Faint Heart

I have a head cold and am feeling fuzzy and stupid, so I’m going to post a quote I don’t really know what to do with. I first heard it in the Disney animated version of Robin Hood, a favorite movie of mine since childhood.

In the story, the Sheriff of Nottingham is holding an archery tournament, and the winning prize (a golden arrow) will be given out by Maid Marian, who in this version is Robin Hood’s childhood sweetheart. Robin wants to compete, naturally, but Little John points out that it’s probably a trap. Robin bows, and in a purposefully over-dramatic way (that implies he’s quoting or repeating a stock phrase), he says,

“Faint heart never won fair lady.”

That stuck me when I was 8, and I still love it. Does anyone know what he’s quoting or referencing? I highly recommend this movie, by the way. It tells a great story, and there’s some genuine drama, but it never takes itself too seriously. I’d say pretty much the same thing about my other favorite Robin Hood movie:The Adventures of Robin Hood with Errol Flynn. Good stuff.

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4 responses

  1. The internet does not help much with the attribution. (SHOCK…usually the Internet is so great at that.) It came up with William Camden (1605) and Miguel de Cervantes (around the same era). So it looks like the saying is over 400 years old, which certainly makes it stock by now. Isn’t it fascinating that once the stock phrases were new?

  2. Not new enough to appear in a Robin Hood tale, however. Thanks for doing the research, Suzanne.

    I just watched it again last night, and was amazed by the random anacronysms. For example, I noticed at least 5 different character with glasses, and one dresses up in a Henry VIII-era costume at one point. And yet, all the adult female characters have their heads covered. I guess they decided to be historical when they felt like it.

  3. The internet does not help much with the attribution. (SHOCK…usually the Internet is so great at that.) It came up with William Camden (1605) and Miguel de Cervantes (around the same era). So it looks like the saying is over 400 years old, which certainly makes it stock by now. Isn’t it fascinating that once the stock phrases were new?
    +1

  4. It is fascinating. I’d love to see all the phrases that were once around but have faded out. Some endure and some don’t. I would be cool (from a linguistic/literary perspective) to compare them.

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