Letters: Face of Shakespeare

A ruff guide to brushing up your Shakespeare

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Shakespeare "expert" Stanley Wells needs to brush up on his scholarship if he wishes to retain that sobriquet (report, 28 March). By continuing to claim the Cobbe portrait as a genuine portrait of Shakespeare, it is understandable that his arguments must also accommodate the Folger portrait (otherwise known as the Janssen), because one of the paintings is clearly a copy of the other.

I can only assume that, as a scholar, Mr Wells has read the results of the X-ray analysis of the Janssen by Charles Wisner Barrell in the 1940s which proved that the age of the sitter – "A.E. 46" – had been overpainted on the original figure of 40, and that the date underneath of 1610 had been overpainted on the original date of 1590. These alterations, it is clear, were made by someone keen to fit them to the known dates of Shakespeare, as was the overpainting of the bald head, to increase the value of the painting.

Furthermore, Mr Wells should be able to recognise that the pattern of the ruff on the portraits carries the Tudor rose design, common in 1590, and not the Scottish thistle which became the vogue on the succession of James I in 1603.

Barrell also performed a similar analysis upon another painting purporting to be of Shakespeare in the Folger's collection, the "Ashbourne" portrait. Discovering a similar overpainted bald head and altered dates to fit Shakespeare, he also found the monogram of the painter, CK, and, together with a wealth of other information, concluded that the painting was actually the lost portrait of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, by Cornelius Ketel.

What an irony that someone hoping to make a fast buck (in this instance, the Reverend Clement Kingston, who was later sacked by Ashbourne Grammar School) out of a new portrait of Shakespeare should have used a genuine portrait of the leading candidate in the Shakespeare's authorship question.

Jeremy Crick

Newcastle-under-Lyme, STAFFORDSHIRE

Supporting Israel, right or wrong

"Israel once again demon-ised?". I found the criticism of The Independent leading articles by Jonathan Hoffman of the Zionist Federation undeniably biased. If an editorial is written about the the IDF's misuse of force, or Israel's harsh military occupation of the citizens of the West Bank, does that honestly mean that its purpose is to demonise Israel, and that the journalistic integrity in null and void?

How common I have found this mentality from Zionists and Israeli sympathisers. My father-in-law (a Jewish man with unquestionable loyalty to Israel even though he is British-born and bred, doesn't speak Hebrew and works on the Sabbath) refuses to ever allow or acknowledge any crime or wrong Israel has been a part of, no matter what evidence is put in front of him.

He even draws parallels between the love I have for my child, and his love for Israel. Maybe it isn't Hamas Israel and its supporters should be scared of, maybe it is a mirror.

Roy Gascoine

Brighton, East Sussex

'Thin case' for war on Iraq

It is welcome that the admirable Carne Ross reminds us (report, 20 March) that intelligence available to the British government before the invasion of Iraq made it "very clear" that Saddam was not a threat, but it is hardly a revelation.

The confidential Downing Street minute from 23 July 2002 records Jack Straw, then Foreign Secretary, as telling the meeting of very senior ministers and officials that the case for war against Iraq was "thin" and that "Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran."

Jack Straw went on: "We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the UN weapons inspectors. This would also help with the legal justification for the use of force."

This was the background for the following nine months, when the alleged threat of WMD was hyped up, and Tony Blair went round pretending he was trying to avoid war when in reality he was already firmly committed to it.

The surprise, rather, is that those responsible for an illegal war and for deliberately misleading Parliament have so far got away with it scot free. A full, genuinely independent inquiry into all aspects of the Iraq war is essential, not least to ensure that the cynical, destructive and unconstitutional practices of figures senior in government at the time can never be allowed to happen again.

Norman Baker MP

(Liberal Democrat, Lewes) House of Commons

Why single out Muslim children?

I find disingenuous the assertion by Sir Norman Bettinson that the surveillance of Muslim children does not target the Muslim community (front page, 28 March). The attempt to spot school children as young as 13 for potential to Islamic radicalisation is unprecedented.

I do not recall such a programme for the Irish children during the troubles from 1970 onwards. Neither has there ever been a project to identify children at risk of race-related extremism that prevails in so many parts of the country and leads to racist and violent attacks on ethnic minorities.

There is grooming by the National Front that has been going on here over years. No one in the Muslim community is to be spared, the young, the students, the women and those at work in the present climate, dominated by the politics of fear. What is this but total demonisation of the community as a whole by treating Muslims as an enemy within. When are we going to let the various Muslim communities deal with problems themselves?

Saleh Mamon

Sutton, Surrey

Only politics will solve Afghanistan

The military surge in Afghan-istan has its logic, but it is no substitute for a more rounded solution. Led by the US, the international community prepares to play out its military cards. But let's remember that the happy ending for this chapter in Afghanistan's history is a solution based on politics, economics, development and basic human rights and dignity.

The UK's Chief of Defence Staff said back in 2007 that the military was a key element in dealing with Afghanistan's problems, but that such problems could be resolved only politically.

