After months of avoiding it like an overdue homework assignment, earlier this year Bob Dylan finally gave in and accepted that he had won the Nobel Prize for Literature. After scheduling some tour dates in Sweden so he could say he was just in the neighborhood, Dylan finally wrote and recorded the speech that’s required to pick up his trophy—and the substantial cash price that comes with it—earlier this month, just a week shy of the six-month deadline.
But now, thanks to some literary detective work from Slate, The Associated Press, and others, it turns out that the last-minute submission wasn’t the only trick Dylan borrowed from a sophomore chugging Red Bull the night before their final paper is due. Apparently, parts of Dylan’s speech bear striking resemblances to similar passages in the SparkNotes—that’s the online equivalent of Cliff’s Notes, for those of us who haven’t written a paper in the last decade or so—summary of Moby-Dick.
First, Slate’s Andrea Pitzer noticed that a quote from Moby-Dick Dylan cited in the lecture was actually closer to a SparkNotes line, changing ”someone whose trials have led him toward God rather than bitterness” to “Some men who receive injuries are led to God, others are led to bitterness.” The AP then found 20 more instances of phrases from the notes that appear in Dylan’s speech—not verbatim, mind you, but with a little bit of dressing up in the form of linguistic flourishes. “Hurled out of his harpoon boat to his death” became “thrown out of his boat into a watery grave,” for example.
Asked if Dylan would have flunked a English class for using such similar language, California high school teacher Joseph Vasquez says yes. For what it’s worth, the speech went over like gangbusters with the Swedish Academy, whose spokesperson calls it “beautiful” and “rhetorically complete.”