John B Keane: The Bard of Avon warns of lean men

SHAKESPEARE once said that all lean men are dangerous. Before I put on a bit of weight from giving up the fags I was hard put to know whether or not Shakespeare was being complimentary. I was more inclined to think that he was not. I am sure that fat men and middling fat men, stout men and middling stout men would agree with Shakespeare. After all he wasn’t knocking them and they could, therefore, afford to be smug and righteous. I used not to take too much notice of what Shakespeare said about Cassius. He was painting Cassius as a villainous conspirator and would have to imply here and there that he was a shifty son of a gun.

SHAKESPEARE once said that all lean men are dangerous. Before I put on a bit of weight from giving up the fags I was hard put to know whether or not Shakespeare was being complimentary. I was more inclined to think that he was not. I am sure that fat men and middling fat men, stout men and middling stout men would agree with Shakespeare. After all he wasn’t knocking them and they could, therefore, afford to be smug and righteous. I used not to take too much notice of what Shakespeare said about Cassius. He was painting Cassius as a villainous conspirator and would have to imply here and there that he was a shifty son of a gun.

“Yon Cassius hath a lean and hungry look,” said the great bard. What about it if he had, say I. If he was hungry he was bound to be lean especially when one remembers that there was no Doctor Cordell to advise them in those days. In fact, the hungrier a man is the leaner he is and since ‘tis no crime to be hungry how can it be a crime to be lean. However, since I have put on a few stones in the past few years I am not as concerned about Shakespeare’s implications as I might. If the cap fits, and all that, I say wear it.

I don’t know what it was, but having read as a gorsoon of sixteen what Shakespeare said about all lean men being dangerous I went around at times with a sort of shifty underhand look, most conscious of the fact that I was lean.

As I recall, too, when the teacher was reading out that bit about the leanness I got the impression that he gave a swift look in my direction. This made me more self-conscious still and I was at pains to put on weight. Some of the more astute bucks in the class took to ribbing me about it. There were other thin fellows in the class but since they detested Shakespeare and all other poets and essayists on the course they took no notice whatsoever. In fact, there was one of them who when it was pointed out to him what Shakespeare had to say about lean men had this to say about the Bard of Avon;

“Don’t take no notice of that eejit,” he announced, “he don’t know his knee from his navel.”

I found some consolation in this but I couldn’t agree with his views on Shakespeare’s limited knowledge. In fact, I had and still have a profound regard for Shakespeare so what he had to say about lean men could quite naturally be calculated to upset me. There was one fat boy in the class who was forever accusing us thin boys of being dangerous. If one of us hauled out and hit him a belt he would have proved his point and we would never live it down.

Oddly enough it was a boy who was good at maths and bad at everything else who thought of a number to upset the fatter elements in the class. It goes without saying that while he was good at maths he was also very thin.

One day when it was pointed out to him that all lean men were dangerous according to Shakespeare he nodded his head vigorously and said “I couldn’t agree with you more.”

Our enemies were taken aback by this but quickly recovered when one of them said mockingly that open confession was good for the soul.

“I tell you this,” said the mathematician in a most mathematical manner, a manner calculated to flatten the opposition before a shred of evidence was put before them.

“I tell you this,” he repeated that, “by all the powers that be, if lean men are dangerous then a man who is twice as fat is twice as dangerous.”

“Twice as lean” they argued.

“No,” said the mathematician, “twice as fat.” This perturbed them but the mathematician was not finished.

“A man,” said he, “who is three times as fat is three times as dangerous and a man who is four times as fat is four times as dangerous and so and so on ad infinitum.”

This quietened our detractors but years afterwards the self-consciousness remained and I was always happier with people who would not be likely to know Julius Caesar.

In fact, I still wonder if it’s true, but as I said earlier now that I am accruing a middle-aged spread I couldn’t care less.