‘screen poetry’.

Italicise titles of filmpoems and use the original capitalisation and punctuation.

Example

The videopoem Dog Daze is the work of Adelaide poet and former anatomy professor Ian Gibbons.

Use the first lines of untitled, published poems

Some poems do not have titles. They often become known by their first line and are usually cited that way. Even if the poem isn’t well known, use the first line as a title for untitled poems. The aim is to give readers enough information to find the poem.

Use quotation marks as you would for other titles. Capitalise the line as it appears in the poem.

Example

Birmingham included his sonnet ‘I am very bothered when I think’ in the collection titled Paper aeroplane: selected poems 1989–2014.

Arthur Buller wrote ‘There was a young lady from Bright’, a limerick about relativity.

Describe untitled, unpublished spoken word poems

The nature of spoken word and performance poetry means the text often isn’t published. Give people enough information to appreciate and identify the poem. It’s possible a performance was recorded. To help people find it online, name the poet and the event, or quote some of the poet’s words.

Example

Arielle Cottingham’s performance at the 2016 Australian Poetry Slam began with the words, ‘History is an ocean’.

Zaynab Farah’s mother is at the centre of her poem, which explores the ‘why’ of society’s response to difference. She performed it at the 2019 Australian Poetry Slam.

Use italics for titles of anthologies and other collections

If a poem is part of a published collection, italicise the title of the collection and use sentence case. Use quotation marks for the poems in the collection.

Example

‘(Because I am a daughter) of diaspora’ appeared in Eunice Andrada’s collection Flood damages.

Use a forward slash to show line breaks in poems

Separate lines of poetry in a sentence with a forward slash. Insert spaces around the forward slash. If there's a line break in your text, it can occur before or after the slash.

Example

Challenged to quote some Slessor, Rita responded in a flash, ‘In Melbourne, your appetite had gone, / Your angers too; ...’

Use in-text citations for quotations from poems

In government writing, mentioning the poet and the title of the poem is usually enough.

Always cite quotations in text. Follow the quotation with the poet’s name in roman type and the title of the poem in quotation marks. Use the poet’s full name, unless people can identify the poet by the surname alone.

Example

As David Malouf wrote in ‘As Living Is’, ‘As living is / or Life as we call it / Neither perfect / nor plain …’

The poet wrote ‘… There was enough space, enough / suddenness, as if everything might stay in reach.’ (Martin Harrison ‘Tasmania’)

Use divisions if they are available

Use lower case and numerals for divisions.

Divisions are cantos, verses, stanzas and lines marked and numbered on the text of some longer, older poems. Divisions are the same for all editions of these poems. This means that people who want to read a quotation in context can use divisions to find the quotation in any edition.

If a poem does not have divisions, use a reputable online version and hyperlink the poem’s title. Users can then search to find the cited lines on the webpage.

Example

Here are two of the most famous – and misquoted – lines in poetry. ‘Water, water, every where, / Nor any drop to drink.’ (Coleridge The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, part 2, verse 29, lines 121–2).

For subsequent citations, you can use just use the division numbers, without the words ‘part’, ‘verse’ or ‘lines’.

Hyperlinked citations are an option for digital content.

Example

(Coleridge The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, 2.29.121–2)

(Coleridge The Rime of the Ancient Mariner)

Include poems if you’re using a reference list

You don’t need to create a separate reference list to cite poems, but if you have a reference list already, then add poems to your list.

Use the edition of the poem you cited. If the poem was written well before the edition, place the original date in parentheses with the edition’s publishing date.

Rule: Author A (Year of Original Publication/Year of Edition) ‘Title of poem: subtitle of poem’, Name of collection, Name of Publisher of Edition, Place of Publication.

As in text, use the original capitalisation of the poem in the reference list entry.

Example

Poe EA (1845/2012) The raven, Arcturus Publishing Limited, London. [Old poem]

Harrison M (2008) Wild bees, University of Western Australia Press, Crawley. [Book of poetry]

Taylor A (1982) ‘The cool change’, Selected poems, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia. [Poem in a book]

Grono W (1973) ‘A Postcard from Perth’, in Hewett D (ed.), Sandgropers: a Western Australian anthology, University of Western Australia Press, Nedlands. [Poem in an edited book]

Dong-Jip Shin (1974) ‘Ordinary autumn evening’, Best loved poems of Korea, (Ko Ch’ang-su, trans.), Hollym International, Republic of Korea. [Translated poem in a book]

White TW (1944) Sky saga: a story of empire airmen, 2nd edn, Hutchinson & Co., Melbourne. [Long poem]

Harwood G (1963) ‘Critic’s nightwatch’, Poems, Poem Hunter website, accessed 18 December 2019. [Poem on a website]

Use the author–date system for in-text citations in documents with a reference list. Include a page number after a colon if you’re citing a specific page. Use the original and edition dates if citing an old work.

