We know that Shakespeare can be a little rough – what with the Elizabethan language, double plot line, the dizzying geographical coverage, and the large cast of characters (who've all got, like, ten names apiece). That said, there's no need to stress out about any of this because the play is totally manageable. Here's how we see things:
Feeling a little intimidated by the plot? Just remember there are two plot lines: 1) Hal gets rowdy with his Eastcheap pals and disappoints King Henry and 2) The Percy family leads a rowdy rebellion that disappoints King Henry. (Psst. The play jumps back and forth between these two story lines for a reason. Hal's rebellious behavior isn't all that different from the Percy crew's naughty little uprising.)
Still stressed out? Think of it this way. If you can keep track of the warring factions that gossip and argue over their lunch trays in your school cafeteria, or why your uncle isn't speaking to your grandmother, who is mad at your cousin, then you can totally follow this play.
We've said it before and we'll say it again, nobody, and we mean nobody, is born fluent in Elizabethan English. Even Shakespeare had to learn it so, relax.
Never been to England? Never looked at a map of Britain? We've got you covered. Check out this map and keep it handy as you read the play.
What's up with all the characters having a gazillion names? Here's the deal: The landed nobility are often named after the land their families control. Like, say, Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, who is often referred to as "Northumberland" for short. Try this. Say your name's "Sam" and your family owns most of San Diego. Your new name is "Sam, Earl of San Diego" and your friends call you "San Diego" for short. Get it? If you're struggling to keep track of this stuff, jot down all the names and aliases on a handy dandy note card or, better yet, print out our list of characters. Consult the list as you read. Problem solved. Now get to work, or else.