What valiant foemen, like to autumn’s corn,
Have we mow’d down in tops of all their pride!
Three Dukes of Somerset,–threefold renown’d
For hardy and undoubted champions;
Two Cliffords, as the father and the son;
And two Northumberlands,–two braver men
Ne’er spurr’d their coursers at the trumpet’s sound;
(Henry VI, Part 3, Act 5. Scene VII)
Shakespeare’s two historical tetralogies are really a single series, with at least six characters showing up in both (seven if you count the body at Henry V’s funeral) — but if you go by names alone you might think that number much larger, since so many names (hereditary titles, mostly) are shared by more than one character. There are, as the above quote says, multiple Somersets and Cliffords and Northumberlands — not to mention Yorks, Gloucesters, Salisburys and Exeters. When it comes to kings, Shakespeare is kind enough to make it clear whether the Henry in question is the fourth, fifth, sixth, or seventh of that name, but he’s rarely so obliging when it comes to dukes and earls. The 13th and 16th Earls of Warwick are alike called “Warwick,” leaving the reader to guess whether or not they are the same person. Just as multiple characters may share the same name, multiple names are often used for the same character — the Prince Humphrey of Henry IV, Part 2, for example, is the Gloucester of the next three plays (not to be confused with that other Gloucester, who is the future Richard III).
So I finally resorted to making a spreadsheet to help me keep track of everyone. I made it for myself, but I figure other people might find it useful as well. A really useful cheat sheet would have more information, though — who’s related to whom and how, who’s on which side in various wars, and so on — and in a more readable format. I’m working on it, and maybe I’ll have something ready soon.