The damsel in distress or persecuted maiden is a classic theme in world literature, art, film and video games. She is usually a beautiful young woman placed in a dire predicament by a villain or monster and who requires a male hero to achieve her rescue. After rescuing her, the hero often obtains her hand in marriage. She has become a stock character of fiction, particularly of melodrama. Though she is usually human, she can also be of any other species, including fictional or folkloric species; and even divine figures such as an angel, spirit, or deity.
The word "damsel" derives from the French demoiselle, meaning "young lady", and the term "damsel in distress" in turn is a translation of the French demoiselle en détresse. It is an archaic term not used in modern English except for effect or in expressions such as this. It can be traced back to the knight-errant of Medieval songs and tales, who regarded protection of women as an essential part of their chivalric code which includes a notion of honour and nobility.