Topic: Elizabethan Question - "Politics makes strange bedfellows"
The Red and the Green Stamps
This is a story told to me by a Shakespeare professor I met recently:
The origin of the phrase "politics makes strange bedfellows" is a fairly accurate description of how pacts, alliances and private discussions took place in the Elizabethan era. A general lack of privacy in living quarters, etc, meant that the most secure place two people could have a conversation was in bed together - so, it was not uncommon to find ministers of state, negotiators, noblemen, and so forth in bed together, because it was the only place they could hold a private conversation in the confines of the court, palace, or castle. Therefore, you might find a bizarre mix of people sharing a bed as they hatch out their plans.
This explanation seems dubious to me - it's just too literal. I'd think if this was common, it would be shown in the literature of the period - in the professor's very area of study, Shakespeare, for instance. Can anyone refute or support the good (slightly drunk) professor?
I couldn't say for sure, but on first inspection it looks dubious - why would the bed itself be any more private that the room that it was in? Why would it actually be necessary to hop into the bed to hatch your plans? Now if someone offered an explanation that said that the bedchamber was often the only private place in which to plot and scheme, that I could believe.
I seem to recall a documentary about Johnathan Swift which made reference to the fact that it wasn't considered unseemly for colleagues or friends to sleep in the same bed. There were certainly no sexual implications.
According to Magill's Quotations in Context, the quote "Politics makes strange bedfellows" can be attributed to Charles Dudley Warner and was published in My Summer in a Garden (Fifteenth Week), 1870.
Here's a quote from Magill's:
"In My Summer in a Garden, a series of light, humorous essays on the art of gardening he digresses often to make a point on any given subject. In the fifteenth essay or chapter, he begins by commenting on the fact that his absence of two or three weeks has allowed his garden to run riot. The strawberry plants...have run everywhere, an allusion to Schuyler Colfax, elected Vice-president in 1868. Further, he says, the Doolittle raspberries have mixed with the strawberries, an allusion to James Rood Doolittle, U.S. Senator and strong supporter of President Johnson."
The exact quote from Warner is:
"...I may mention here, since we are on politics, that the Doolittle raspberries had sprawled all over the strawberry-beds: so true is it that politics makes strange bedfellows."
Sorry about the length of everything included above, but I am always thorough when I switch into Librarian-mode!
I think it's a very easy metaphor. Then again, maybe it's the bi-partidism of the UK and the US what leaves you with no reference. When you see a Communist party making an alliance with a Conservative party to try and throw the Socialists away from power, you'll get it