What is a lute?

Jester with a Lute
   The lute is a stringed musical instrument formerly much in use. It originally contained six strings, but the number was gradually increased till it reached 24. The lute consists of four parts, namely, the table; the body, constructed of nine convex ribs; the neck, which has as many frets or divisions; and the head or cross, in which the screws for tuning it are inserted. In playing this instrument the performer strikes the strings with the fingers of the right hand, and regulates the sounds with those of the left. The notes of the lute are generally written on six lines, and not on five. There were formerly various kinds in use.