The subject of 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 hero to achieve her rescue. After rescuing her the hero can usually convince the woman to be his wife. 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 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, which can be traced back to the knight errant of Medieval songs and tales, who regarded the saving of such women as an essential part of his purpose.