Finding the story in the context I did, rather makes me think of the time in
college when I was told one of the more obscene stories from Boccaccio's
DECAMERON - but it was simply told to me as an ordinary obscene collegiate
story, no literary references.
One had to wonder if it had been circulating in oral tradition all that time.
How did you RECOGNIZE it, I hear voices asking? Well... there was one book
on my parents' shelves that my mother indicated she would rather I read
until later in my life, namely the DECAMERON. One afternoon I got extremely
annoyed with my parents, and... well, you get the picture.
I first saw the story of the Loathly Lady in Bulfinch's MYTHOLOGY, and years
later in the book of Arthurian stories as retold by CSL's friend Roger
Lancelyn Green. Both use the ballad and make the hero Sir Gawain. The
illustrator of the Puffin edition copies Lady Ragnell's face from the famous
portrait of the "Ugly Duchess."
In Gower's CONFESSIO AMANTIS it is apparently "The Tale of Prince Florent"
and a European prince is the hero.