President Barack Obama's linking of the troop surge with civilian development begs scrutiny. Use of military force to secure space for humanitarian relief and social development by civilians is a far cry from channelling aid through military operations. It is understandable to think about Afghan-istan in terms of threats to the world. Yet Afghans are still the world's poorest people outside Africa. Our message to the President should ring a bell: it's not about us, it's about them.

Robin Greenwood

Head of Asia and Middle East Policy, Christian Aid UK, London SE1

Farewell to rats in Flamborough

Jonathan Brown's piece "Why we should learn to love rats" (26 March) was very informative but East Riding of Yorkshire Council would like to clarify that our pest-control team successfully finished dealing with this in Flamborough two weeks ago and everything is back to normal.

The infestation was confined to a small, localised area, well away from the heart of the village. It is over the top to refer to the problem as "a biblical plague", and I would like to reassure businesses and tourists that Flamborough is a beautiful and popular area, and no one need be deterred from visiting us.

Sally Burns

Head of Housing and Public Protection, East Riding of Yorkshire Council

The trouble with Queen Victoria II ...

Your alternative history "So, what if Victoria had been followed by her daughter" (report, 28 March) on discussing the royal succession falls into many of the traps of these exercises.

At the time of Queen Victoria's death, her eldest daughter was already terminally ill with cancer, and outlived her mother only by months. Chances are that "Queen Victoria II" would never have been able to visit these islands. Her son, Kaiser Wilhelm II, would then have succeeded, but as William V of Great Britain, not Wilhelm I as you suggest.

Whether personal union with Germany would have helped avoid European war is debatable. In particular, the Kaiser could not resist meddling in German domestic politics. Perhaps he would have done the same in Britain. It is not far-fetched to imagine that interference in the free trade versus protectionism issue that led, in fact, to the Liberal landslide election victory in 1906 could have led to conflict with the Kaiser.

If the alternative heir, the actual Edward VII, had backed the other side, perhaps this could have led to civil war, as rivalry between male claimants and the descendants of a female heir led to the Carlist Wars in Spain.

Instead, the Parliamentary sovereignty laid down in the Bill of Rights and Act of Settlement helped us resolve the free trade question in a far better constitutional way. Of course, I use a lot of "ifs" in this, but no more than you did in your alternative history.

James Dawson

London N22

May I point out that Empress Frederick, Queen Victoria's eldest daughter, was already a widow when Queen Victoria died in 1901. Her husband, the German Emperor Frederick III who had succeeded to the imperial throne in 1888, was already dying of throat cancer and reigned for only 99 days.

And, on the same page, Charles I was not the founder of the Stuart dynasty. The Stewart or Stuart dynasty was founded in 1371 by Robert II of Scotland. His descendant, James VI of Scotland, succeeded to the English throne in 1603 after the death of Elizabeth as James I. His descendants occupied the thrones of England and Scotland until the death of Queen Anne in 1714.

She had no surviving children and the nearest Protestant male heir was her second cousin, the Elector of Hanover, who reigned as George I and founded the Hanoverian dynasty.

Rosemary Morlin


Bonuses taxed

Dr Peter Wells (letters, 25 March) asks, "Why not have an excess bonus tax?". Err, we do: it's called income tax. HM Government taxes all bonuses at the same rate as salary, that is, quite a lot.

V J Watts

Kelvedon, Essex

TV database useless

The TV Licensing database of which Ian Fannon speaks (letters,26 March) may be confidential, but it's also somewhat useless. Twice, immediately after buying new receiving equipment, a sharp letter from them arrived telling me I'd better get a licence to use it or watch out. Our address has always had a licence, but it is in my wife's name (their arrangement) because she reached the age of 70 before I did, so qualifying for a free one first. And I always thought licence information was based on the address. Some database.

Albert Chatterley


Inquiry welcomed

I wept in anger, frustration and disbelief when I heard about the proposed new Iraq whitewash enquiry, and Nick Clegg's article on the subject (Opinion, 29 March) is timely and thorough in most respects. As he says, British service people have sadly lost their lives, and of course justice is due to their families. I just wish he had also remembered those countless thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians and conscripts who have been killed, maimed and bereaved and those millions of Iraqis who fled their homes.

Julie Harrison


So was Abraham

I am happy to concur with John Collins (letters, 27 March) that the Biblical Philistines were interlopers in "Palestine"; but he neglects to remind us that Abraham and his clan were also interlopers from "Ur of the Chaldeans" in modern Iraq, whence they arrived via Haran, also in Iraq (Genesis 11:31, 32). I also concur in "Palestine" being a (Roman?) misnomer; the region should be called Canaan, and the modern Palestinians Canaanites, as in the Bible.

Colin V Smith

St Helens, Merseyside

Don't follow suit

I shall be visiting London on the day of the G20 demo and had intended to dress casually. But I note that bankers in the City intend to dress casually to avoid being targeted by demonstrators. Therefore, to avoid attacks, I intend to wear a suit, and ask all activists to note that anyone in a suit is probably an innocent Mancunian, not one of Sir Fred cronies.

Colin Burke


Hire this man

Forty million quid not to de- liver an ID card database (letters, 26 March)? As a jobless programmer, I can not deliver one for a mere £20m. Bargain?

Chris Webster


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