Sewell, Arthur. Character and Society in Shakespeare.
Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1951.

Thesis: In this slim book (145 pages) Sewell begins with an explanation of his view of dramatic character; he objects to the idea characters in a drama are real in the same way that living people are real. Dramatic characters don't really have private lives, says Sewell, because they take shape before us, the audience, who interpret everything the characters say and do in relationship to ourselves:

To put the matter very simply, we might say that there are occasions in the theatre when we ask the questions, What does speech and behaviour of this sort do to society? How do we, as members of secular society, receive what is being transacted before us? There are other occasions when we ask the question, What does this character do to himself? And we ask this question because, whatever our formulated beliefs, there is a level on which both we and the character belong to a society no longer secular and on which what happens to him is also something that happens to us, and his guilt, his suffering, his tragedy, are ours, for in this society we are members of each other.   (39)
As for Macbeth, Sewell's first point is that "Not one of the central images in Macbeth is regulative; not one steadies us for life in society" (97); he illustrates this point by a quick survey the imagery of blood, sleep, and illusion. His second point is that "in Macbeth we have a study . . . of Fallen Man; Man, who, because he is fallen, cannot reject the discipline of daylight without involving himself in utter darkness" (106). In other words, because Macbeth abandons values which hold society together, such as loyalty and honesty, he plunges himself into phantasmagoric, sleepless world of blood. However, in the end, "social order, daylight order, reasserts itself" (107).

Evaluation: In the course of reviewing critical commentary on Macbeth, I've seen Sewell quoted quite a bit, but I found his ideas commonplace. That's probably because Sewell made a path that many others have followed.

Bottom Line: His new ideas have become old ideas.