Although "misery loves company" does sound like something the sometimes cynical William Shakespeare would have put into the mouth of one of his characters, he wasn't the one who first penned this pithy phrase. No, English naturalist and botanist John Ray (1627–1705) is credited with the quotation, "Misery loves company," as well as another well-worn phrase, "Blood is thicker than water."
Although the words may be Ray's, the sentiment is much older than that. The 14th-century Italian historian Dominici de Gravina wrote, in his Chronicon de rebus in Apulia gestis, "Solamen miseris socios habuisse doloris," which translates to "It is a comfort to the unfortunate to have had companions in woe." The Latin hexameter phrase would later emerge from the mouth of Mephistopheles in Scene 5 of Christopher Marlowe's Dr. Faustus.
Many people have used John Ray's statement as a starting point for their own explanations of life, love, and loneliness:
- From 19th-century American essayist Henry David Thoreau: "If misery loves company, misery has company enough."
- From turn-of-the-century American architect Addison Mizner: "Misery loves company, but company does not reciprocate."
- From 20th-century Irish novelist Brian Moore: "If misery loves company, then triumph demands an audience."
Although Shakespeare didn't give us this quote about sharing one's misery, he did give us the antidote for that misery in Act III, Scene 1, of Measure for Measure: "The miserable have no other medicine / But only hope."