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The fourteenth century was a period of extraordinary architectural creativity, with ideas first tentatively explored in the late thirteenth century being taken forward in brilliantly fresh ways. Those fresh ways were initially most prominently expressed in window tracery. On the one hand the ogee double-curve encouraged a taste for complex curvilinearity. On the other hand, a preference for grid-like rectilinearity ultimately inspired by French prototypes, but developed in strikingly new ways, was to set the pattern for the rest of the Middle Ages. Timber engineering was developed in several prodigiously inventive directions, with the central octagon of Ely Cathedral and the roof of Westminster Palace hall representing the highest achievements. The Royal Office of Works was an important forcing ground for new talent, as seen at St Stephen’s Chapel in Westminster; many named architects were recorded as working under the Office’s aegis before taking their creativity onto projects elsewhere.
Chaucer lived in a society that was aware of childhood and adolescence as distinctive stages of human life and which inherited practices whereby young people were brought up and trained for adulthood. Informally, at home, children were introduced to social norms, religion and work. Those from wealthier families underwent more formal education, mastering literacy at home, in schools or in great households, where they learnt reading, rules of courtesy, French and, in the case of some boys, Latin. Chaucer’s works refer in passing to most of these processes, with particular attention to adolescents, including university scholars. During the fifteenth century his works in general came to be seen as having educational value. The Astrolabe, first written for his son Lewis, seems to have been used for teaching reading to other young children while his major writings were recommended as suitable literature for older ones.
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