Bob Dylan Accused of Using SparkNotes to Plagiarize Nobel Prize Lecture

    The answer, my friend, is hidden in the CliffsNotes.

    Credit: Xavier Badosa - Creative Commons

    Did one of the most treasured lyricists in the history of Western verse rely a little too heavily on a scholastic resource for a recent piece of written work?

    An increasing number of people seem to think so.

    As first pointed out by Slate, a solid, suspicion-raising chunk of Bob Dylan’s recent Nobel Prize acceptance lecture appears to have been given a little bit too much assistance from the online CliffsNotes repository, SparkNotes.com.

    In the talk given to the Swedish Academy of Los Angeles, the legendary troubadour shared with the audience three examples of literary works that had a lasting impact on his lifework. Invoking Moby-Dick as one of the three examples, he prefaced his admiration for the Herman Melville tome by recalling the novel’s synopsis. It was during this passing segment of his lecture where red flags have been raised, as parallels have been drawn between Dylan’s retelling of Moby-Dick and SparkNotes’ cheat sheet on it.

    Scrutiny was first aimed at the text of the Nobel speech by writer Ben Greenman who, on his personal blog, questioned the authenticity of a quotation Dylan cited from Moby-Dick.

    Greenman highlighted Dylan’s supposed Moby-Dick excerpt: “Some men who receive injuries are led to God, others are led to bitterness,” noting that the quotation is apocryphal, never actually appearing in the novel’s text.

    It was then, following this revelation, that author and historian Andrea Pitzer expanded on Greenman’s investigation, concluding, “I soon discovered that the Moby-Dick line Dylan dreamed up last week seems to be cobbled together out of phrases on the website SparkNotes, the online equivalent of CliffsNotes.”

    As Pitzer confirms, the quote appears nowhere in the Melville novel, however, a similar one can be found included on the book’s SparksNotes page, which led her to juxtapose more text from the online notes page and the Moby-Dick section of the Dylan transcript.

    “[E]ven a cursory inspection reveals that more than a dozen of them appear to closely resemble lines from the SparkNotes site,” Pitzer wrote.

    Spitzer highlights 11 similarities between extracts from the Dylan lecture and phrases from the Moby-Dick SparksNotes page. See if you can spot them for yourself below.