While listening to the In Our Time episode about King Lear, I started thinking about the emotional impact of the tragedies. They are not created equal. Which one "gets" you, the most? Which one tears out your heart and stomps on it? Has the answer changed for you in the past?
For me, right now, King Lear would be the clear winner. The whole "Daughter tries and fails to save the father, father tries and fails to save the daughter" storyline just crushes me. And it's easy to see why -- I have daughters. When I tell them the story I simply tell it as "And then Cordelia comes back to rescue her Daddy from the forest." And they are happy with that ending, it pleases them that the daughters can save the daddy. So the fact that I know what comes next makes it that much more heart-wrenching. I've been in the discussion with parents about when children should learn what happens to Bambi's mother, but never at what age they should learn Cordelia's fate ;).
Fifteen or twenty years ago, I would have said Hamlet. Because I was the typical angsty/emo college kid doing the whole "What does life really mean?" thing. I had a fascination with last words, dying moments, and that idea of drawing a line between "Ok, here you're alive, and then over here, you're dead, and right now you're standing on the line, what do you do?" So if you'd asked me back then, I would have told you that it was the "Flights of angels sing thee sweetly to thy rest" line that did it for me.
But you know what? Life is better now :). When you step back from Hamlet you have to admit that he pretty much put himself in that situation in the first place. It's sad that he died, of course, but it's not tragic for me in the same sense as a Cordelia, who really tried to do the right thing from beginning to end and still ended up dead. Or Ophelia, who never really stood a chance.
The others just really don't do much for me, emotion-wise. Sure it's sad that Romeo and Juliet couldn't live happily ever after, but happily ever after is a thing for fairy tales. Then again, much like the Hamlet -> King Lear thing, maybe if you'd caught me back as a teenager in love, maybe I would have said R&J. Who knows?
This topic makes me want to go read Anthony and Cleopatra again, I haven't read that one in a long time and I'm thinking I might find it better now (being married, and far from a teenager) than I did when I was in high school.