In William Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet, what does Romeo mean when he says "Money is more poison than poison"?

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lhc eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When Romeo locates an apothecary and requests poison so that he might end his life as he thinks Juliet has done, the apothecary is hesitant, and the two engage in a bit of a debate.  Romeo points out that the apothecary is obviously poor, and can use the money he is offering to purchase the poison.  The apothecary is hesitant, insisting that it is illegal and that he will get in a great deal of trouble if he were to get caught.  Romeo, bound and determined to get the substance and be on his way to the Capulet tomb to join his beloved, replies that "There is thy gold worse poison to men's souls/Doing more murders in this loathsome world/Than these poor compounds that thou mayst not sell".   In other words, the apothecary shouldn't feel bad about selling him the illegal substance, because all over the world, people are fighting and dying over gold (money), far more people than will die from these "poor compounds".  In a world where people are fighting and dying over money, why would anyone possibly be concerned that someone might occasionally buy a dram of poison to end his or her own life?  Romeo's logic, or lack thereof, is effective; the apothecary gives him a poison so potent that it will take down someone with "the strength of twenty men", and Romeo heads off to seal his fate.