The lute is a medieval string instrument that looks like a pear sliced in half with a slightly longer stem. It is played by plucking the instrument with the pads of the fingers and has a delicate, rich, guitar-like sound. Lutenists complain of the difficulty in keeping it in tune, due to the way the instrument is strung. It evolved from the Arabic instrument know as the Ud, and the art of construction was later refined by the Italians and Germans. The instrument was eventually phased out of use and replaced by keyboards during the Baroque period.
The pear-shaped body of the device is constructed from a thin, almost translucent piece of pine, making it lightweight and portable, but fragile. The upper layer of pine is reinforced with slightly thicker wooden bars and has a rose hole in the center which acts as speaker for the instrument. The delicate instrument is strung lightly to prevent it from breaking under the pressure of high tension. Early versions had a fretless neck while later versions were fretted and had a finger board.
The back of this stringed instrument is made from curved, molded strips of wood. These bent strips are glued together from edge to edge, giving the lute a bubbled look from behind. The underside was made from stronger woods such as sycamore, cedar, and cypress to give the instrument more durability. As a result of the different woods used, the instrument had a two-toned appearance.
The origins of the lute trace back to the Arab world and were later picked up by other countries and societies. Among these were the ancient Greeks who associated the instrument with Apollo — the god revered as the director of the choir of muses. Greek societies used the stringed instrument to stress climatic events in comedic and tragic theater productions. Its popularity grew and it became one of the most respected instruments of the Renaissance period in Europe. In fact, most of the music written for it originated during this period.
The lute appeared in many different forms of art, but gained the most popularity during the Renaissance. The lute appeared in many paintings and was often depicted with angels because of the wide use of the instrument during this time. The lute also found favor with sculptors, and they sculpted figures holding it in churches and others places. Playing off Greek tragedies and comedies, Shakespeare used this device to emphasize certain plot points in his plays.