Example

(Poe 1845/2012)

(Harrison 2008:133)

(Grono 1973)

(Dong-Jip Shin 1974:133)

(White 1944)

Cite Shakespeare’s poetry correctly

William Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets and other poetry. Sometimes people cite the songs from Shakespearean plays as verse.

Each sonnet has a number (not a title). The number is a division number that remains the same across editions. To cite the sonnets use either:

  • Sonnet X
  • the first line in quotation marks, as for other untitled poems.
Example

Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 contains lines often read during marriage ceremonies ‘… love is not love / Which alters when it alteration finds, / Or bends with the remover to remove.’

Shakespeare’s ‘Let me not to the marriage of two minds’ is a popular reading at wedding ceremonies.

Use italics for Venus and Adonis and The rape of Lucrece. They are available as freestanding publications.

Use quotation marks for Shakespeare’s other poetic works.

Example

‘A lover’s complaint’ is Shakespeare’s shortest narrative poem.

Portia’s musicians sing ‘Tell me where is fancy bred’ (Shakespeare The merchant of Venice, 3.2.63–72).

Treat nursery rhymes, fairy tales and fables like books

If a nursery rhyme, fairy tale or fable is published individually as a book or dramatic work, use italics for the title.

If they are part of a collection, use italics for the collection but quotation marks for individual works. Treat individual works as you would a chapter in a book.

Use sentence case.

Example

The country cousin is a 1936 Disney animated film based on Æsop’s fable ‘The town mouse and the country mouse’.

Children like the pictures in The Australian fairy tale of the three koala bears and little Goldilocks.

Maurice Sendak illustrated the Grimms’ tale The juniper tree.

‘Toast for Tommy’ was first published in Thomas Gunn’s Bush nursery rhymes in 1920.

For direct quotes, include the author and date, if known. If the date isn’t known, use the title. Use ‘Anon’ if the author is unknown.

Example

Ashley said she felt like those lizards in a nursery rhyme who’d had their tails removed by ‘a cunning fish’ (Anon. ‘Three lizards went down to a water pool’).

Among other lessons, Æsop’s fables teach us that ‘it is easy to despise what you cannot get’ (Æsop ‘The fox and the grapes’).

Release notes

The digital edition expands information about citing plays and poetry. It includes works the sixth edition did not, such as nursery rhymes, fairy tales and fables.

The Content Guide did not have guidance on plays or poetry.

About this page

References

Æsop (1909–1914) ‘The fox and the grapes’, Æsop’s fables, Bartleby website, accessed 11 January 2020.

Ade G (1866–1944) ‘R-E-M-O-R-S-E’, Poems, Poem Hunter website, accessed 18 December 2019.

American Psychological Association (2020) ‘10.2: Books and reference works’, Publication manual of the American Psychological Association, 7th edn, American Psychological Association, Washington DC.

Ewart G (ed) (1980) The Penguin book of light verse, Penguin Books Ltd, Harmondsworth.

Harwood G (1963) ‘Critic’s nightwatch’, Poems, Poem Hunter website, accessed 18 December 2019.

Hetherington P (2019) Advice on style for poetry titles [unpublished training materials], University Of Canberra International Poetry Studies Institute, Canberra.

Holden R (1992) Twinkle, twinkle, Southern Cross: the forgotten folklore of Australian nursery rhymes, National Library of Australia, Canberra.

Hollander J and Kermode F (eds) (1979) The Oxford anthology of English literature: the literature of Renaissance England, Oxford University Press, New York.

Malouf D (2018) An open book, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia.

Monash University Sir Louis Matheson Library (2013) In fairy land: an exhibition of fairy tale books from the Rare Books Collection [online exhibition catalogue], 6 March to 7 June 2013, Monash University, Clayton, accessed 13 January 2020.

Noonan JJ and Atwell HJW (1968) The genius of poetry, Jacaranda Press, Milton.

Richards IA (ed) (1950) The portable Coleridge, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth.

Ross K (1979) Breaker Morant: a play in two acts, Edward Arnold Pty Ltd, Melbourne.

Seymour A, Stewart D and Porter H (1963) Three Australian plays, Penguin Books, Victoria.

Shakespeare W (1609/1964) The sonnets (Barnet S ed), New American Library, New York.

Shakespeare W (1600/1967) The merchant of Venice (Moelwyn W ed), Penguin Books Ltd, Harmondsworth.

Slessor K (1901–1971) ‘Five bells’, Poems, Poem Hunter website, accessed 18 December 2019.

Stavanger D and Te Whiu AM (2019) Solid air: Australian and New Zealand spoken word, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia.

This page was updated Monday 21 September 2020.

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