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Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows

“Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows” can be found in William Shakespeare’s famous play The Tempest in Act II, Scene 2. The line is spoken by Trinculo while he’s alone on the stage.

The Tempest was published in 1610. Since then, this quote which was originally used literally has been interpreted in a more metaphorical manner. The phrase “strange bedfellows” it’s often isolated and used on its own in order to describe strange or unexpected partnerships, friendships, circumstances that one has to accept, and more.

Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows meaning

“Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows” Meaning

The quote “Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows” means that misery, or a difficult situation, requires “a man,” or any person, to deal with “strange bedfellows.” “Strange bedfellows” is any circumstance or person that one has to associate with that they would not normally. In Shakespeare, the word “strange” meant everything from “odd” to “foreign.” The speaker, Trinculo, his new quote strange bedfellow,” Caliban, is from a foreign place and appears to his eyes, at least at first, as a fish. 

Where did Shakespeare use the Quote?” 

William Shakespeare used this quote in The Tempest in Act II, Scene 2. The phrase stretches from line forty to line forty-one. The entire monologue begins on line eighteen with: 

Here’s neither bush nor shrub to bear off 

any weather at all. And another storm brewing; I 

hear it sing i’ th’ wind. Yond same black cloud, yond 

huge one, looks like a foul bombard that would shed 

his liquor. If it should thunder as it did before, I 

know not where to hide my head. Yond same cloud 

cannot choose but fall by pailfuls.

He goes on, suggesting that ahead is a “strange fish,” a shape he later realizes is a human being (Caliban). 

What have we here, a man or a fish? Dead or 

alive? A fish, he smells like a fish—a very ancient 

and fishlike smell, a kind of not-of-the-newest poor-John. 

A strange fish.

He later realizes it is Caliban himself, once he sees his arms and legs. He says, “Legged like a man, and his fins like arms! Warm, o’ my troth!” A storm is raging and Trinculo is forced to seek out shelter. He decides the best way for him to protect himself is to share Caliban’s cloak, or “gaberdine” with him. It’s here that Trinculo says: 

There is no other shelter hereabout. Misery acquaints a man 

with strange bedfellows. I will here shroud till the 

dregs of the storm be past

Trinculo uses the line literally, describing for those on stage how one is forced to sleep alongside unusual characters in difficult and “miserable” situations is. Today, as noted above, the quote is used more metaphorically in most situations.

Why did Shakespeare use the Quote? 

Shakespeare used this line in order to emphasize the strange situation that Trinculo found himself in on Caliban’s and Prospero’s island. Can you find some stuff alone, shipwrecked, and then discovers another living person—Caliban. He uses the word “strange” to describe his new bedfellow. Here, the word strange can mean “foreign” and “odd.” Caliban is both of these things and more to Trinculo. 


Who says, “Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows?”

This line is spoken by Trinculo in William Shakespeare’s The Tempest. It appears in Act II, Scene 2. The phrase first appeared in 1610 when the play was published. Famously, it is considered to be the last of Shakespeare’s plays.

What does “Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows” mean? 

It means that in a dark, terrible, and troubling situation, one is forced into strange circumstances. Today, we use the phrase metaphorically. But, when it was first used in Shakespeare’s play, the character used it quite literally as he was settling down to shelter alongside a strange inhabitant (Caliban) of the island he’s shipwrecked on.

What is a “strange bedfellow?” 

A “strange bedfellow” is a person, situation, or another element in one’s life that Hass to be reconciled or accepted in difficult situations. For example, everyone is trying to start a business, I might have to partner with someone they might normally never associate with, or, if one is in a life-threatening situation, they might have to become friends with their enemies or seek out shelter and unusual places.

Why is The Tempest important? 

The Tempest was William Shakespeare’s last play before retiring from the stage. Throughout, scholars have interpreted personal symbolism in which Shakespeare compares himself to the wizard Prospero. This is seen most clearly through Prospero’s various allusions to life, death, and the stage.

Other Quotes from The Tempest 

Related Shakespearean Verse

  • Sonnet 116’ – easily one of the most recognizable sonnets of all time. It explores the nature of love and what “true love” is.
  • All the world’s a stage’ –  a well-known monologue found in William Shakespeare’s As You Like It. This speech of Jaques explores the seven ages of man and their implications.
  • The quality of mercy is not strained’ – is one of the greatest monologues written by William Shakespeare. Portia delivers this monologue to Shylock in Act IV, Scene I of “The Merchant of Venice.”

Other Resources 

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