Popular with whom? For what purpose? As pure entertainment, I prefer comedy to tragedy, as do many audiences; however, as intellectual stimulation, most people seem to prefer the tragedies. Why? They deal with the dark aspects of human nature, and give us cause to think about our own all too human condition.
Reading Shakespeare in general, and Hamlet in particular, is much like reading the bible: we can read it throughout our lifetime and find something new every time. It speaks to all of the ages of man (and woman). It deals with universal human concerns: love, loyalty, betrayal, morality, trust. Yet it is not didactic in its treatment; nor is it narrow--Hamlet explores these themes not just through one relationship but through many. It deals with despair and whether it is better to face one's troubles full on, or to surrender to the darkness.
I think it is also the characterization in Hamlet that makes the play so popular. Other plays have more audience appeal (I have never seen duller renditions of Shakespeare's plays than those done of Hamlet) and others reveal (I think) more horrific actions on the parts of their characters (Titus and King Lear, for instance), yet with all his flaws, there seems to be no other character in Shakespeare that the audience connects with as powerfully as with the character of Hamlet. Perhaps that is because it is easiest to see ourselves in him. Most of us feel confident we would not do as Macbeth did, but few of us are as certain that we would act think or differently than Hamlet were we to suddenly be in his shoes.
WOW - debatable! Most people consider Hamlet to be one of the "Big Five": Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, and Othello. Although, there are so many more that are studied by various classes.
Interestingly enough, all five of those are tragedies from an author who wrote some pretty good comedies, too. Why are they so popular?? I think bmadnick summed it up pretty well; these five are action packed and plot thick. Elizabethan audiences would have loved the staging of these. The popularity of them would have carried over into our generations...
I'm not sure Hamlet is the most popular, but it certainly is one of his most popular plays. If you stop and think about why, just look at what is in the play. You have murder, war, ghosts, madness, love, and revenge. You have an intricate plot that makes you want to read on. All of these elements make for exciting reading.