Justice is a powerful force, one that continuously motivates the actions of an individual. Each individual has a different understanding of what justice is, and many will go to extreme measures to receive justice. In Othello, William Shakespeare develops the idea that an individual will go to extreme measures in order to obtain his own sense of justice. However, the individual will go to such extremes in an attempt to receive justice that the repercussions of his actions will overpower the feeling of success he attains in his endeavour.
When an individual feels as though he has been robbed of his rightful acknowledgements, he will go to extreme measures to obtain justice—in fact, in working to attain justice, he will end up lapsing into a plot of revenge. Iago feels wronged by Othello when Cassio is chosen as Othello’s new lieutenant. He feels that this is clearly unjust, as Iago believes that he would be much better suited for the job. In his planning to obtain justice for himself, he plots revenge on not only Othello, but on Cassio as well.
Iago’s plans are all going well, and he would have gotten away with everything had his wife, Emilia, not spoken up after Desdemona’s death and told Othello what her husband had done. Iago’s actions, although his plans were well thought-out and cleanly executed, ultimately led him to his own demise, as Cassio was put in charge of Iago’s torture. Iago also feels that Othello is unjustly in a position of power and authority. He feels as though it is a personal offense to him that a “Moor” should be in a higher position than he is.
Because Iago feels that Moors are below him, he acts out against this injustice. For Iago, justice is the same as enacting revenge on everyone who has wronged him, or treated him unjustly. An individual who seeks justice against a loved one will go to even greater extremes to obtain this justice. However, because the actions taken were more extreme, the consequences will also be worse. Othello suspects that Desdemona is being disloyal to him and sets out to gain justice. In his eyes, he cannot obtain his justice while the person who has wronged him is still living.
However, after learning that Iago tricked him into mistrusting Desdemona, the magnitude of what he has done becomes apparent to him, and he kills himself. Othello is an individual who strongly supports the idea that when an individual treats another unjustly, he should be subject to whatever punishment the wronged individual sees fit in order to obtain his sense of justice. The search for justice has a significant impact on the play as a whole. This search is ultimately the driving force behind the story. Although revenge plays a role, the revenge is prompted by the desire for justice after having been wronged.
Without the characters’ separate quests for justice, the play would have no driving force behind it, and the characters themselves would have not motivation to prompt their actions. When an individual searches for justice, he will find that the extremity of his actions lead to severe repercussions that ultimately outweigh the success of attaining his justice. Seeking revenge as an attempt to feel as though justice has been served eventually leads to the downfall of the individual, whether by his own feelings of guilt or by the actions of others.