Jakob Ayrer (?-1605), German dramatist, of whose life little is known. He seems to have come to Nuremberg as a boy and worked his way up to the position of imperial notary. He died at Nuremberg on the 26th of March 1605. Besides a rhymed Chronik der Stadt Bamberg (edited by J. Heller, Bamberg, 1838), and an unpublished translation of the Psalms, Ayrer has left a large number of dramas which were printed at Nuremberg under the title Opus Theatricum in 1618. This collection contains thirty tragedies and comedies and thirty-six Fastnachtsspiele (Shrovetide plays) and Singspiele. As a dramatist, Ayrer is virtually the successor of Hans Sachs (q.v.), but he came under the influence of the so-called Englische Komödianten, that is, troupes of English actors, who, at the close of the 16th century and during the 17th, repeatedly visited the continent, bringing with them the repertory of the Elizabethan theatre. From those actors Ayrer learned how to enliven his dramas with sensational incidents and spectacular effects, and from them he borrowed the character of the clown. His plays, however, are in spite of his foreign models, hardly more dramatic, in the true sense of the word, than those of Hans Sachs, and they are inferior to the latter in poetic qualities.
The plots of two of his comedies, Von der schönen Phoenicia and Von der schönen Sidea, were evidently drawn from the same sources as those of Shakespeare's Much Ado about Nothing and Tempest.
Ayrers Dramen, edited by A. von Keller, have been published by the Stuttgart Lit. Verein (1864-1865). See also L. Tieck, Deutsches Theater (1817); A. Cohn, Shakespeare in Germany (1885), which contains a translation of the two plays mentioned above; J. Tittmann, Schauspiele des sechzehnten Jahrhunderts (1888).