Description of Hamlet
Although braille was gaining popularity in the 1880s, Perkins’s students eagerly read the poetry, plays, and fiction Perkins’s press printed in Boston Line Type. This page is from Perkins’s 1885 edition of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet—the first copy Americans with visual impairments could read on their own. It features one of Shakespeare’s most famous soliloquies: Hamlet’s “To be, or not to be.”
Helen Keller loved Shakespeare, but her first experiences with the Bard shocked her. Reading about Gloucester’s blinding in King Lear, she wrote: “Anger seized me, my fingers refused to move, I sat rigid for one long moment…all the hatred that a child can feel concentrated in my heart.”
Like Keller, you may have felt moved by Shakespeare’s words through the voice of an actor, through ink, or on a braille page. If you are reading this page tactilely, what does Hamlet’s passion feel like in your hands here?
Helen Keller, Student and Activist
Helen Keller arrived at Perkins with her teacher Anne Sullivan in 1888. Keller, who was deafblind, was an avid reader and prominent advocate for disability rights.
Even before she got to Perkins, Keller had begun learning Boston Line Type. She read her first books “over and over, until the words were so worn and pressed I could scarcely make them out.” While Sullivan sometimes read to Keller by spelling words into her hand, Keller “preferred reading myself.” As a child Keller spent hours each day in the Perkins library. She described the literature that she read in raised print as her “Utopia…No barriers of the senses shut me out from the sweet, gracious discourse of my book-friends.”