Another summer of Shakespeare is upon us.

From June to August, at least five theater companies in Maine are presenting their take on the Bard, and they’re doing it everywhere from the traditional theater stage to Deering Oaks park, L.L. Bean and even an old World War II-era underground bunker. See Bob Keyes’ story on Page E23 for details.

Anyone with even a limited knowledge of Shakespeare knows there are themes that run through his plays: jealousy, betrayal, guile and mostly, murder. Lots and lots of murder. There are so many dead bodies by the end of a Shakespeare tragedy, they rival the body count in a slasher movie.

But there’s another theme that runs throughout a lot of ol’ Billy the Bard’s plays, especially the tragedies: The male leads are incredibly stupid.

Well, maybe “stupid” is too strong a term. But they are extremely egotistical, are prone to jump to hasty conclusions, and are frustratingly, hopelessly gullible.

Just look at how they act in some of Shakespeare’s most famous works: In “Macbeth,” the title character kills the king of Scotland at the urging of his wife, then kills his best friend because he might be the father of someone who might be ruler, someday. Why? Because some witches he stumbles across in the woods tell him he will be a king. And why would witches lie?

n In “Othello,” the title character murders his new bride because he thinks she has committed adultery. He thinks this because a traitor tells him. Oh, and because someone stole the handkerchief Othello had given her.

Hamlet finds out his uncle has murdered his father and wed his mother to become king of Denmark. But rather than tell his closest friends and take care of the matter immediately, he leads everyone to think he’s mad with grief and lets his uncle know that he knows – but still doesn’t tell anyone else. He eventually kills his uncle, but not before being mortally wounded by a poisoned sword.

n King Lear is the best of the bunch. His ego is so big, he disowns one of his three daughters because she doesn’t flatter him as much as her siblings. Of course, she’s the only trustworthy one, so soon Lear finds himself without a kingdom, without a home, and without his eyes, which have been gouged out. He descends into madness, then finally dies.

Finally, in “Cymbeline,” which Naked Shakespeare is presenting this weekend, Cymbeline – the king of Britain – gets mad at his daughter for eloping and first banishes, then imprisons, his new son-in-law. Meanwhile, his daughter is accused of being unfaithful by her new husband because someone snuck into her room and stole her bracelet, so he plans to kill her. She escapes by disguising herself as a boy.

There is one difference in “Cymbeline,” however – instead of dying via suicide, poison or a sword to the head, everyone realizes in the end that it was all one big misunderstanding. The couple is reunited, the king is happy, and they’re all joined by Cinderella, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty in song as animated birds fly around their heads and the credits roll. (I made that last part up. But doesn’t it sound like a Disney movie?)

So for once, the king doesn’t die due to his own stupidity, and he lives to conceivably make stupid decisions in the future. Which could make “Cymbeline” the Shakespeare play that’s most applicable to the modern world.

Deputy Managing Editor Rod Harmon may be contacted at 791-6450 or at: [email protected]