“A Chaste Maid in Cheapside” shares again in what seems to be a hallmark of Middleton’s—the scene that seemingly comes out of nowhere, like the succubus scene in “Mad World” and the Dampit storyline in “Trick”. The introduction to “Chaste Maid” makes it clear that the weaving together of the four love-triangle stories is an example of masterful plotting; why, then, the scene with the Promoters?
The Promoter scene is both interesting in what it tells us about London life and funny in the way the Promoters are tricked, twice—once by the Wench with a lamb’s head, and once by Allwit, a proverbial “calf’s head”. Perhaps its interest and humor is enough reason for it to stay. Knowing what happens to the Wench’s baby provides a bit of unexpected resolution to a minor plotline and a clever mirroring of the christening of Whorehound’s bastard. However, the scene could easily be excised without hurting any of the plotlines of the play. It seems strange that Middleton would leave it in without more effort to connect it to the rest of the plot.
Thematically, though, it is connected to the plot in so many ways. The baby is emblematic of all the babies born or conceived in the play; under only slightly different circumstances, each of these children could have ended up in the meat basket of two very confused Promoters. In the play, children are something to be sold, stolen, or foisted off—never conceived legitimately and treated with human dignity. The play is obsessed with images of consumption and excretion. Meat, comfits, and wine are as greedily consumed as Moll, Tim, and the Welshwoman; children are popped out as fast as the stomach digests and the intestines excrete. A baby, basically an intake/output machine, is the symbol of all the people in this play, none of whom have control over their bodily functions or desires . The disguise of the baby as a cut of meat has a certain neat (if stomach-turning) symbolism as well. One could easily imagine a dark Swiftian side to early modern London in which some unwanted children were turned into literal food.