Fitzpatrick explores the complex and highly intricate arena of spatial relations and theatrical meaning in his work, Playwright, Space and Place in Early Modern Performance. This book is divided into three parts, each building upon one another to highlight Fitzpatrick's two ultimate premises: first, to articulate that there is meaning to be made in something as seemingly simple as stage directions, especially in relation to authorial intent; and second that the authors of the early modern era "were aware of and were working with generally accepted conventions rather than merely inscribing their own..." (3). In this way, changes in spatial relations on stage can vary culturally and historically to give extra meaning to a performance, but, as Fitzpatrick suggests, a playwright's "performance patterns" also needs to follow conventions "[that] would flow logically and meaningfully" in order to create "thematic [understandings]" (5).
Part one of this book was the easiest to follow since this book rises in complexity with each chapter and section, a structural design that helps to ease the reader into the context of the signifier/signified relationship as it is connected to stage directions and importance. Having stated this idea, however, these chapters cannot be read singularly—each chapter develops upon previous arguments, making it impossible to pick and choose sections of interest. Yet, this format provides stimulating and enriching new information with each turn of the page. In particular, section one of the book gives the reader insight into how playhouses during the early modern age were equipped and how these objects on the stage created meaning for the audience (9). This understanding can occur by signals related to visual pieces of furniture, like a throne standing in for an entire imaginary world of a palace. However, this section of the book also notes that verbal cues can signal the location of a place without the use of equipment at all, such as the deployment of sound effects occurring offstage, or even the simple statements made by actors telling the audience about the setting.
How the stage elements are situated is also important for meaning-making in the theatre. By knowing how a playhouse was situated, such as the locations of stage doors, Fitzpatrick shows how patterns on the stage, like the usage of exits and entrances by actors, "share meaning in relation to how the overall fictional world of early modern trauma is constructed" (21). While often forgettable, the knowledge of the play's location often occurs with elements dealing with the off-space—that fictional area that occurs offstage but helps to further the imaginary world being performed—as knowledge is gained when the actors voyage to settings not visible to the audience. This is the place and space where "spatial conventions develop and trigger a particular spatial competence in the audience [places where] playwrights can then take for granted and work with to make meanings as they write their text" (23). In this way, Fitzpatrick is working against the criticism that suggests that playwrights did not care about their stage directions, or about how their plays were performed. He believes, as the chapters progress, that "early modern playwrights seem to have believed they had a key role to play in the production process” (24).
Part two of this work, as described in its title, "Establish[es] a Sense of Place and Fictional World," helps the reader envision how a stage can aid the audience in perceiving the location of a play. In chapter five, "Bringing Properties and Place Onstage," there is a lengthy discussion on how to make a setting come alive for the audience. One way is to bring large objects onto the stage, but another can be as simple as bringing a small object, such as a book onstage, hinting at the idea that the actor has just exited a door that leads to a study. It is these "standards and function of the staging that can create a sense of place and time to the audience (the complexity of the situation becoming understood through certain standard conventions) and how to communicate a scene or location "relationally to the audience"' (171). Part three of the book further this idea by showing the usages of stage doors and stage management to prove how the authorial intent of place and meaning can be established.
One of the more interesting ideas that Fitzpatrick analyzes is the term of "audience amnesia," which is basically understood as "the rapid changes of location from one scene to the next that depends on the audience being able to 'wipe and reset' the spatial connotations of the stage and its doors as new locations for the action is established at the start of the scene" (236). This effect results from the complex movement of characters where, as Fitzpatrick explores, actors come in from outwards, go out to a place outwards, come out from a place that was inwards, and go in from a place that is inwards. Looking at this syntax alone one cannot help but be incredibly confused, but the author tries to ameliorate this issue with the use of diagrams and charts that specifically show the flow of movement and meaning on stage. Part one of the book uses actual text of plays side-by-side with diagrams to illustrate the movement of characters, and to correlate the meaning of their movement and the play as a whole. Parts two and three are more involved with charts. For example, chapter eight uses charts to show the door in and door out analysis for characters during a scene as well as space-time indications. These inclusions can at times feel burdensome, taking up several pages of texts and requiring some in-depth analysis. In other words, these charts and diagrams are not side-notes that can be skimmed. They, in fact, hold the crux of the argument and are needed to understand the premise of each chapter's argument fully. Despite the overwhelming amount of material being provided in these appendices, a reader can leave each chapter feeling, at times, exhausted but overall intellectually fulfilled.
This book is for both a reader with knowledge of spatial theory and a novice. As stated before, the work eases you gently into many of the arguments of this theory, in particular, the function of offstage events formed by the works of David Bradley and John C. Meager. Enmeshed deeply within Descartes' signifier/signified relationship, Fitzpatrick’s book is not for the timid, but for those interested in going down a rabbit hole of intricate details related to meaning-making in theatrical spaces. Thanks to Fitzpatrick's use of concrete conclusions at the ending of each paragraph, as well as the inclusion of a very in-depth appendix, the reader does not feel like they are alone when traversing these thoughts. And at the end of the book, a lasting comment by Fitzpatrick, the reader realizes that the simple idea of "I think, therefore, I am" in the signifier/signified relationship can truly be termed "you move, therefore you mean" as kinetically signified in any stage performance (245).