Context: John Dryden was intensely interested in his own world, and yet he could view it dispassionately. His feelings about the past were ambivalent. In his prologue to All for Love he says he envisions the vanished Elizabethan Age as a bountiful autumn with a harvest of lush fruit, and his own age as a more austere winter with "rivell'd Fruits." Yet in the epilogue to the play he makes it plain that, although he might admire the earlier age, he realizes he must write as a poet of and for his own time. In the prologue, addressing himself to the critics, he says he sees them as vultures ready to pounce upon their prey. He promises a ". . . Tale which often has been told;/ As sad as Dido's; and almost as old." The Tale is the story of Anthony and Cleopatra. Dryden sketches the character of the hero, who like the play has faults, and then asks for fair judgment of both. He says that small-minds can easily detect errors, in a man's character or in a play, but that greater minds look beneath the superficialities:
Let those find fault whose Wit's so very small,They've need to show that they can think at all:Errours, like Straws upon the surface flow;He who would search for Pearls must dive below.