How and Why tybalt provokes mercutio on act 3, scene 1
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Both are character foils for each other. At the very least they are rival "tough guys". Tybalt is serious and Mercutio uses humour to get under Tybalt's skin. Check out this exchange between the two,
Follow me close, for I will speak to them.
Gentlemen, good den: a word with one of you.
And but one word with one of us? couple it with
something; make it a word and a blow.
You shall find me apt enough to that, sir, an you
will give me occasion.
Could you not take some occasion without giving?
Mercutio gets under Tybalts skin by being overtly funny with sexual undertones (my interpretation at least). Mercutio isn't exactly a barrel of laughs and takes Mercutio's bait every time.
OOPs, I meant Tybalt isn't a barrel of laughs in the last sentence. Certainly Tybalt threatens Mercutio because it is basically what he does. He is "Prince of Cats" tough guy for the Capulets. Hating Montagues is part of his identity. Mercutio knows exactly how to exploit Tybalt and get him agitated.