Adversity makes strange bedfellows


What's the meaning of the phrase 'Adversity makes strange bedfellows'?

The proverbial saying ‘adversity makes strange bedfellows’ suggests that, in times of trouble, people who wouldn’t normally associate with each other may form an alliance.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Adversity makes strange bedfellows'?

For the origin of ‘adversity makes strange bedfellows’ we need to call on some literary heavyweights. The first writer to record anything close to this expression was Shakespeare, in The Tempest, 1611:

My best way is to creep under his gaberdine; there is no other shelter hereabout. Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.

That’s close but not quite a cigar. For the precise proverb as it is now used we need to wait for Charles Dickens, in The Pickwick Papers, 1837:

Illustrative, like the preceding one, of the old proverb, that adversity brings a man acquainted with strange bedfellows.

Dickens certainly didn’t coin the phrase and was good enough to label it as ‘an old proverb’ but I can find no example of it in print before his use of it.

Shakespeare wasn’t the only person to offer a variation on this expression. Although ‘adversity’ is a clear front runner, what it is that makes strange bedfellows has never really been settled on. Here are a few examples:

Party politics, like poverty, bring men ‘acquainted with strange bedfellows’. – Phillip Hone Diary, 1839.

Even enemies have something in common. Statecraft produces strange bedfellows. – Peter van Greenaway Dissident, 1980.

Poverty makes strange bedfellows. – London Times headline 15 March 1982.

See also: the List of Proverbs.

Trend of adversity makes strange bedfellows in printed material over time

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

Gary Martin

Writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.