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What Are 'Quibbles' in Narratives?

Updated on April 3, 2018

Quibbles from The Bible

In line with Judeo-Christian theology, when God told Adam and Eve that they'd die if they ate fruit from the Forbidden Tree, God was telling them the truth. However, when Satan told Adam and Eve that they wouldn't die if they ate fruit from the Forbidden Tree, Satan told them a quibble. Why? Satan was correct in saying Adam and Eve wouldn't die right there and then, but both of them did eventually succumbed as God had warned them they would for disobeying. I believe Adam died at the ripe old age of about 937 years old or so. Adam was around 30 years of age (something like that) when he and Eve partook from the Forbidden Tree, so he lived an additional 907 years. Eve also lived a very long life - this according to Genesis, the first book of The Bible.

Side note: telling someone they are going to live/die is probably the oldest and most simple of quibbles, because none of us knows just how much time we're destined to be on this earth for. If I and whomever met, we can agree on this most objective of all truths - we're all going to die -; however, none of us can know if I, or whomever, is going to live an additional 8 minutes, 8 years, 80 years, etc., etc., etc. So this quibble has been exhausted more so than just about any other 'plot devices' in narratives.

Quibbles in the operas of Gilbert and Sullivan

W. S. Gilbert, was quite the character. He started life as an attorney (barrister aka as corporate attorney in England), but realized that he'd make more money if he stuck to librettism, so he decided to give up law early on so as to become a librettist (people who write plots/stories for operas and musicals). The Pirates of Penzance is a perfect example of a very witty quibble. The young protagonist is excited to find out that even though he's only 20 years of age and forced to a life of piracy, the pirate captain (the villain) has agreed to release him at the tender age of 21, so he can be free to marry the girl of his dreams and leave the life of piracy for good. His pirate buddies solve the riddle/quibble and inform him that because he was born on the 29th of February (leap year), he'll technically turn 21 years of age on his 84th birthday, because he only has 1 birthday ever 4 years, hence a bad deal for him. This opera is a comedy, so it has a happy ending, but this quibble has become one of the most famous in literary history.

Ruddigore is another opera by Gilbert and Sullivan with a funny quibble. Robin is a descendants of baronets who are forced to commit a heinous crime every day of their lives or perish as a result. Robin is good willed, and just can't convince himself to commit a heinous crime every day. Many of his ancestors perished, because they didn't commit crimes. Long story short, Robin realizes that for a baronet to refuse to commit a crime is suicide, because they'll die, and suicide is the most heinous of all crimes, so his ancestors were indirectly keeping up with their curse to commit crimes, and should in fact all be brought back to life.

Shakespeare's quibbles and Greek mythology

Shakespeare emulates the Greeks a great deal, hence his quibbles. In Greek mythology, demigods (particularly male demigods) would seek the advice of seers so as to find out how successful they're going to be in their conquests. Perseus asks the blind witches for help, and they aid him, but not before telling him that oldest of quibbles which I discussed in the first section of this article "you're going to die." Part of the reason, or my hypothesis anyway, is that demigods were sons of gods and goddesses whom soothsayers and seers either worshiped or hated - i.e., if the demigod was the son of a deity who had been good and had blessed the soothsayer, then chances are the demigod would be told the truth; however, if the demigod was the son of a god or goddess who had cursed the soothsayer, then chances are the seer was going to reveal their message via a quibble. Oracles were obligated to stay truthful, so they wouldn't particularly flat out lie, but they'd give a quibble instead, since astuteness and wisdom was not something soothsayers typically lacked.

Perseus and the three blind witches make somewhat of a metaphorical cameo in Shakespeare's Macbeth. In this case, Macbeth has been told by the three witches that [...] "none of woman born shall harm him" [...] Macbeth takes this literal to mean that he's impenetrable, because we all come (born) from women. By the time Macbeth solves the quibble it's too late and he's killed [...] "from my mother's womb untimely ripped" (C-section) [...] Macduff (who has realized the witches' deceit) reveals he was not "woman born" to Macbeth in the play's final scene just before killing him.

Final comments

There are umpteen examples of quibbles - too many to mention. Star Wars has another well known quibble, though not as brilliant as Shakespeare or Gilbert and Sullivan, well put nonetheless. Luke is told by Obi-wan Kenobi, that his father, Darth Vader, was killed by the Emperor, only to find out that Vader wasn't killed, but enslaved and turned into a monster by the Emperor instead. Obi-wan Kenobi tells Luke that he wasn't lying when he told him Vader was dead, because truths all depend upon one's point of view. Point being that quibbles have been told for thousands of years and will continue to be told for thousands more. From a non-fictional every day life point of view, many people have been hoodwinked by riddles and quibbles, because they never saw them for what they were.


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    • John Sarkis profile imageAUTHOR

      John Sarkis 

      2 years ago from Winter Haven, FL

      Hi Audrey, thank you for your comments. Take care

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 

      2 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      ...and here, I thought I knew everything:) Now I know what quibbles are. Thanks, John.

    • John Sarkis profile imageAUTHOR

      John Sarkis 

      2 years ago from Winter Haven, FL

      HI Aquatic Guru, thanks for commenting. take care.

    • Aquatic Guru profile image

      Don Pratt 

      2 years ago from United States

      Very interesting! Just got a new wrinkle in my brain!

    • John Sarkis profile imageAUTHOR

      John Sarkis 

      2 years ago from Winter Haven, FL

      Frank Atanacio, if it makes you feel any better, we all been hoodwinked. lol . Thanks for commenting. Take care

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 

      2 years ago from Shelton

      Count me in as the group who have been hoodwinked by riddles and quibbles.. I learned something new.. thanks...:)


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