chapter  11
10 Pages

The Bastard Bomb: Illegitimacy and Population in Thomas Middleton’s A Chaste Maid in Cheapside

ByEdward J. Geisweidt

Over the past century or so, humans have developed various kinds of bombs: nuclear, cluster, A-, F-, smart, dirty, glitter. Bombs pose various levels of threat to ecosystems globally, but the long-term global ecological damage of another type of bomb has been hotly debated since the introduction of The Population Bomb, Paul Ehrlich’s controversial 1968 bestseller that predicted that food shortages and mass starvation would occur in the 1970s as the result of an unsustainable human population increase. More than 40 years later, population growth is still identified as a culprit of hunger and ecological pollution, particularly atmospheric emissions, and it is still discussed in terms of explosives. Beyond targeted destruction, the function of bombs is to create fear, and the fears Ehrlich played on (and continues to do so) have a history that harkens back long before 1968. Rapid population growth also caused anxieties among early modern Londoners, including the royal citizens.1 But whereas the pollution Londoners associated with the new multitudes of Londoners was as much moral as ecological,2 resource scarcity and distribution was also a concern. Ever keen to the problems of his urban environs, Thomas Middleton addresses concerns about maintaining a growing population in A Chaste Maid in Cheapside. His comedy subtly critiques the way that fears over population growth often are not about increasing numbers but about securing resources for a privileged sector of the population while placing the blame and burden of population growth onto a marginalized group.