I understand English I as freshman, and I do think they can understand if you teach it with a good deal of attention to structure to help them keep the plot together, for if they do this, they will remain interested and understand the themes better. It is excellent to teach in an interdiscplinary way, combining history, visual art, music. I believe (but am not sure) there is a web-quest on this text on the internet, yet if there isn't one, it would be a great opportunity to create one. this would allow the students to research the important ideas, including visuals of the scenes, creating projects around these. Enotes has excellent information to help.
I used Tale as an "independent project" in a sophomore class, where a group of 4 students read it, wrote papers on it, and created a collage on its themes, performing all of this for the class. With the research they did, they understood the novel well and found it interesting to read.