Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Jacob Ayrer

Ayrer, Jacob, one of the earliest dramatists of Germany, was born in 1560, probably at Nuremberg,—at least he resided there when a mere boy. His first occupation was keeping an iron-store, which he did with considerable success. After studying law for some time at Bamberg, where he attained a good position as a lawyer, he returned to Nuremberg, and continued to practise there, acquiring the freedom of the city in 1594, and ultimately becoming an imperial notary. He died 26th March 1605. Ayrer's works consist of numerous small poems, and of the series of dramas on which his fame rests. Like other dramas of the time, his productions are, for the most part, spectacular displays, with laboured dialogue, and vary in length from five to twenty-eight acts. The plots are plainly taken from the Latin and Italian tales which supplied material to nearly all the early European dramatists. The chief interest of Ayrer's works for English readers arise from their connection with Shakespeare. Ayrer adopted several of Shakespeare's plots, as well as his method of representing the characters on the stage after life, "and so produced," says his editor, "according to the new English manner and art, that all can be personally acted and placed so that it shall seem to the spectators to be really happening." In Ayrer's time the dramatic spirit in England was strong, and good plays and players abounded. Some of the latter took circuits through Germany, and though performing in their native tongue, excited enthusiasm by their vivacity. Ayrer caught this enthusiasm, and adapted several of the English dramas to the German stage. The Opus Theatricum, in one folio volume of 1262 pages, was published posthumously in 1618. It contained thirty plays and thirty-six carnival interludes. A second volume to contain forty more, though promised, did not appear. Of the comedies and tragedies of Ayrer, six have been reproduced with an English translation in Cohn's Shakespeare in Germany. These contain respectively plots resembling The Tempest, Much Ado about Nothing, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Titus Andronicus, Romeo and Juliet, and Hamlet. In 1601, a comic prose work by Ayrer was published, giving an account of an Imaginary Suit of the Devil against Jesus Christ for Destroying Hell. Some of his plays were published prior to 1585, but these are not now to be had, and even the folio of 1618 is extremely rare. Further information about Ayrer may be gained from Tieck's Deutsches Theater, vol. i.; Wolff's Encyc. der Deutschen Nationalliteratur, vol. i.; Cohn's Shakespeare in Germany; Dr Bell's Shakespeare's Puck, and his Folklore; Dr Latham's Two Dissertations on "Hamlet;" W. J. Thorn's Three Notelets on Shakespeare.