John Heywood (c. 1497–1580) once wrote:
The first line alludes to how a Banbury cheese was very slender after you took off the rind.
What does the second line of this epigram mean?
I've come up with some grammatical possibilities, but the funny ones are implausible and the plausible ones don't seem to be funny.
I have often seen the Earl of Essex suddenly quit the premises — This would be funny, but as Essex was only 15 when Heywood died, and as the phrase "cheese it" is first cited 1812, this can't possibly be right.
I have often observed Essex cheese [i.e., a variety of cheese produced in Essex] to be full of living beings [e.g. maggots].
I have often spotted Essex cheese quickly enough to eat some of it.
There's also a possibility that "Essex cheese" is a noun phrase referring to something that isn't cheese, in the same way as a "Cotswold lion" is a sheep; in which case Heywood could have meant
- I can detect quickly when I am being cheated.
Anyone know for sure, or have a more evidence-based guess?