Guide to Literary Terms

Start Free Trial

What is the definition of exegesis?

Exegesis is an explanation or interpretation of a text, especially a passage from a religious text or another text that is particularly difficult or confusing.

Guide to Literary Terms Study Tools

Take a quiz Ask a question Start an essay


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated May 26, 2023.

Exegesis refers to a text's critical interpretation or analysis, particularly religious or philosophical works. It involves a detailed examination of the text's meaning, historical context, language, and symbolism to uncover its more profound layers of understanding and interpretation.

The term exegesis first appeared in Greek, derived from the Greek word exegeisthai ("interpret, explain"), formed by combining ex ("from") and hegeisthai ("to guide, to lead"). In Roman times, exegetes were professional and official interpreters of charms, omens, dreams, sacred law, and oracular pronouncements.

This quote from Hamlet reflects the idea that the perception and interpretation of events or situations determine their nature:

"For there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."

It prompts readers to engage in exegesis by contemplating the complexities of human perception and the subjective nature of judgments. Through critical analysis and interpretation, readers can delve into Shakespeare's works' deeper meanings and philosophical implications, such as the nature of good and evil.

Explore all literary terms.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access