Internet Shakespeare Editions

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Keyboard instruments

Spinet. Shrine of Music Museum.

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"The Carmans Whistle," William Byrd. Midi file by John Sankey.

Pictured here is a spinet, in which, like the harpsichord, the strings are plucked rather than struck by hammers. The harpsichord was larger and more elaborate. (Listen to a piece* written for harpsichord by William Byrd.)

Another instrument in the same family was the virginal, a name which invited inevitable puns* in both Shakespeare's sonnets and his plays.

A picture of a portable organ.

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Footnotes

  1. High voltage

    This piece, "La Volta," by William Byrd, is a short dance, of the kind often used in the Court masque. Notice the way the variations towards the end require increasing virtuosity from the performer.

    Byrd was better known for his church music, but also wrote extensively for the Court.

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  2. "Still virginaling. . ."

    In The Winter's Tale, Leontes' jealousy leads him to see the way his childhood friend, Polixenes, touches his wife's hand as being like a musician touching the keyboard, at the same time making clear his obsession with what he believes to be her lack of chastity: "Still virginalling on her palm?" (1.2.125).