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Monday, May 3, 2010

Punctuate This!

As a director, actor, and theatre blogger, I read many articles every week about theatre. Some are on the the blogs of others like myself, some are in European and American newspapers online, and some are just articles on theatre industry sites.
I have noticed an inconsistency in the formatting of play titles among all of these sources. Some use italics to adorn the title, while some merely enclose it in quotation marks.
While I know that I do, on occasion, break the rules of proper written grammar in order to effect a more conversational tone to my blog (or sometimes simply for emphasis), I do think it would be good for us to have some consistency on this point.
Here is my understanding of how the punctuating of titles works:
While some people ascribe to the big vs. "little" rule, I think it is more accurate to think in terms of whole or "part."
For example, the book, Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone, should be italicized, while chapter seven of that book, "The Sorting Hat," belongs in quotations. Movies are in italics, but, if the director chooses to break the movie up into titled parts, each of those parts would be addressed later by quotes. A television series like Doctor Who gets italics while one of that show's awesome episodes like "The Doctor Dances," should be punctuated to indicate that it is a "part" of a greater whole.
To my understanding, plays and musicals should get the same treatment as films. They are to be italicized. If the playwright has chosen to name specific scenes in the play, those scenes should be in quotes. The same goes for musical numbers in a musical. I once had someone try to tell me that musicals were italicized but plays were not. I have found no evidence to support that position, though, so I am inclined to think that person was an "idiot."
Now, in the age of Twitter and Facebook, sometimes the option of italicizing a title just isn't possible. In this case, I think it is acceptable to use quotation marks universally so that offering to loan a friend your copy of A Flaming Case of Herpes doesn't lead to confusion, hurt feelings, or mass "un-friending."
In all other cases, though, italics should be used to indicate the title of a book, a movie, or a play.
Now, I know that at least one of my readers is an English professor, so please feel free to correct or expand on what I've said here.


Jenn said...

Still laughing about the case of herpes bit. Ha.

You're basically right, and I'll add: full-length plays or musicals should be italicized, parts of same and one-act plays actually are in quotes.

And in a medium when italics aren't possible, it's considered correct to use m-dashes before and after to indicate underlining (as MLA format and others still claim italics and underlining are both correct for the "whole" works you mention). _Like This_

Brady Darnell said...

Hmm. I thought one acts were italicized, too, but you would know. Also good to know about the m-dashes. Thanks, Professor Jenn.