The prologue begins by observing that poets often have to fear the responses of critics, who wait like “vultures” for their prey. Dryden admits that he has come “unarmed” to the fight, since he has abandoned Shakespeare’s rhyming scheme in his verse. He introduces the principal characters: Antony, a decent but “somewhat lewd” man, his wife Octavia, and his mistress Cleopatra.
Dryden describes himself as “unarmed” against his critics because he doesn’t have the authority of tradition to shield him. For example, he has abandoned a rhyming scheme in favor of blank unrhymed verse. This decision to forge his own way is a declaration of creative freedom that also leaves him vulnerable.
Dryden wards off his critics by claiming that people who can only criticize art are low and simple minds. Anyone can observe errors on the surface; it takes greater depth to dive for the “pearls” below. However, he also modestly claims that his work is only a poor feast compared to the metaphorical rich meals of other poets. He calls All for Love the fruits of winter rather than the summer.
Dryden claims again that he is only a modest imitator of the great poets and has little authority or credibility on his own. However, this statement rings hollow when he describes his work as “pearls” beneath the surface, implying that only particularly intelligent and discerning people will appreciate this play.