The theorbo was a bass lute. Having gut strings it was played with the fingers. There is a humorous comparison of the long waists of ladies, which came into fashion about 1621, with the theorbo, by Bishop Corbet:
She was barr’d up in whale-bones, that did leese
None of the whale’s length, for they reached her knees;
Off with her head, and then she hath a middle
As her waste stands, just like the new found fiddle,
The favourite Theorbo, truth to tell ye,
Whose neck and throat are deeper than the belly.
Corbet, ‘Iter Boreale’.
This text comes from a footnote on a diary entry in the 1893 edition edited by Henry B. Wheatley.
Roger Miller • Link
Some more information about the theorbo and a picture.
Derek • Link
For more detailed information on the theorbo, see:
The up-to-date URL for the Robert Spencer article on theorbos etc is: http://www.vanedwards.co.uk/spencer/html/index....
Audio link to beautiful theorbo music played by Matthew Wadsworth
(14 Silver Strings - Music by Kapsberger and Piccinini)
Last Friday night I had the rare opportunity to hear a theorbo in concert performance. It was one of four instruments accompanying the Santa Fe Desert Chorale in the Monteverdi Vespers of 1610. The theorbist was John Lenti, a student of Nigel North.
The instrument sounds much like a lute, but with a fuller sound and of course deeper bass notes, owing to its extra set of long bass strings. I was taken with its great length. It looked to be nearly six feet long. David Van Edwards' catalog, linked above, lists theorbos of up to 178 cm, or five feet ten inches. A photo of one beside a man (Nigel North) to give scale is at
Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.